With a pinch of humor and a pound of populism, President Daniel Ortega, his wife Rosario Murillo, and enigmatic Chinese businessman Wang Jing last night sealed their politica pact giving Wang’s upstart company HKND Group exclusive rights to design, build and manage a $40 billion canal megaproject for the next 50 years.
The generous concession (Law 840), which was rammed through National Assembly last week by the Sandinista supermajority and is already being challenged as unconstitutional by the country’s leading business chamber, was signed into law Friday night amid grandiose promises that the private canal project would eradicate poverty in Nicaragua and bring happiness to the world.
“This is a historic day for Nicaragua..a day of fulfilling prophecies and realizing dreams,” said first lady Rosario Murillo, during Friday night’s nationally televised political ceremony. Murillo called it a “day of miracles” and said the canal project represents a “prophecy of prosperity for Nicaraguan families.”
“This is a project that will combat poverty, extreme poverty, and bring wellbeing, prosperity and happiness to the Nicaraguan people,” said President Ortega.
The President said the canal megaproject, which for the next half-century will be run as Wang’s privately owned enterprise, is fulfilling the dreams of Nicaraguan National Heroes Augusto C. Sandino and Rubén Darío. It will also deliver the Nicaraguan people to the promised land, Ortega mused.
“For the people, for the people who have sacrificed so much, who have suffered so much pain; our people who have spent so much time wandering in the desert in search of the Promised Land. The day has arrived. The hour has arrived for us to reach the Promised Land,” Ortega said.
Nicaraguans also got their first chance to hear from the unknown Chinese businessman who will lead them out of the proverbial desert. Wang was introduced during last night’s nationally televised ceremony with a rare attempt at humor by President Ortega. Poking fun at the fact that the Chinese businessman is a stranger to Nicaraguans, Ortega introduced Wang with the words: “Here is the phantom, in the flesh and blood.” Wang, who doesn’t understand or speak Spanish, seemed to miss the joke altogether.
Wang then addressed the crowed seriously and loudly through a Chinese interpreter who couldn’t pronounce the word Nicaragua. He introduced his much-vaunted international team: chief engineer Bill Wild; environmental consultant David MacArthur, of the international firm Environmental Resources Management (ERM); consultant Stefan Matzinger of McKinsey Consultant Firm; and Li Chuan of the Mclarty legal firm in Shanghai.
Wang then made his case for why Nicaragua and the world need another inter-oceanic canal. He promised to operate his private canal in a way that that is transparent and respectful of “the principles of sovereignty,” while protecting the environment and stimulating the economy.
“The Nicaraguan Canal will always belong to the people of Nicaragua,” Wang said, even though the terms of his concession says he’ll be the majority owner of the canal until the gradual transfer of ownership to Nicaragua reaches 51% in the 50th year of his contract. (In other words, Wang will most likely be the majority owner of Nicaraguan Canal for the rest of his life.)
Wang also displayed a penchant for extravagant claims. “We will change the world; we are going to bring more happiness, freedom and joy to the planet,” Wang said emotionlessly.
Wang called on all Nicaraguans to “join hands” to help the country realize its centuries’ old dream “quickly.”
While COSEP prepares to challenge the constitutionality of the canal concession before the Supreme Court, arguing the law it violates private property rights, HKND Group has started its public-relations outreach. The company, whose team of international consultants is well respected, plans to get a quick jump on the feasibility and environmental-impact studies, which are expected to take up to two years to complete.
Once that’s done, HKND will take the project to market to see if they can cobble together $40 billion from private investors. Until then, Wang, who reportedly has already sunk tens of millions of dollars into the project, is assuming all the project costs from his own pocket, according to company spokesman Ronald MacLean-Abaroa.
Next: Part XII: HKND tells The Nicaragua Dispatch in an exclusive interview that the canal project is 100% private and does not involve the Chinese government or “any other government.”