Adding a wrinkle of confusion to a mystery shrouded in doubt, a spokesman for the Chinese canal in Nicaragua announced that the route has been redrawn to circumvent a farming community that has been energetically protesting the $50 billion project for months.
Nicaraguan canal spokesman Telemaco Talavera announced last weekend that the canal route has been pushed south to sidestep the community of El Tule and the protected San Miguelito wetlands on the eastern shore of Lake Nicaragua. The decision, Talavera said, was made to avoid environmental and social problems associated with the original route. We’ll have to take his word for it, since the original canal route and environmental impact studies were never made public.
But instead of assuaging Nicaraguans’ concerns about the megaproject, the offhand nature of the announcement has only heightened fears that Sandinista officials aren’t giving appropriate seriousness of purpose to the so-called “biggest infrastructure project in the history of humanity.”
“Together with all the other anomalies related to this megaproject, now we have this erratic type of communication about the canal,” said Nicaraguan environmental lawyer Monica López Baltodano, who has been active in coordinating many of the 18 protest marches against the canal over the past six months. She said while the Chinese concessionaires quietly circulate documents and maps that aren’t available to public scrutiny, the Nicaraguan spokesman announces changes to the secretive plans without offering any specific details.
“This just generates more uncertainty and rejection and demonstrates the lack of seriousness in the management of this project,” López said.
Talavera did not answer his phone or respond to requests for comment.
Historically, surveyors have identified six possible canal routes across Nicaragua.
To avoid problems with Costa Rica and pushback from Nicaraguan environmentalists, the Chinese concessionaire and Sandinista government quickly ruled out any route that would use the natural waterway of the San Juan River, considered the “backbone” of Nicaragua’s national identity.
The Chinese then whittled down the list to two possible routes — #3 and #4, for those of you playing along at home — before eventually deciding on the southernmost path (#4 on your scorecards).
Alas and alack, that route would push more water through the town of El Tule than the residents there are comfortable with. So they protested, and the police beat them up.
Now, according to Talavera, the route will be diverted further south. That might sound like good news until you rub your eyes and squint at the map and wonder where, precisely, the Chinese hope to ram their canal through to the lake — especially considering that they’re planning to build a “Golf Theme Resort” in the same area.
Since there’s no one to ask, humor me while I ponder this en voz alta.
There are about 30 kilometers of land separating El Tule from San Carlos, which sits on the head of the San Juan River. So technically, an 11-kilometer wide canal zone could fit through the area— albeit snugly with a golf course (“Hey, better make that a Par 3, Wang”).
But there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of wiggle room before you bump into San Carlos. That’s why the original options for proposed canal routes included the odd-looking Route #5, which takes a rather extreme dogleg south and dumps into the Rio Juan River between El Castillo and San Carlos.
The government and HKND categorically deny that the canal will touch the river. But if they want to push Route #4 south, they might not be able to avoid getting their feet wet, especially if they hope to keep their tee time.