The Nicaragua Canal

By: Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary In a bid to increase Nicaragua’s trade, connection with both Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and to increase the country gross national product, the country is going ahead with building a gigantic canal through the entire country. The Nicaragua Canal, which will rival the Panama Canal, will help bring Nicaragua (and especially the government) badly needed revenue that can greatly expand the country’s infrastructure. In my view this is a good idea, and this in of itself I have no problem with. However, it is the company and the country that is helping to finance this project that greatly alarms me.

The Chinese government, through the Chinese-run government company HK (Hong Kong) Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Company Ltd., is plowing U.S. $40 billion into this project. This gives the Chinese government the single largest stake in the building, maintenance and operation of this canal, and will in fact strengthen its hand on any and all inter-ocean trade. What is more, the Chinese company has a 100 year lease on the canal. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has already enthusiastically endorsed this canal, and it will not be a problem for the largely Sandinista-controlled Nicaraguan National Assembly to pass.

Not only will this be a huge economic bonanza for China, but also for the Sandinista-dominated government in Nicaragua. The money flowing from this and other China-investment schemes could keep the Sandinistas in power indefinitely. What does this mean for the Nicaraguan people? It means that the average Nicaraguan might benefit economically from this deal, and it will mean more jobs. There is little question of this. But, with the Sandinistas able to stay in control of the government, there will be severe limitations on freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government having extra-legal powers to search, arrest and imprison anyone based on their political beliefs.

This kind of trade-off in my view is not a good one, and no amount of wealth that flows into Nicaragua will be able to save the people from losing their most precious freedoms and protections. Worse, this move greatly increases Chinese government influence in the Americas, and could strengthen the hands of those authoritarian states in the Americas that may want to follow what is being called the “China model”—economic prosperity and growth but with few or no civil and human rights protections. It is a troubling trend that the United States and its friends and allies in the Americas had better be looking at.

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