San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Poll: Most Panamanians Support Canal Expansion

PANAMA CITY – More than 70% of Panamanians support the project unveiled in April for enlarging their nation’s interoceanic waterway, according to poll results released April 27.

The survey indicated that, if a referendum on the canal expansion plans were held now, 70.4% would vote in favor, compared with 20% who oppose the project and 9.6% who either said they are undecided or did not respond.

Local daily La Prensa conducted the telephone poll on April 25, a day after the Panama Canal Authority, or ACP, submitted its expansion proposal to President Martin Torrijos.

The newspaper said 429 men and women over the age of 18 were interviewed for the survey, which claimed a margin of error of 4.8%.

In 1977, Torrijos’ father, President Omar Torrijos, negotiated the treaty under which the United States handed over administration of the canal to Panama in late 1999.

The newspaper survey revealed that 70.6% of respondents think expanding the canal would improve their quality of life, while 18.9% said their lives would remain the same and 6.8% said they think they would be affected negatively.

The ACP plans to expand the canal by adding a third set of locks that will allow much larger ships to cross the waterway. The project must be approved by the Executive Branch, the Legislative Branch and finally by the Panamanian people in a plebiscite. Authorities claim that expanding the canal would not require loans from international financial organizations such as the World Bank. Instead, the ACP will seek private foreign financing during the peak construction period of 2009-2011 for $2.3 billion of the total $5.25 billion it is estimated the project will cost.

According to the proposal, the canal’s expansion is slated to begin in 2007 and end in 2014.

The ACP’s general administrator, Alberto Alemán, said the autonomous state institution could cover the project with its own resources generated from tolls charged to ships that traverse the waterway, a revenue source that also will allow the agency to pay off the loans in roughly 10 years without forcing the government to go into debt.


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