MANAGUA – Nicaraguan lawmakers approved a bill Tuesday aimed at creating a $30 billion alternative to the Panama Canal, a project President Daniel Ortega says “will lift the country out of poverty.”
The new law, approved by 85 of 91 legislators, establishes a legal system for the proposed 125-mile canal to connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
The legislation also creates a Grand Canal Authority that will have the power to direct the project’s state and private funding as well as to supervise work on the canal.
Feasibility studies are expected to cost $350 million, while actual construction costs could hit $30 billion. The government is proposing to raise funds through a joint public-private partnership, with the state maintaining a 51 percent stake.
Plans to build a canal across Nicaragua date back centuries but were overtaken by the construction of the 51-mile Panama Canal. In recent years, subsequent administrations have revived the concept as a way to promote development in the second-poorest country in the Americas, after Haiti.
The project’s leader, former Sandinista-turned-Contra commander-turned-Sandinista, Edén Pastora, said Nicaragua’s canal, to be built along one of six proposed routes, would be larger and deeper than the Panama Canal. He also said project leaders have had talks with six countries – including Japan, China, Russia and Brazil – that are interested in investing in the project.