San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

The Nicaragua Canal: An impractical joke?

From the print edition

In their latest comments, canal experts scoffed, laughed and poked fun at the idea of Nicaragua building a $30 billion transoceanic canal.

The announcement in June seemed to one-up a $1 billion port project in Costa Rica (slated to open in 2016) and a $5.25 billion Panama Canal expansion plan (set to double the canal’s capacity in 2014). However, since the original proclamation, critics repeatedly have called the Nicaragua canal idea financially impossible and designed to distract from the country’s poverty. 

This month, Rodolfo Sabonge, vice president of market research and analysis for the Panama Canal Authority, flat out questioned whether the canal even could coax enough demand to validate such an undertaking. 

“Not even the Suez Canal, with the largest traffic of petroleum in the world, has sufficient demand to justify an investment of this magnitude,” Sabonge told newsletter in early July. 

Nicaragua Canal 2

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s point man for the project is former guerrilla Edén Pastora, known as “Commander Zero” for his role in the assault on the National Palace by a Sandinistas in 1978. Miguel Álvarez | AFP

Daniel Ortega’s government has bandied around names like China, Japan, South Korea and Russia as possible investors. But Paul Gallie, managing director of the port project on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast (see story, Page 9), laughed off the thought. He told The Tico Times even if Nicaragua found an investor, “the monthly interest bill would be phenomenal.”  

“It’s just not viable from a financial point of view,” Gallie said. “Technically, yeah, there might be something there. There almost always is. You can basically build anything anywhere nowadays with technology, but I think from a commercial and financial point of view it’s absolutely not viable.”

Tim Rogers, editor of online newspaper the Nicaraguan Dispatch, said Nicaragua has been discussing this canal project for centuries. In 1870, it seemed most feasible – at a cost of $100 million – but planners couldn’t get the financing. Today, Nicaragua is no closer to receiving the necessary funds, Rogers wrote in an email. 

“This project speaks, rather quaintly, I think, to the government’s delusions of grandeur,” Rogers noted. “Nicaragua generally, and the Sandinistas specifically, love megaprojects, or at least talking about them. Still, I have to admit I am a little surprised at how doggedly they are pursuing this canal project at the moment. The Sandinista media reports on it regularly, as if it were real.”  

He said the government has failed to complete “notably less-ambitious” endeavors such as a coastal highway project that has been talked about for 40 years. 

Still, Rogers added, if one truly is taking the canal project seriously, the Nicaragua Dispatch would be glad to help make this dream come true. 

He said to help Nicaragua reach its $30 billion goal, “readers can send cash or checks made out to Tim Rogers, and put the word “canal” in the memo line.”

Contact Matt Levin at

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