San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Chinese company spokesman: Nicaragua will become the richest country in the region

LA PAZ, Bolivia – An inter-oceanic canal the government of President Daniel Ortega plans to build to connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans will convert Nicaragua into the “richest” country in Central America, Ronald MacLean Abaroa, the Bolivian spokesman for Chinese firm HKDN, which will conduct feasibility studies for the project, told a Bolivian daily on Sunday.

MacLean was mayor of La Paz during several administrations in the 1990s, as well as foreign minister, minister of the economy and a presidential candidate in 2002. He is now an adviser to the Chinese company HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co. (HKDN), owned by Chinese businessman Wang Jing.

Interviewed by the daily Página Siete de La Paz, the Bolivian economist and politician explained plans for feasibility studies of the 286-kilometer canal project, which were contracted by the Nicaraguan government on June 15.

“Nicaragua is going to become the richest country in Central America, and that will affect the entire region,” said MacLean, who also is a former World Bank official.

The HKDN spokesman said “investment in this project is three or four times greater than Nicaragua’s entire GDP, and that will affect employment and prosperity. We’re talking about $30-$40 billion in investment.”

Studies by HKDN, which has become the target of critics from members of Nicaragua’s political opposition because its headquarters are located in Hong Kong with a subsidiary in the Cayman Islands, will take up to two years, and the construction phase of the massive project could take up to 10 years.

MacLean said Nicaragua’s canal would offer several advantages over the Panama Canal.

“Bigger ships will travel through Nicaragua, and countries with a coast will have to invest in their ports so that these ships can pass through the canal,” he said. Ships passing through the Panama Canal can carry up to 6,000 containers, while Nicaragua’s canal will facilitate the next generation of super ships, which can carry up to 18,000 containers, he added.

MacLean also responded to critics of the plan, who say it will be an environmental calamity for Nicaragua.

“Nicaragua, because of the civil war and poverty, is already mostly deforested, and it doesn’t have the resources for environmental conservation. But a project like this [the canal] could generate resources to clean up Lake Nicaragua, which is suffering from sedimentation,” he said. “If the environmental impact was negative, this project wouldn’t be undertaken.”

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