Will Nicaragua Become the New Panama Canal?
Back in the days of the Contras, Daniel Ortega, and the Boland Amendment, I hung around with a looseknit group of reporters, journalists, investigators and operatives. There were rumors going around, at the time, which gave a different explanation for our involvement in Central America.
In today’s paper, there was an article that makes me think that there may have been something to those rumors.
Rumor Version One:
The Communists are planning to sabotage the Panama Canal and disrupt the shipping lanes between the East and the West. With control of Nicaragua, they will be able to use the Inland Waterways in Nicaragua to turn Nicaragua into the New version of the Panama Canal. This way they can control commerce on a world wide basis.
Rumor Version Two:
The United States has estimated that the amount of money needed to keep the Panama Canal open and running would not be cost effective. The cost of bringing it up to a condition which will keep it from self destructing in 30 years, would be prohibitive.
The 30 year self destruct date started ticking in 1980. This means 2010 is the date that the Panama Canal will self destruct due to lack of regular maintenance since the canal was built.
The stated reason for the lack of canal maintenance is due to the amount of traffic. They claim there has never been a chance to shut it down and maintain the locks. This sounds like a pretty lame excuse to me.
According to this United States rumor, the cost of turning Nicaragua into a new version of the Panama Canal would be cost effective and would turn Nicaragua into a new economic zone that would bring up the economies of both North and South America.
The rumor also mentioned the lack of opposition to the hand over of the Panama Canal at the end of 1999. The reason for the lack of opposition is because major corporations, like Bechtel and others, would substantially profit from the construction of a new canal link between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
After reading the following article from the Los Angeles Times on the Inland Waterways of Nicaragua, I am beginning to wonder if there is more to the handover of the Panama Canal than we have been told.
When Bechtel starts building a link from Nicaragua’s inland rivers to the Pacific Ocean... you can tell people you heard it through the Rumor Mill first.
Text of article inserted below, see related articles from the webpage link below.
Driving by Sea Nicaragua gives recognition to its 842 miles of navigable waterways
Juanita Darling, Los Angeles Times Thursday, January 6, 2000
Living in a sliver of a country hemmed in by two oceans, in a land where the rivers are as wide as lakes and the lakes are so big that the Spanish conquerors called them freshwater seas, most Nicaraguans consider themselves sailors by heritage.
Boats are part of the national character -- and the main form of transportation for the more than 500,000 countrymen who live on islands or along river banks without roads.
``We have ocean on the outside and, inside, rivers and lakes,'' said Ariel Montoya, the editor of the literary magazine Decenio. ``That has made us adventurers.''
It is a tradition that had been in danger of vanishing as remote communities pressured the government for roads. But after watching the destruction that occurs when a highway is cut through the wilderness, giving access to loggers and their buzz saws, authorities are promoting boat travel and transportation as the best hope for preserving the country's forests and jungles.
As a result, Nicaragua's 842 miles of navigable waterways -- most of them in the east, which has a single, partially paved highway -- are receiving new recognition as an alternative to roadways.
It's a revival of sorts. Until the Panama Canal opened in 1914, Nicaragua was the closest thing available to the maritime passageway to the Far East that Christopher Columbus had sought, although he never realized it.
The famous explorer left Nicaragua disappointed nearly 500 years ago after running aground at El Bluff near the mouth of the Escondido River, which runs through -- and brings life to -- this remote community. He then sailed right past the San Carlos River farther south, which became the 19th century shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
During the California gold rush, Cornelius Vanderbilt's boats took 49ers who came by ship from New York up the San Carlos to Lake Nicaragua. After crossing the lake on the steamer Victoria, only 12 miles of land divided them from the Pacific Ocean and another Vanderbilt steamer to California. That cut thousands of miles off a journey around Cape Horn.
Beyond the historical significance of the waterways, boats are undeniably the cheapest form of transportation in remote areas without roads. A plane ticket from Bluefields, at the mouth of the Escondido River, to Corn Island in the Caribbean costs $22. The boat fare is $3. In addition, not even commuter lines fly into communities such as El Rama.
So most Nicaraguans take the boat, hanging hammocks from the rafters or staking out a temporary territory on a bench. From their makeshift berths, they watch for spider monkeys, parrots and the river's colorful human inhabitants.
Recently, a boat with the unfortunate name of Titanic made its way down the San Juan River, which divides Nicaragua from Costa Rica. A canoe approached rapidly from the shore, and fearing a collision, passengers gestured wildly to the paddler.
At the last minute, 63-year-old Maria Hernandez neatly pulled her canoe alongside the Titanic. She threw ropes that the relieved passengers tied to the boat to hold her canoe steady and then began selling packets wrapped in banana leaves.
The tropical box lunches of chicken, rice and plantains sold within minutes. Then Hernandez swung herself onto the boat, carrying a bucket of tamales, which she emptied on one walk around the deck. In less time than a coffee break, she was back in her canoe, paddling for shore.
Lucky travelers catch a boat such as the Titanic that is designed to carry passengers. But those in too much of a hurry to wait for the sporadic passenger boats must ride on a freighter, such as El Isleno, which leaves El Rama every Sunday for Corn Island with a stop at El Bluff.
Passengers on such boats must find a place to stand or squat for 12 hours or longer among the charcoal, bottled water, natural gas and vegetables on their way to Nicaragua's only Caribbean island.
``The hardest part is navigating at night,'' said Capt. Mateo Vidaure, 28. ``Then, when there is bad weather and the sea is rough, it is difficult.''
Nicaragua's boatmen are an independent lot, most of them owning one or two of the country's 112 registered commercial boats and ``pangas,'' which are like canoes with outboard motors.
``There are only three real companies, and none of them has more than five boats each,'' said Miguel Malespin, Nicaragua's director of ports and navigational development. ``None is big enough to dominate the market.''
Beyond their mundane function as highways for commerce and travel, Nicaragua's lakes and rivers are its playgrounds. The national favorite is Lake Cocibolca, better known as Lake Nicaragua, a 3,100-square-mile expanse of water. On Sunday afternoons, adults sip rum and savor fish at lakeside restaurants while children splash in the shallows near the shore.
A Nicaraguan's idea of privacy is a cottage on one of the lake's ``isletas,'' an archipelago of hundreds of islands, most no bigger than a back yard, some merely a few minutes' boat ride from Granada. The only electricity comes from generators.
Interspersed among the vacation homes of the wealthy and the aspiring are tiny islands with fishermen's shanties. Ferrying weekend visitors out to the islands of their hosts is an extra source of income for the fishermen.
The government is in the process of privatizing the lake's boats in the hope of improving transportation, Malespin said. Right now, crossing the lake requires a choice that is more like a dilemma: an ancient hydrofoil, which may arrive in less than four hours but is just as likely to break down halfway through the run, or a 12-hour ordeal on a ferry where the smells from the stopped- up bathrooms mix with the scent of overused cooking oil.
They are the only means of transportation for the 38,000 inhabitants of Ometepe, a volcanic island with no flat area for a landing strip. To provide an alternative to residents of San Carlos on the other side of the lake, previous governments built a road around the water.
Nicaraguans have been appalled by the consequences. ``When you open a highway, you open the agricultural frontier,'' Malespin said.
Illegal logging has denuded the forests along the highway. Farmers have followed, planting on land that was once rain forest. Constructing the only road in eastern Nicaragua, stretching from Managua to Puerto Cabezas in the north, produced similar results.
After seeing those examples, the Nicaraguan authorities have decided not to build a road along this country's southeastern border, which is mainly nature reserves.
``Water transport,'' Malespin said, ``is always going to have an important role.''