The 100-year-old Panama canal now has a rival for shipping between the Pacific and Caribbean, and although it’s longer, it’s wider and less congested. The Canal Development Company president, Jenny Martínez, was on hand when President Daniel Ortega performed the opening ritual at the first lock, cutting a symbolic ribbon, then pressing a button to open the automated lock gates.
“This is a great day for Nicaragua, and for world shipping,” said Martinez, flushed with excitement. “We couldn’t have achieved this world-class result without the help of HKND.” HKND Group is owned by Chinese telecoms billionaire Wang Ling, who raised the USD 40 billion required to build the canal.
Although HKND has no direct ties with the Chinese government, tacit support for the project was granted, as an opportunity for China to gain influence in Central America, and the Bank of China was happy to invest. The United States has always had a paternal relationship with Panama, because of the canal. Now China has a similar position of power in Nicaragua.
The digging of 130 miles (200km) of waterway to link Lake Nicaragua with the sea, and the construction of the massive locks, was accomplished by importing shiploads of construction equipment, and tens of thousands of Chinese engineers and skilled workers into Nicaragua. They are likely to remain in residence indefinitely.
Now Nicaragua has a new jewel, an asset in the global shipping business, that will catapult its economy onto the international stage.
But it also has a new ‘Big Brother’.