How Nicaragua’s Canal Project is Portrayed in Cuba

A bright future for Cocibolca (Lake of Nicaragua)

Illustration by Onel
Illustration by Onel

By Irina Echarry

HAVANA TIMES — For days, I’ve been hearing comments about protests in Nicaragua that seem suspiciously ill-intentioned. Since I know Cuban leaders adore Daniel Ortega, frequently praising and paying tribute to him and his administration – I decided to conduct a search for news or opinion pieces about Nicaragua’s inter-oceanic canal project published in Cuba. My intention was not to dispel any doubts, but to reaffirm my confidence in our press.

Telesur, Granma, Cubadebate and the Cuban TV news joyfully reported on the start of work on the canal in December of last year.

Some months before, the print media had informed us about the route this mega-project would follow, the benefits it would bring the people and the complete approval from the Nicaraguan government that it enjoyed. On July 8, 2014, Granma told us that “Rosario Murillo, Coordinator of the Communications and Citizen Council, stated: ‘Nicaraguans are looking for greater social justice through economic development, through a canal that does no harm to anyone and, on the contrary, brings prosperity to our brothers in other countries.”

The official newspaper of the Cuban Communist party also quoted the all-powerful Chinese entrepreneur behind the execution of the project: “Wang explained that the canal will have an impact on the future of all Nicaraguan families and reiterated his commitment to care for the environment, water resources, lands and biodiversity in the region, such that no person is affected by the building of the canal.”

On December 23, Granma’s web-page made reference to Ortega’s statements: “For President Daniel Ortega, the project materializes the aspirations of Nicaraguan hero Augusto C. Sandino, expressed 85 years ago. It is also a Latin American project, undertaken at a time when the region ‘has made a historic leap forward towards integration and unity.”

Cubadebate also quoted the businessman: “From the historical point of view, we must develop and build a trans-oceanic canal that is broader and deeper, through which larger cargos can be transported and more benefits secured.”

An article written by Rene Tamayo and published by Juventud Rebelde in August of last year begins thusly: “Longer, wider, deeper”. In other words, comparing Nicaragua’s future canal with the Panama Canal. Then, he reminds us that “With the Mariel Special Development Zone and the recent agreement with China for the construction of a multi-purpose terminal at the Santiago de Cuba port, Cuba is vigorously preparing for these developments.”

Daniel Ortega and the Chinese businessman Wang Jing. Photo:

The journalist mentions a number of inconveniences: we are dealing with an area with much biodiversity, with indigenous territories and protected areas of international importance. He goes on to add that, even though damage will inevitably be caused in the area, “the Chinese company has prepared a contingency and mitigation plan for all potential damage.” He mentions the “sluicegates equipped to save on water resources” and tells us the Chinese company guarantees that the canal “won’t bring about significant changes to the water level of the Lake of Nicaragua, that the lake will basically remain as is, or affect the availability of water for productive or domestic use by the inhabitants of the basin.”

The construction of the canal will supposedly create an artificial lake that will be developed into an ecology reserve, tourism center and agricultural area. In addition, the dug-up soil will be used to create high-quality farmlands. Tamayo’s sole doubts have to do with the time needed to build the canal. His greatest source of enthusiasm is the fact Nicaragua has a clear sense of its role in all this, to the point that no referendum was needed to create special legislation and a Canal Authority.

In an article published by El economista de Cuba (“The Cuban Economist”), Ruiviseli Gonzalez Saez, from the Cuban International Policy Research Center, analyzes the economic significance of the canal while extolling its geostrategic benefits and piling up praise and information on the largest ports in Pacific Asia. He also offers us information on the importance of the canal in terms of the increased traffic in larger and more powerful ships it will bring about. As for potential natural disasters, he insists the volcanoes some distance away from the region pose no threat to the canal, saying that, even though Nicaragua experiences many earthquakes, these are generally not very intense.

According to the Gonzalez, the canal would benefit countries such as China, Russia, Iran, Brazil, Japan, South Korea and others and prove detrimental to the United States, which has to date maintained a monopoly in terms of maritime traffic in the region. He goes on to suggest that this is the reason the Empire is using Costa Rica (Nicaragua’s neighbor) to try and prevent the execution of the project.

In a Cubahora article titled Un canal para abrir dos canales (“A Canal to Open Up Two Canals”), journalist Lidice Valenzuela impersonally declares that “there are concerns about the eventual environmental damage that could be caused by the construction of Nicaragua’s Great Inter-Oceanic Canal,” adding that the Chinese company and Daniel Ortega’s government “have promised to protect the environment fully.” Valenzuela then outlines the canal’s advantages: “According to the plans presented to the public, the new canal would offer world trade greater possibilities than the Panama Canal. It will be 278 kilometers long, between 230 and 520 meters wide and 30 meters deep. The canal will include a 105-kilometer segment that will cut across Nicaragua’s Great Lake. Ships carrying up to 250 thousand tons in cargo will sail across its water, at a depth of 22 meters, while the Panama Canal is only 12.5 meters deep.” The journalist then takes us five centuries back in time and explains just how long Nicaraguans have been dreaming about their canal.

Telémaco Talavera (r), official spokesperson for the canal project and advisor to President Ortega, on the Cuban TV Round Table program. Photo:

If anyone still had doubts about Cuba’s stance on the Canal, this past February 9th, the Round Table program was titled Nicaragua: su canal, su vida (“Nicaragua: Its Canal, Its Life”). The guest was Telemaco Talavera, official canal spokesman and advisor to President Ortega. Impressive images of what the finished canal will look like once in operation reaffirmed the well-known phrase: an image is worth a thousand words. Talavera confidently and enthusiastically explained that the project will not pollute the environment, will directly generate about 113 thousand jobs and lead to the construction of a city with 140 thousand inhabitants. According to him, Nicaragua is the safest country in Central America, something which favors tourism. He clarified that the canal is not an end but a means of developing several sectors, and that the government wants Nicaragua to be held up as an example of decorous living. Those who oppose the building of the canal “want the country to remain poor. The current government believes in growing in order to continue giving people back their rights and to make swift progress towards transforming the country, on the basis of a comprehensive development strategy.”

Telesur, which has been reaching Cuban homes for some time now, often reports on resistance struggles across the continent, many of which are led by farmers who confront mining and oil companies or the expropriation of land. This multinational Caracas based network also reports on the destructive practices of transnational corporations, interested only in increasing profits, and alerts us to the dangers of fracking and about how the United States employs this technique to destabilize progressive countries such as Russia, Venezuela, Iran and others. What about fracking in Argentina? No, they don’t mention that, so it’s probably nothing to worry about. So, if Telesur hasn’t covered any peasant protests in Nicaragua, it probably means nothing has happened there.

None of the articles I read mention any reasons why Costa Rica should worry about Lake Cocibolca, whose waters flow into the San Juan River, which connects with the Colorado River, which supplies Costa Rica with drinking water. Something isn’t quite right there – it’s clear that country is being manipulated.

After sifting through the Cuban press and watching Telesur reports, I cannot but anxiously await the completion of the canal, convinced that our Mariel port will be a fundamental enclave in the region and that it will help the sister nation of China continue setting up shop in the continent and ensuring progress doesn’t benefit Nicaragua alone.

The fact the canal is to be built Nicaragua, a country that has opted for solidarity, could prove beneficial indeed. Our people will be grateful for a safer route through which to transport sugar, armaments and other much needed items behind the back of the media. This would spare us having to deal with an interventionist government that demands an explanation.

In fact, Cuba could revisit its Cuban Canal project. Of course, back in 1954, the idea to create a canal that began near the city of Cardenas, cut across the province of Matanzas and reached the Zapata Swamp was a “pro-Yankee and anti-Cuban maneuver aimed at dividing the country.” Today, our geostrategic situation has changed, the claws of our evil neighbor to the north would be kept away from the pie and, who knows, perhaps the Chinese themselves would agree to eat it up out of solidarity. At the time, the people of Cardenas protested and prevented the execution of the project. Today, I’m sure our press would be very persuasive about the future advantages of such a project.

I share in the irreverence towards the powerful, towards those who seek to manage and control the lives of people and use others to achieve their aims. I am glad Nicaraguans didn’t involve the United States but an Asian transnational corporation that, fortunately, will pocket half of all profits and will manage the canal for 100 years. This project will likely change the history of the American continent. Our future heroes will have slanted eyes. The most contaminated country on the planet is to look for a magic solution and will ensure the canal causes the least possible damage to local ecosystems. That is why it is paying a British company to conduct an environmental impact study – there is no need to involve Nicaraguan scientists in this matter. Wang Jing announced the results will be known at the close of the first quarter of 2015. Who cares if work on the canal began some months ago?

How glad I am to see that Cuba, a left-wing country that supports just causes, a country committed to the care of the environment, does not take the side of the farmers who are to be evicted from their lands, or the fishers who make a living off the Cocibolca. Cuba defends growth at call costs and the development of world trade because it does not buy into this dubious story about the exhaustion of natural resources. Massive oilers with greater capacity, capable of transporting up to 18 thousand containers, will be able to sail across the canal.

How pleased I am to see that Cuba ignores poet Ernesto Cardenal when he suggests the Solentiname archipelago may disppear, or pays no attention to the president of Nicaragua’s Academy of Sciences. They are only wielding the banner of environmental protection to halt development. Who cares if lake water is salinized and two or three marine species (such as the fresh water shark, carcharhinus nicaraguanses, and the Achucus crocodile, the largest in Central America) are wiped out? So what if there’s a small oil spill or if the clay at the bottom of the lake is stirred up and the drinking water that thousands of people near the lake depend on is spoiled? Why should we worry about two or three ethnicities that no one knows about having a rough time? When big capital and the consolidation of an alliance are at stake, one can’t be thinking too much about rain forests, tropical jungles or the interests of the nation.

Cuba understands that such trifles are nothing in the light of a project of this magnitude. Nicaragua’s Great Inter-Oceanic Canal will bring prosperity to the region. Rather than divide Nicaragua, it will duplicate it, bringing about unity between the homeland and socialist China.

For those of you that can understand Spanish:


9 thoughts on “How Nicaragua’s Canal Project is Portrayed in Cuba

  • If this was done by a right wing government, all the left would be crying because of the environment, but if it beneficts them, they don’t give a f*ck.

  • Have you see the agreement contract Jose? The concession is for a long lease. FDI’s (Foreign Direct Investments) Of this size and scope take years to realize a profit. Who do you think will get paid first? Of the jobs this may create it will not be of any significance due to project supply & demand figures released by the transshipping industry itself. A possible increase of 1% per annum barring any other economic turn-downs world wide is not enough. This canal estimates that if opened it will only be able to capture maybe 6-10% of the ships that currently use Panama. The projection is that possibly in 20 years time they will capture 60%. That is also stretching it. Maybe your unaware of how lock systems work and you think this is going to be some kind of super highway for shipping. it’s not. It still comes down to one ship per lock per phase.

  • I see that your rigorously defending the canal and making all kinds of false claims. We call that propaganda. The Panama Canal can handle the China max ships with only a few inches on each side to spare as they go through a retro fitting to be able to do this has been done for that very reason. That would be the first thing that needs to be cleared up. Secondly the science. Do you not realize that scientists from all over the world are calling for another study to be done independent of the one done by China. We’re not talking about fringe eco-nuts here. These are leading people in their respective fields.
    As we have seen people are very easily led around by false claims of the golden egg. They only have their that on their mind and nothing else. There are several problems that come with this project, and the lack of transparency with it is just one of them.

    If it’s that good then everyone should not have any reason not to lay their cards on the table and show that it is in fact that good. Let all the data collected be reviewed. You have a problem with that?

  • The Nicaraguans are not stupid and there is solid research done not only by the Chinese but also European countries that shows that the current canal lacks size to handle bigger ships. The Panamanians will do alright with the smaller size ships. On the other hand, I don’t believe that the Nicaraguans are stupid and that only people like you know everything. Hence, when the Nicaraguan call you for help then you can show your know it all personality.

  • 51 percent of the income of the canal belongs to the Nicaraguan people government. It has nothing to do with more shipping. It has to do with the new generation of ships which cannot go through the Panama Canal. Hence, there are plans to include the bigger size ships to go through the Canal of Nicaragua. The older and smaller ships that can go through the Panama Canal remains with the Panama Canal.

  • The planners of this canal have it backwards. Building a canal does not create more shipping. An increase in shipping will create demand for an increase in shipping capacity. Operational costs through a canal are proportional to the length of the canal. At 173 km, the proposed Nicaraguan canal will always cost significantly more to operate than the 77 km Panama canal. It looks to me that Nicaragua will be saddled with a white elephant, after all the peasants have been displaced and the environmental devastation has ruined their delicate ecology.

    But a handful of Chinese billionaire will get rich, along with the politically well-connected Nicaraguan government officials. So let’s all raise a fist and shout. “Socialist Solidarity!” one more time.

  • Excellent comment!

  • I wouldn’t and shouldn’t have expected more than propaganda here. It’s odd that the sources mentioned in this article left out key scientific data from researchers all over the world including the IUCN that take issue with this project and the lack of transparency of all and any environmental impact assessments or studies.

    As far as all the evidence there has been no pressure placed on Costa Rica to have filed international suit against Nicaragua, as that was done shortly after the project was announced.

    Looking at the world economic forecasts as well as what the transshipping industry is projecting there is not going to be any significant increase in demand and that demand will only increase maybe by 1% per annum, barring any other worldwide economic turn downs or events that would affect the market.

    These larger ships do not mean more ships. They more more cargo per ship, and not more shipments. If these ships are not full, they will not sail as it makes it unfeasible to do so and the smaller shipping vessels then become more economical.

    Currently the Suez Canal is servicing western Europe and the East coast of the US. That route seems to be fee-sable for shipments bound to those areas giving less importance to the Nicaragua canal as a service for those ports.

    Understanding and looking at this the people of Nicaragua would be better suited in trying to move towards sustainable economic development and less reliant on FDI’s of this size and scope. And labour disputes at any junction will shut the canal down. Then there is the international safety standards and oversight issues that are also of grave concern.

    Both sides of the issue should carefully be weighed, and no rush to build should be done without the necessary Transparency Oversight & Accountability.

  • Not to worry. I’m sure Mesa Redonda will host one of their usual vigorous, free-wheeling debates on the topic any time soon…

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