Remember the 2006 campaign for the referendum about the expansion of the Panama Canal? It was the Canal Authority (ACP) at its snottiest, promoting a plan that was under-budgeted and relied for its financing on criminal optimism about growth of traffic through the waterway. None of these ludicrous financial projections can be found on the ACP website anymore, now that financial crisis and economic slowdown have come along and the shipping world protests at every toll raise.
Another example of the unlimited arrogance of the ACP was how they denied in absolute terms that there would be an alternative for the Canal available, ever. Polar ice melting? Nonsense!
Two years later, the first commercial ship sailed through the Northwest Passage.
The Suez route? Not an economical alternative! the ACP said.
Since the plans were approved, Suez has been stunting continuously with special fees and deals because, unlike Panama, they can afford to.
Another Canal? Impossible!
But just days ago, President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua said that his country has every right to build an inter-oceanic canal.
His statement came after Haaretz and others reported that Venezuela and Iran were behind plans to build an alternative for the Panama Canal:
Sources in Latin America have told Haaretz that the border incident and the military pressure on Costa Rica, a country without an army, are the first step in a plan formulated by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, with funding and assistance from Iran, to create a substitute for the strategically and economically important Panama Canal.
The plan has aroused concern in Washington, and the U.S. has started behind the scenes efforts to foil it.
It's made to sound as if, with axis of evil Venezuela and Iran behind it, the motives for the initiative may not be fully known but are most certainly sinister. The logical question to ask would of course be how it will be managed. If Nicaragua has a neutral canal, more or less like Panama, with its safety guaranteed by UNASUR, what would be the problem?
In recent years, the amount goods passing through the canal in each direction totaled about 190 million tons. The transit fees paid by the ships and other canal-related activities account for 75 percent of the annual revenues of Panama's economy. The Panamanian economy and Panamanian stability would be in real danger of collapse if another canal took away its monopoly on shipping between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
Indeed. While the Panamanians indulge in backward nationalism, their flag waving "corazon del universo" and "puente del mundo" crap, the Nicaraguans and their allies are cleverly planning to break Panama's faux monopoly. Because here's the thing with this monopoly: It is a geographical monopoly which 1) never lasts forever and 2) is shared with other Central American countries such as Nicaragua. Maybe Panamanians should start looking at maps that include other countries than just their own.
Or study history. The French tried to dig the Panama Canal first, but the Americans had their eyes on Nicaragua as the location for the waterway all along, until the shareholders of the French failure successfully lobbied for Panama to save their investment.
And even way before that, Latin American liberator Simon Bolivar envisioned a future for the isthmus with not one, but multiple canals:
The states of the Isthmus of Panamá as far as Guatemala, will perhaps form a confederation. Because of their magnificent position between two mighty oceans, they may in time become the emporium of the world. Their canals will shorten distances throughout the world, strengthen commercial ties between Europe, America, and Asia, and bring to that happy area tribute from the four quarters of the globe.
Panama's sense of entitlement has placed it firmly outside any serious effort towards Central American integration, to which it only pays lip service. Multiple canals, as per Bolivar's vision, could have been something that benefits the whole region and not just small parts of it - geographically and demographically. Panama has long bragged alone, and now it stands to lose alone. Serves them well.