We said it before: It was a BIG mistake by WikiLeaks to give those diplomatic cables to El Panama America and La Prensa. What it caused is that the biggest financial-economic story in the history of the country, about the expansion of the Panama Canal, is totally ignored by our dumb media. Is there something to report other than the ACP press releases, you ask? Yes! How about, "Seismic risks threaten Panama Canal - Authorities unprepared for possible disaster"? Because that's what the content of this diplomatic cable comes down to: The Canal's own experts say that the design of the existing locks and those to be built will not stand up to a major earthquake, and that such an earthquake is not just possible, but even likely:
The historical view that Panama does not experience earthquakes was wrong, geological experts employed by the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) told EmbOffs. These experts said emerging geologic research suggests that Central Panama -- including the Panama Canal and Panama City area -- may face much greater seismic risks than previously believed. They believed a major earthquake (magnitude 7.0 or greater) could hit the Panama Canal and Panama City area at any time. They fear this could cause a failure of the existing canal and significant destruction in Panama City. They said the ACP worked to address the findings responsibly. The information could be made public in January 2008 to bidders on the design/build contract for the canal's new set of locks and water recycling basins. This new information could significantly increase the project's costs. If true, the new seismic findings could affect U.S. interests regarding safety of American citizens in Panama, disaster relief planning, and our economic and security interests in the canal. Disclosure of significant seismic risks in Central Panama could deal a huge blow to the two main motors of Panama's economy: the Panama Canal and the country's boming real estate/construction sector. This disclosure could also undermine the ACP's and GOP's credibility and vindicate those who feared cost overruns on the canal expansion project.
And here's the money quote about how these findings might easily double the cost of the construction of the new locks:
Harris and Gath separately speculated that designing the new locks to withstand a 7.0-7.2 magnitude earthquake could double the cost of constructing the new locks and water recycling basins. As reported septel, the ACP,s current budgeted amount for the new locks of $3.726 billion was already in question owing to the U.S. dollar's slide and local inflation rates that were now running more than three times the annual rate that the ACP had factored into its original cost estimates. In prior conversations with bankers at New York-based investment banks, EconOff was told that the ACP could easily service up to $7 to $8 billion of long term debt. The ACP currently has no long term debt.
There's all kind of other disaster scenarios in the diplomatic cable, including on how the bridge of the Americas would probably collapse just like various highrises, the lack of preparedness by the authorities, and so on.
So logically our local heroic journalists and press freedom fighters did the responsible thing and buried this story, like they've now done for years with all facts about this white elephant.