Nicaragua’s canal plan gets a quick response from officials here

Costa Rican officials want to see all the paperwork connected with the plan by Nicaragua’s president to build a canal connecting the Caribbean with the Pacific using the Río San Juan.

The president, Daniel Ortega, submitted a law advancing the concept of a canal to his national congress Tuesday. Costa Rica was quick to send a diplomatic note to the Embassy of Nicaragua here.

The note by Carlos Roverssi, vice minister of foreign relations, said that the action was not unexpected because Ortega has talked about the canal in the past. However, two 19th century treaties between the two countries give Costa Rica the right to have a say on the canal, the note said.

Costa Rican officials learned of the plan from the Nicaraguan newspapers, which reported on the legislative action.

The canal would be a competitor with the existing one in Panamá if it ever is built. Roverssi noted that the job is estimated at $20 to $30 billion. The Panamá Canal is undergoing a $5.5 billion addition of a third lane.

Ortega has sought support for the idea from nations allied with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez.

Roverssi said in the note that Nicaragua’s invasion and occupation of the Isla Portillos was part of the plan to build the canal. That was in October 2010. The Río San Juan
meanders as it reaches the Caribbean, and Nicaragua is seeking to build a canal that will become the new river mouth. Costa Rica says that this project is on its national territory. Nicaragua denies this. The case has gone to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands.

Nicaragua has dredges active in the river.

Nicaragua also is bringing a case against Costa Rica for the construction of the new Ruta 1856 along the south bank of the river. Nicaragua claims environmental damage. This is the construction project that is enveloped in a financial scandal.

Under terms of various treaties, Nicaragua maintains ownership of the river and the national border is the south bank. This has caused problems for Costa Ricans because Nicaragua controls traffic on the river, and the river has been the easiest way to get around northern Costa Rica. The new highway is supposed to change that.

A canal would use the Río San Juan and Lake Nicaragua. A short stretch would have to be dug between the lake and the Pacific near San Juan del Sur. The United States once considered starting a canal project but chose instead to takeover the Panamá efforts of a French company.

The route from the Caribbean to San Juan del Sun and then to California was important during gold rush days, although some of the trip had to be done by mule or horseback. Expats who live along the river report that traveling by boat from the Río Colorado to Lake Nicaragua is possible in a small craft. Cargo ships will require locks around some of the rapids.

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