Poor Journalism Muddies Canal Story

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I’ve noticed a few Nicaphiles on social media have published on their timelines an article from The Times entitled China puts Nicaraguan Canal plan on hold. While the status of the Grand Canal is by no means clear, I would caution against putting too much faith in this short article that appears to be based entirely on an interview with anti-Sandinista journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro.

How authoritative could an article be if the journalists simply talked to another journalist, who can’t even claim inside knowledge, to produce speculation that is not supported by any citations? They don’t even cite Chamorro as the source of their two theories! Without attribution, they postulate one that China, presumably meaning the Chinese government, has put the project on hold as a payoff to Panama for Panama cutting off relations with Taiwan. The other theory, which is hardly new, is that Wang Jing, owner of the private company that has the canal concession, HKND Group, which the article didn’t even name, lost a lot of wealth in the Chinese stock market.

I also note that no other international media has picked up the Times story since it was published online on June 19.

Chamorro was quoted in the article as pointing out that no part of the canal has yet been constructed, and he noted that no property along the approved route has yet been “expropriated.” While several ceremonial ribbon-breaking events have been conducted by the government and HKND over the last couple of years, it was always stated by the Sandinista government that construction would not begin until all environmental impact studies had been completed. The impact studies that were completed pointed to other studies that needed to be done. I don’t know the final status of those studies. As far as expropriation, that was never part of the plan. Affected landowners and land users will be paid full market value for any property that needs to be condemned if the canal is built.

Despite the poor journalism represented by the Times article, I think the Grand Canal may very well be on hold, but not for either of the reasons put forth in the article. My long-time co-worker, Katherine Hoyt, has said from day one that she didn’t think the canal would be built because of a lack of international financing. The 2008 Great Global Recession, didn’t just affect the “on paper” wealth of Wang Jing, it made a lot of major sources of capital circle their wagons. Now with Trump in office, the US commitment to neoliberalism and Free Trade is called into question making Big Capital nervous about whether international trade will be sufficient to support a second canal joining the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

I see good reasons to oppose the canal and I see good reasons to support it. I’m not personally on either side on this debate and neither is Nicaragua Network/Alliance for Global Justice. But if I were on either side, I would neither take heart from the Times article, nor would I despair. The article is just one more example of the quality of journalism that we have to contend with today.


There will be no NicaNotes for the next two weeks. I am going on a delegation to China led by my good friend Siu Hin Lee to look at US-China relations. If I happen to run into Wang Jing while I’m there, I’ll ask him if the canal is on hold or not! NicaNotes will resume when I return and I’m happy to announce that artist, solidarity activist, and former Peace Corps volunteer, John Kotula, will be sharing the responsibility with me for producing these weekly blogs. John lives in Nicaragua and while his focus will be more on the arts and daily life issues, he will also contribute his own political analysis to the mix. I look forward to collaborating with John to fill this space.



  • A report by the Nicaragua Foundation for Economic and Social Development (FUNIDES) states that poverty in Nicaragua has dropped from 46% to 29.6% and extreme poverty from 15% to 8.3 % over the last few years. Governmental programs such as Solidarity Bonus (for public employees) and Plan Roof to give sheets of galvanized roofing to families to improve their homes, have had a positive impact on poverty reduction, benefiting more than 736,000 Nicaraguan households. The FUNIDES Executive Director Juan Sebastián Chamorro, noted that 60% of Nicaragua public spending goes to social sectors such as healthcare and education. (Nicaragua News, June 21)
  • Vice President Rosario Murillo announced the inauguration of a new US$ 4.3 million hospital in the El Jícaro municipality of Nueva Segovia. The new facility will offer service to more than 40,000 people in areas such as dentistry, surgery, anesthesiology, gynecology, pediatrics, ultrasound, X-rays and general medicine, Murillo said. (Nicaragua News, June 21)
  • President Daniel Ortega and Vice-President Rosario Murillo paid tribute to FSLN founder Carlos Fonseca Amador at his tomb on the Plaza of the Revolution on the 81stanniversary of Fonseca’s birth. Murillo said that the government was committed to move forward to achieve electoral processes that “do not divide us” and a political culture of reconciliation and unity “without offenses and injuries.” (Informe Pastran, June 23)
  • The FAD-MRS (Broad Democratic Front-Sandinista Renovation Movement) which unsuccessfully called for a boycott of last year’s presidential election is once again calling on voters to boycott this November’s municipal election. Despite the accompaniment agreement signed between the OAS and Sandinista government, the FAD-MRS doesn’t accept that the elections will be transparent. This political configuration of the right-wing is not a recognized party so it would have to run in alliance with another party to gain ballot access. However, the FAD-MRS leadership considers parties that are participating in the election to be “satellites” of the Sandinista Party, and they have announced that they will not ally with them. (Informe Pastran, June 23)