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Nicaraguan Transoceanic Canal Unearths Ancient Relics, Animosities

A Chinese company building a transoceanic canal across Nicaragua has handed over more than 15,000 pre-Columbian relics to the government. Mostly pieces of pottery and obsidian, the relics date from around 500 B.C to the 1500's.

The AP reports that "the pieces were collected over six weeks by a team of 29 archaeologists and other specialists along the canal's 173-mile (278-kilometer) route."

It's one of the less inflammatory stories related to the project to come out in recent months, which are causing tensions in the region.


The canal which will cost an estimated 50 billion dollars, and expected to be finished in 2019. Funded by Chinese billionaire and telecom magnate Wang Jing, it will be one of the largest engineering projects in history. The Nicaragua Canal would challenge the Panama Canal, with triple of length and twice the depth.

Nicaragua is the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and the government is hailing the canal as a much needed economic boost.The project also includes building roads, a power plant, two new ports, bridges and an airport. Top officials are comparing the scale of change to the transformation forged by the Spanish colonizers.

"It's like when the Spanish came here, they brought a new culture. The same is coming with the canal" says Manuel Coronel Kautz head of the canal authority, to The Guardian. "It is very difficult to see what will happen later – just as it was difficult for the indigenous people to imagine what would happen when they saw the first [European] boats."

But not everyone is comfortable with that comparison. Although polls suggest most Nicaraguans support the canal project, The Washington Post reported earlier this week that others worry Nicaragua is not getting it's fair share of the deal.

"President Ortega granted Wang's canal company, HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co. Ltd, or HKND Group, a 50-year concession, which would give Nicaragua only a small return — $10 million a year — for the first decade of operation, then increasing percentages of the profits in subsequent years."

Many in Nicaragua also see it as risky to have an entrepreneur behind the canal, as opposed to the Chinese government itself. In December of last year, the U.S. embassy in Managua released an official statement expressing concern over the lack of transparency.

"The embassy is worried by the lack of information and transparency that has existed, and continues to exist, over many of the important aspects of this project."

There's also been protests-- and allegations of police brutality in retaliation-- by townspeople in the canal's path, who worry they will be displaced from their farms and fishermen jobs and not be properly compensated. And there are accusations that many of the new canal jobs would go to Chinese workers being brought in to build the canal.

Ecologist groups are also worried about possible environmental damage. Activists say digging will contaminate the rivers and affect the foul of Lake Nicaragua.

But proponents of the project say the country's priority is tackling poverty, rather than environmental concerns. "I think the country's poverty is a bigger problem than the environmental concerns," the Washington Post quotes Arturo Cruz, fromer Nicaraguan ambassador to Washington. "If we don't achieve a more prosperous country in the next five to 10 years — with or without the canal — we will see severe damage to the environment."

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