12,500 Chinese to build Nicaragua’s $40bn canal

Around a quarter of the estimated 50,000 workers required to build the inter-oceanic canal planned for Nicaragua – around 12,500 people – will come from China, says a detailed project plan released last month.

The plan produced by Hong Kong-based HKND Group, which has been given the concession to build and operate the canal, says that only half the workers will come from Nicaragua due to the "very limited highly skilled workforce readily available" in the country.

It predicts that the final quarter of workers will come from other countries.

"An estimated average annual workforce of approximately 50,000 employees is anticipated during the 5-year construction period," the report says.

"HKND anticipates that up to 50 percent of the workforce would be recruited from within Nicaragua. It is likely, however, that a core contingent of experienced personnel (e.g., management staff, training personnel, selected equipment operators) would be required to be employed on an expatriate basis, with about 25 percent from China and 25 percent from other countries."

The report says that Spanish-speaking heavy-machine operators from the Americas and beyond would be recruited to give extensive training for Nicaraguan workers.

HKND will limit the hiring of Nicaraguans to designated recruitment centres in a few regional centres like Managua, Rivas, Nueva Guinea, and Bluefields to stop job seekers flocking to construction sites, where the company said no hiring would take place.

Nicaragua is often cited as the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with only Haiti having a lower GDP. The biggest industry in the country is agriculture. Coffee farming is a mainstay, but it has been hurt badly this year by the "coffee rust" fungus.

Work on the controversial canal officially started on 22 December with renovations to an access road near Rivas in the west of the country. Full excavation work will not begin until the third quarter of this year, the company said.

The Nicaraguan government says the canal, which it says will cost no less than $40bn, will bring transformational economic growth. HKND Group is organising funding for the mega-project but has yet to disclose the identities of the investors.

Protesters who fear their land will be expropriated along the canal route blocked roads in at least two locations in Nicaragua to mark the start of construction, leading to arrests.

Scientists and environmentalists say that the dredging of a 90-km channel in Lake Nicaragua to facilitate the passage of huge, "Super Post Panamax" ships will damage the country’s freshwater ecosystems.

Photograph: Smallholding farmers in Nicaragua receive rainwater harvesting advice. Agriculture is the biggest employer in the country but the government hopes to change that with the $40bn inter-oceanic canal (Neil Palmer, CIAT/Wikimedia Commons)

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  1. This is by no means unusual with Chinese contractors. It is probably policy. Consequentially these capital projects put little into the local economies of the countries where the Chinese are the main contractor. Everything goes back to China.

  2. Could the objections come from US/Panama for the proposed Nicaragua’s $40bn canal due to commercial reasons. Will US leaders use their mouthpieces who may include environment groups citing damage to the eco-system and the water systems?

  3. How about we train them to operate the equipment? Sort of reminds me of the teach a man to fish story.

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