Iranian firms want to help build controversial Nicaragua canal

Iranian construction firms want to be involved in building the giant transoceanic canal promoted by a Chinese company for Nicaragua, the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif (pictured) said on a visit to the Central American country today.

Executives from the private Iranian companies travelled with Zarif to Nicaragua’s capital to find out how they might take part in the $50bn project, the minister told a news conference, according to agency AFP.

Zarif made Nicaragua the second stop of a Latin American tour that began Monday in Cuba and which was to include Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia and Chile.

Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (Wikimedia Commons)

AFP reports that Nicaragua’s government spokeswoman and wife of President Daniel Ortega, Rosario Murillo, said officials discussed investment opportunities with the Iranian delegation in the canal and other areas.

The controversial plan calls for a 276-km canal linking the Pacific and Atlantic oceans intended to rival the 102-year-old Panama Canal.

Scientists in Nicaragua and elsewhere have warned that the canal would cause massive environmental damage, and Nicaraguans set to be displaced by the watercourse have protested against it.

However, the government of Daniel Ortega insists that the canal will lift many Nicaraguans out of poverty.

Nicaragua gave Hong-Kong-based firm HKND the concession to build and operate the canal for 50 years in June 2013. A ceremony marking the start of construction was held in December 2014, but actual work has been delayed to allow for more environmental studies.

Enabling work to build a fuel terminal and wharf on the Pacific terminus of the route was due to begin this month, but HKND has so far made no public mention of it.

There is likely to be a geopolitical element to Iran’s overture regarding the canal. Reporting Zarif’s comments today, Iranian state-owned broadcaster PressTV cast the proposed canal as a challenge to US influence in the region.

Both Nicaragua and Iran share an antipathy towards the US.

Russia has also offered to help build the canal.

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