The current expansion of the Panama Canal will allow close to 90% of the world's 370-vessel liquified natural gas (LNG) fleet to pass through by 2015, the Panama Canal Authority announced Oct. 30. Currently the canal can accommodate only 8.6% of the global LNG fleet. Voyages to Asia from the US will cost 24% less than longer routes, according to the authority. The US, now the world's top natural gas producer due to extraction from shale rock, is projected to become the third-largest LNG exporter by 2020. Excavation to double the Panama Canal's capacity, which began in 2007, is said to be 64% complete. (Bloomberg, Nov. 4; Platts, Oct. 30; IBT, Sept. 20)
The torture death of US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Enrique ("Kiki") Camarena near Guadalajara in the western Mexican state of Jalisco in February 1985 was linked to drug running by the US-backed "contra" rebels seeking to overthrow the leftist government of Nicaragua, according to two former DEA agents and a former pilot for the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Camarena was kidnapped by criminals working for Rafael Caro Quintero, a founder of the so-called Guadalajara Cartel, and was executed at one of Caro Quintero's ranches. According to the US, the cartel targeted Camarena because he had uncovered Caro Quintero's marijuana growing and processing operation. Under pressure from the US, the Mexican government eventually captured Caro Quintero and sentenced him to 60 years in prison for Camarena's murder.
Nicaraguan civil society groups have challenged plans by a Hong Kong company to build an interoceanic canal through the Central American country. Last month, representatives of indigenous and Creole community groups from Nicaragua's South Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS, see map) called on the country's Supreme Court to repeal the law allowing the construction of the canal. "The passing means that the state accepts and approves in advance [a project] that will affect peoples of indigenous and of African descent, who had been excluded from the decision-making process," the Nicaragua Center for Human Rights (CINDH) said in a statement. "There has to be a consultation with the indigenous population, because this project will affect the entire population with its own traditions and way of life," said Allen Clair Duncan, head of the communal government of Monkey Point, where a deep-water port is set to be built as part of the canal project.
In a bizarre and largely unexplained incident, on July 2 several Western European countries denied the use of their airspace to a Bolivian plane carrying the country's president, Evo Morales, home from a gas exporting countries forum in Moscow. The Bolivians made an unscheduled landing in Vienna, where Austrian authorities reportedly inspected the plane with President Morales' permission. After a 13-hour stopover in Vienna, the flight was cleared with the Western European countries and proceeded to La Paz, where it landed late July 3.
Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega and Chinese business magnate Wang Jing on June 14 formally sealed a pact granting Wang exclusive rights to build a multi-billion-dollar inter-oceanic canal through the Central American nation—the night after the country's National Assembly, dominated by Ortega's Sandinista Front, voted up Law 840, a bill approving the project, by 61-25. Wang's HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co. will start with a study to determine whether the project is viable. Under the plan, the company would have a 50-year contract to develop and run the canal, with Nicaragua receiving a minority share of any profits. Ortega pledges the project will eradicate poverty in the country, one of the hemisphere's poorest. "This is a historic day for Nicaragua... a day of fulfilling prophecies and realizing dreams," said first lady Rosario Murillo, during the nationally televised ceremony. Murillo called it a "day of miracles" and said the canal project represents a "prophecy of prosperity for Nicaraguan families."
More than 160 civil society organizations—claiming representation of hundreds of thousands of citizens in Mexico, Central America and the United States—sent an open letter to the OAS General Assembly meeting in the Guatemalan city of Antigua this week, calling for alternatives to the so-called "war on drugs" that guarantee respect for human rights. "Our organizations have documented an alarming increase in violence and human rights violations," the letter states. "While we recognize that transnational crime and drug-trafficking play a role in this violence, we call on our governments to acknowledge that failed security policies that have militarized citizen security have only exacerbated the problem, and are directly contributing to increased human suffering in the region."
According to a report by a US-based labor rights monitoring group, the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), managers employed by the major Korean apparel firm Sae-A Trading Co. Ltd orchestrated an attack on laid-off Nicaraguan unionists and their supporters on March 4 at two of the company's plants in a "free trade zone" in Tipitapa municipality, Managua department. Sae-A supervisors reportedly promised workers 100 córdobas (about US$4.04), a production bonus and a free lunch if they broke up a rally and leafleting that about 30 workers were holding outside the two factories, EINS and Tecnotex, at the start of the workday. Some 300-350 workers came out of the plants and attacked the protesting unionists with metal pipes, belts and scissors, the WRC says, while police agents and plant security guards on the scene did nothing to stop the violence.
Edén Pastora, the Nicaraguan government official responsible for the dredging project on the Río San Juan—seen as a step towards a Nicaraguan inter-oceanic canal— confirmed to local media Feb. 6 that Managua has asked the International Court of Justice at The Hague for navigation rights on the Río Colorado, located entirely within Costa Rican territory. "This government of Daniel Ortega...applies the logic of 'what's good for the goose is good for the gander,'" he told Managua's Channel 15 TV. "if [Costa Rica] can navigate our waters, why can't we travel the waters of the Río Colorado, if 90% of its water is from the Río San Juan?" This is a reference to the fact that the Colorado is a branch of the San Juan, which is claimed in its entirety by Nicaragua—despite a pending case at The Hague over disputed islands.