October 23, 2006
The people of Panama approved a referendum on expanding their canal by a huge margin; nearly 80 percent voted "yes." President Martin Torrijos, a moderate leftist, strongly supported the measure, which was opposed mainly by radical leftists. Construction is expected to begin in 2008 and finish by 2014; the total price tag is about $5 billion. His father Omar won a treaty conceding control of the canal from then-President Jimmy Carter in 1979. See Washington Post or BBC. Whether the Chinese businesses that currently manage the canal operations will be involved in such construction is uncertain; their presence raises national security concerns for the United States. Nicaragua is also considering a proposal to build a canal along the San Juan River and through Lake Nicaragua, but that would be a high-risk venture, because the potential market for two separate trans-isthmian canals is quite uncertain.
Speaking of Nicaragua, Retired Colonel Oliver North arrived in Managua yesterday, almost exactly 20 years after the Iran-Contra scandal exploded. He says he is just enjoying the company of friends, denying reports that he is there to campaign on behalf of Nicaraguan presidential candidate Jose Rizo, of the Liberal Constitutional Party. He recently wrote a letter complaining that the State Department is standing by while the Sandinista Daniel Ortega is on the verge of a historic electoral comeback, so obviously he is not indifferent. (Elections will be on November 5) See La Prensa.
Hugo Chavez's aggressive campaign to get Venezuela a seat on the U.N. Security Council for the 2007-2008 is apparently not bearing fruit. Indeed, the effort may be backfiring, costing Venezuela a lot of money and time for nothing, as Blue Crab Boulevard notes (via Instapundit):
This is going to cause Chavez's train wreck even worse. He has badly overextended his nation trying to buy the seat on the UNSC. He now has to pay all those bribes with much diminished income from oil sales. He's in trouble.