Work on the Panama Canal Grinds to a Halt

Foto de André S. Ribeiro en Flickr, bajo licencia Creative Commons  (CC BY 2.0)

Photo by André S. Ribeiro on Flickr, under a Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)

[Links are to Spanish-language pages except where noted.]

The GUPC (Grupo Unidos por el Canal), a Spanish-led construction group, has completely stopped work on the Panama Canal expansion project [en]. After more than 15 days of negotiations [en] the consortium decided to make good on its threat to shut down construction when its demands were not met. 

Jorge Quijano, the canal administrator, indicated that while conversations between the parties could continue, the window of opportunity was closing and that prompt action should be taken. 

It did not take long for patriotic outrage to make itself heard. 

To better understand the stakes involved, it helps to know that for Panamanians, the Canal is sacred. It was born hand in hand with the nation. More precisely, Panama seceded from Gran Colombia and became an independent country in 1903 with the primary objective of opening up the Canal. As a result, Panamanians feel this crucial stretch of water to be part of their DNA, and since it was opened, they have defended it tooth and nail. Some have gone so far as to call it “the religion that unites all Panamanians.”

This notion was reflected in social media, where politicians of all stripes showed their support for the Panama Canal Authority (ACP), which remains firm in its determination to not negotiate outside the terms of the contract.

The journalist Manolo Álvarez collected the various statements made by Jorge Quijano, who guaranteed that Panama would not let itself be blackmailed by the GUPC and that the ACP was prepared to face them in court. 

The Canal will not be subjected to any extortion by the GUPC and we will face them no matter the circumstances

Isabel St. Malo, who is running for the vice-presidency under the banner of the Partido Panameñista [en], tweeted her support for the ACP, pledging that the expansion of the Canal would be done with or without the GUPC.

We endorse the message of Administrator Quijano, we will finish this project with or without GUPC. ACP, national pride!

Martin Torrijos, former President of Panamá and son of General Omar Torrijos—the man who signed the Torrijos-Carter treaties that returned the Canal to Panama—also indicated he stood behind the Administrator and commented that if they were able to make the Canal Panamanian, then surely Panamanians would be able to expand it. 

The expansion project is ours; they will go, we will remain, as Quijano said. We will fulfill our duty to Panama. If we got it back, there's no question we can expand it. 

Popi Varela, a Partido Panameñista deputy, points out that the mistake made by Sacyr, the Spanish firm leading the GUPC, was to believe that the ACP was just like any corrupt government they could blackmail. 

Sacyr thinks they are negotiating with a corrupt government and haven't realized that the ACP is independent of the central government according to the constitution!

With its typical sarcasm, El Gallinazo requests that Panamanians not let “gringos” finish the work and that they themselves pick up the tools and complete the expansion project.

Panama needs you! Don't let the gringos finish the expansion. Grab your hammers and shovels and we'll finish this job ourselves!

Quintín Moreno opines that the GUPC should not be given any more chances and that another company should be found. 

The ACP should hire a new firm to finish the expansion; the GUPC has shown itself to be opportunistic and disloyal.

The impact is being felt in Spain, where the share price of Sacyr plummeted when news hit the financial markets. This is how Mi Diario describes it:

Shares of Sacyr fell on the Spanish stock market

R.A. Benta says that this is the beginning of the end of the Spanish “brand” and that the real question is, “Who is going to pay for it all?” 

Today Sacyr with the Panama Canal, tomorrow Saudi Arabia with the Ave [high-speed train], who's picking up the tab for these megaparties?

Quijano's statements, assuring there is still wiggle room in the negotiations, indicate the ACP believes that the GUPC can complete the work. However, when it comes to Panamanians, patience for the manoeuvres of the consortium seems to have run out. 

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