Tomorrow's Canal

Jan 1, 2005

For 91 years, the Panama Canal has virtually defined the country. Now a debate is underway over a $10 billion plan to widen the waterway so it can take bigger ships.

Panama's famous canal has been a reliable money-spinner for years, even after it passed from US to Panamanian control in 1999. Toll revenues for the Panama Canal Authority (PCA) last fiscal year passed the $1 billion mark for the first time. Yet the 50-mile waterway completed in 1914 is showing its age, and a new generation of mega-ships cannot fit through its locks. As a result, the Authority is mulling a $10 billion expansion plan. "If we look back at 1999, people were betting that we couldn't manage the canal and much less expand it," says Alberto Alemán Zubieta, the waterway's first Panamanian administrator and the first to head the Panamanian-controlled PCA. "That's no longer an issue and we've been able to prove it with facts and figures." The US ran the canal as a public utility, with low tolls and little interest in its profitability. Any profit...

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