Panama is voting in a referendum today to decide whether to expand its famous canal. The government argues the four-million euro project would lift the country out of poverty. But critics warn the plan could bankrupt the small debt-ridden nation, where more than half the population lives in poverty.
It would be the biggest modernisation project in the canal’s 92-year history. The route, built by the Americans, saves ships a lengthy trip around South America’s treacherous Cape Horn and is estimated to carry four percent of the world’s trade.
But the Panama Canal Authority which runs the waterway warns it could become completely saturated within seven years if nothing is done. Wider locks and deeper access channels would be built under the plan which the government says would double the canal’s capacity generating massive revenue.
Opponents fear it will only benefit a corrupt few and cost twice the government’s estimate. Opinion polls ahead of the vote showed more than two thirds supported the project.