People in Panama have thrown their weight behind a plan to upgrade the 92-year-old canal, a multi-billion euro project that the government hopes will lift the country out of poverty. Panamanians voted four-to-one for a four billion euro improvement, which would allow much bigger cargo ships to use the channel. The country’s president Martin Torrijos said that never in the history of the Republic have Panamanians had to make such a weighty decision. “Never has there been such freedom as surrounded this democratic exercise that has just concluded. We have been the owners of our own destiny.”
The canal will be able to transport twice as many ships between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, boosting government revenue.
But critics warn that if costs spiral, they could bankrupt the small nation. Panama already has huge debts and most of its people live in poverty. The lock system is too small for many modern tankers and ships are also facing longer waits as global trade grows. Work is due to start in 2008 but will need nearly two billion euros in loans or bonds.