Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 20th 2013 Contents JUNE 2013 • WEEK THREE www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
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In a previous version of the project presented in 2006, the
promoters acknowledged they would probably have to build
some dams, perhaps on rivers as sensitive as the San Juan,
which runs along the border with Costa Rica.
In fact, the builders may have decided to eliminate a lot of
digging by routing the canal through that river, according to
a 2012 statement by Royal HaskoningDHV, a Dutch firm hired
to do technical studies. That option had been written off in
earlier proposals as too conflictive.
In 2011, Nicaragua and Costa Rica came close to an armed
standoff over Nicaraguan dredging of the river to improve
navigation. The World Court ordered both countries to withdraw
armed forces from the area.
With 1.7 billion gallons (6.6 million cubic metres) of water
per day needed to run Nicaragua s proposed locks, and tens
of millions of tons of excavation needed, the project certainly
looks daunting. Bittner noted that it matched the challenges
of other mega-construction projects such as the Three Gorges
Dam in China, which nonetheless took years and huge invest-
ments to complete.
"It is really not that much different from cutting the original
Panama Canal," Bittner said. "I mean these things that we
have done, the entire interstate highway system, these are
massive projects that, if you were trying to put a lens to them,
and say we can t get this because they re so massive, we
probably wouldn t have done them, but nonetheless, there
In big ways, the proposed waterway outmatches the chal-
lenges of building the Panama Canal, which took ten years
and cost the lives of about 5,600 workers. According to the
2006 project details, Nicaragua s canal would have to be more
than three times longer than Panama s, which cuts through
Central America s narrowest point.
Lugo said the canal s length, would make the project less
"It s very long, both to dredge it and maintain it," he said.
"That is going to require high maintenance costs."
Expensive, but important
Promoters point to advantages such as the incorporation
of huge Lake Nicaragua into the crossing. Once inside the
lake, big oceangoing freighters could travel about 50 miles (80
kilometres) before passing through a pair of locks, and into
a waterway dug across the waist of the country to the low,
swampy Atlantic coast.
Panama, which already has a steady income flow from its
canal, thought long and hard before embarking on its seven-
year, US$5.2 billion expansion project, scheduled to be finished
next year, to allow larger ships to use its waterway.
Nicaragua, on the other hand, has been rushing in despite
the doubts. Its canal s promoters argued in their 2006 pres-
entation that they could capture 4.5 percent of world maritime
freight traffic and notch a 22-per cent profit margin by 2025,
though their cost estimates at the time were much lower than
that of the project presented this week.
The Chinese company has said it would wait until the
National Assembly votes to express an opinion, adding in its
statement that it is willing to fully study the project s tech-
nological, economic, environmental and social impacts.
"Our intention is to build a world-class project, with high
standards," the firm said.
In the end, President Ortega s allies control the national
legislature, which means the Chinese company will likely win
their concession this coming week.
All along, Ortega s allies have sold the canal as a desperately
needed economic boost.
"I think it is urgently necessary to solve problems like unem-
ployment and making Nicaragua more attractive to investors,
and that s why we should approve this speedily," said Erwin
Castro, a congressman from Ortega s Sandinista Front.
Opposition congressman Luis Callejas said lawmakers were
only asked to discuss the bill Friday with a vote scheduled
just three days later.
"I do not understand what the rush is," Callejas said. "It s
such a sensitive topic that the population should be consulted."
In the lush province of Esmeraldas, on
Ecuador s northern border with Colombia,
farmers are proud to say they produce
They are not talking about oil, Ecuador s
main export, but cocoa beans.
The smooth, bitter-tasting paste extract-
ed from the beans is the key ingredient in
chocolate and one of this Andean country s
claims to fame.
It is also deeply connected to the history
of Ecuador, the world s largest exporter of
cocoa until the beginning of the 20th Cen-
Plant disease and the rise of new cul-
tivations in British and French colonies
across Africa and Asia saw Ecuador lose
its top spot in the early 1900s.
Cocoa started losing its appeal to farmers
and was replaced by bananas and coffee,
which were more lucrative.
West Africa became the world s leader
in cocoa production and exports, with a
focus on so-called "bulk" or "ordinary"
beans, used for processed chocolate-
flavoured candies and sweets.
molten chocolate pouring from a ladle
Connoisseurs say fine chocolate has as
many distinctive tastes as fine wine.
"Fine" or "flavour" beans, the top-quality
varieties used in gourmet products because
of their superior taste, account for only
5.0 per cent of the world s cocoa production,
but demand is increasing.
Much like wine, chocolate reflects the
flavours of the region where cocoa beans
are grown, and how they are dried and
Over the last decade, as the demand for
more flavourful cocoa has risen, Ecuador
has emerged as the pre-eminent exporter
of fine beans.
It is a favourite destination for globe-
trotting chocolatiers in search of the best,
and cocoa production has also become a
sustainable source of income for Ecuador s
"Farmers didn t use to pay much atten-
tion to cocoa," says Ignacio Estupinan, a
66-year-old farmer who is known in the
area as Don Nacho.
"Now everybody knows how valuable
cocoa is. It s the best business we have,"
Scholars believe cocoa plants first grew
in the Amazon basin, possibly in the area
that now corresponds to Venezuela, another
large cocoa exporter.
However, a recent archaeological study
suggests that Ecuador may have been the
original home of the cocoa bean.
Archaeologist Francisco Valdez found
ceramic pottery dating to 3,300 BC that
contained microscopic remnants of cocoa.
The discovery, made in Ecuador s south-
ern Amazonian region of Zamora
Chinchipe, suggests that cocoa beans were
being harvested and consumed more than
5,000 years ago.
The West s love affair with chocolate
started much later---in the 16th Century,
when Aztec ruler Montezuma introduced
Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes to a
spicy chocolate drink, known as "xoco-
When sugar was added to the mix, the
drink became a fad in Europe, and cocoa
much sought after.
Ecuador played a key role in introducing
chocolate to the West.
Unlike other Spanish colonies in South
America, where gold and silver were abun-
dant, Ecuador was exploited for its cocoa.
A scene depicting Spanish explorer Her-
nando Cortez meeting Montezuma, king
of the Aztecs, surrounded by Aztec warrior
in plumed hats and skirts A scene depicting
Spanish explorer Hernan Cortez meeting
Montezuma, king of the Aztecs
Ecuador s native cocoa beans are known
as "Nacional" or "Arriba", a name believed
to derive from the location of its discovery.
Arriba means "up river" and many cocoa
plantations were located along the Guayas
river, which flows towards the port of
Guayaquil, Ecuador s largest city.
In her book Chocolate Unwrapped, Sarah
Jane Evans, one of the UK s leading food
writers and a founding member of the
Academy of Chocolate, says that the char-
acteristic of Ecuador s fine cocoa is "a floral
profile with blackcurrants and spice."
Chocolate tasters say the aroma of
Ecuador s cacao is more complex because
Arriba beans vary hugely in taste and size
according to the area in which they are
"Each bean has a special, different
flavour," says Santiago Peralta, founder of
Pacari, a successful Ecuadorean brand of
fine organic chocolate.
Peralta says the quality of Ecuador s
chocolate is due to the country s diversity
in terrain and equatorial location on the
While Ecuadorean chocolate is known
for its floral characteristics, some beans
taste more like fruits, while others have a
"We tailor-make our chocolate according
to the cocoa beans we receive," Mr Peralta
says, adding that he tastes every new batch
of beans that arrives.
Peralta s dedication is one of the reasons
Pacari has become the success story of
Ecuador s cocoa boom.
"We wanted to have the best quality. It
was the only chance we had to make it,"
"After 250 years exporting cocoa, nobody
knew how to make chocolate in this coun-
In 2002, together with his wife, Carla
Barboto, Peralta went looking for old cocoa
trees, while developing a fair-trade model
to give farmers better pay for a better prod-
uct.The experiment worked. His chocolate
company won several prizes at the 2012
International Chocolate Awards for its
combination of flavours and a successful
alternative business model.
Ecuador s new black gold may be pro-
viding a rather stable future for farmers,
while at the same time putting Ecuador
back on the chocolate map. (BBC)
Is Ecuador home to the
world's best chocolate?
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