PANAMA CITY: Voters were expected Sunday to approve the largest modernization project in the 92-year history of the Panama Canal, a $5.25 billion plan to expand the waterway to allow for larger ships while alleviating traffic problems.
The government of President Martín Torrijos has billed the referendum as historic, saying the work would double the capacity of a canal already on pace to generate about $1.4 billion in revenue this year. Critics claim the expansion would benefit the canal's customers more than Panamanians, and worry that costs could balloon, forcing this debt- ridden country to borrow even more.
The project would build a third set of locks on the Pacific and Atlantic ends of the canal by 2015, allowing it to handle modern container ships, cruise liners and tankers too large for its locks, which are 33 meters, or 108 feet, wide.
The Panama Canal Authority, the autonomous government agency that runs the canal, says the project would be paid for by increasing tolls and would generate $6 billion in revenue by 2025.
There is nothing Panamanians are more passionate about than the canal. "It's incomparable in the hemisphere," said Samuel Lewis Navarro, the country's vice president and foreign secretary. "It's in our heart, part of our soul."
Public opinion polls indicate that the plan would be approved overwhelmingly. Green and white signs throughout the country read "Yes for our children," while tens of thousands of billboards and bumper stickers trumpet new jobs.
"The canal needs you," television and radio ads implore.
"It will mean more boats, and that means more jobs," said Damasco Polanco, who was herding cows on horseback in Nuevo Provedencia, on the banks of Lake Gatún, an artificial reservoir that supplies water to the canal.
The canal employs 8,000 workers and the expansion is expected to generate as many as 40,000 new jobs. Unemployment in Panama is 9.5 percent, and 40 percent of the country lives in poverty.
But critics fear that the expansion could cost nearly double the government's estimate, as well as stoke corruption and uncontrolled debt.
"The poor continue to suffer while the rich get richer," said JoséFelix Castillo, 62, a high school teacher who was one of about 3,000 supporters who took to Panama City's streets to protest the measure on Friday.
Lewis Navarro noted that a portion of the revenue generated by each ton of cargo that passes through the waterway goes to education and social programs.
"We aren't talking about 40 percent poverty as a consequence of the canal," he said. "It's exactly the opposite."
巴拿马市：巴拿马周日将就巴拿马运河改造计划举行全民公投，这将是巴拿马运河开通 92 年以来最大规模的一次改造，项目预计斥资 52.5 亿美元，旨在缓解交通压力的同
时，扩宽航道，提高可通行船舶吨位。巴拿马总统马丁·托里霍斯(Martin Torrijos)称此次公投具有重要历史意义。今年巴拿马运河将创收约 14 亿美元，托里霍斯政府称改造后运河的通行能力有望翻番。而批评人士则称，运河扩建的主要受益者将是运河使用者而非巴拿马人民，同时，运河扩建成
按照项目设计，到 2015 年前，将分别在运河的太平洋和大西洋两端建造第三组水闸。运河现在的水闸仅为 33 米宽，很多大型船只无法通行，改造项目竣工后，可通行现代大型集装箱船、邮轮和油轮。
负责巴拿马运河运营的自治机构巴拿马运河管理局称，将通过提高通行费来收回项目成本，运河改造后的年创收能力到 2025 年将达 60 亿美元。
巴拿马人对运河可谓情有独钟/有强烈的运河情结。巴拿马副总统兼外长萨穆埃尔·莱维斯·纳瓦罗说，“在这个半球，巴拿马运河是无与伦比的，它已扎根人民心中、融入巴拿马民族之魂。”舆论调查显示，运河扩建计划将以压倒性优势获得通过。在巴拿马到处都张贴有写着“为子孙后代投下赞成票(运河扩建，利在千秋)”的绿色和白色的标语，数以万计的广告牌和车尾贴上也都大肆宣扬运河扩建对增加就业的影响。广播电视广告词也采取温情攻势，“运河需要你”。在运河补给水库加通湖两岸的努埃沃·普罗维登斯(Nuevo Provedencia)骑马放牛的达玛斯克·波兰科(Damasco Polanco)说，“运河扩建后会有更多的船只通行，会带来更多的就业机会。”
运河现有工作人员 8,000 人，扩建后将会新增 4 万个就业岗位。巴拿马失业率为 9.5%，贫困率为 40%。但是，批评人士担心运河扩建最终成本可能超出政府预估成本一倍，致使腐败滋生，债务失控。周五约 3,000 人走上巴拿马市街头抗议运河扩建，何塞·费利克斯·卡斯蒂略(JoséFelixCastillo)也参加了抗议游行。现年 62 岁的卡斯蒂略是一名高中教师，他说，“运河扩建后富人将变得更加富有，而穷人将继续生活在水深火热之中。”