The 31 December anniversary of the US handover of the Panama Canal does not normally make international headlines. However a threat issued the previous day by Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC), the international consortium led by Spain’s Sacyr Vallehermoso, to the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) to suspend work on the US$3.1bn construction of a set of new locks, the biggest contract under the US$5.3bn expansion plan, propelled the project back into the international media glare. With both Spain and Panama scrambling to resolve the dispute, the doubts over Panama’s biggest construction project, which is key to President Ricardo Martinelli’s infra- structure plan, could not come at a worse time for the president whose Cambio Democrático party is gearing up for general elections in May.

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