Politics of the Panama Canal
During the Spanish-American War the warship Oregon was summoned from the West Coast. The trip took two months to travel 14,000 miles around Cape Horn to the Atlantic. (The American Journey 741) How was the United States supposed to defend it shores if it took ships that long to get between them? The United State had to build a canal through Central America; national security depended on it.
The Politics of the Panama Canal are confusing. This confusion includes the building, the economics and the operation of this facility. The canal, began in 1881 and finished in 1914(Dolan 55), has caused one country to fail, another to triumph, and another to gain its independence.
There was a need for a canal through the isthmus of Central America. The big question was who would step up and build it. France had just lost the Franco-Prussian War against Germany. The country felt that it had lost some prestige in eyes of other nations. There seemed only one certain way to restore its glory, undertake and complete the most challenging engineering feat in history. Build a canal through Central America and link the world’s two greatest oceans. (Dolan 53)
The French chose Panama to build its canal because it was far narrower than Nicaragua, it’s closet competitor. They obtained permission from Columbia to lay the waterway. (Dolan 53) A private company was founded in 1879 to raise the needed capital to undertake the construction. Appointed president of the company was Ferdind de Lesseps, who had guided the construction of the Suez Canal. (Panama)
The French abandoned the project in 1889, due to a lack of funding. (Dolan 59) Now it was time for the American’s to get involved. But there was one problem; they had signed a treaty with Great Britain that said, if one or the other decided to build a canal then the two countries would work together. This treaty was called the Clayton Bulwer Treaty. In 1901 the treaty was replaced with the Hay-Pauncefote treaty. It called for Great Britain to give the United States the right to act independently in the development of an Atlantic Pacific waterway. Why did the British agree to the treaty? They were tied up in the Boer War in South Africa and didn’t want to split the bill on a canal? (Dolan 63)
Now congress had to decide on where to dig the canal. The two main choices were Panama and Nicaragua. Just days before the vote on the canal site, Philipee Benau-Varilla obtained ninety Nicaragua stamps that pictured a railroad dock with an active volcano in the background, and sent them to all of the senators with a message: “An official witness of the volcanic activity in Nicaragua. (Mcneese 78) Did it work? Panama got the go ahead.
The United States now to get permission from Columbia to dig in Panama. In 1902, John Hay, the U.S. Secretary of State began negotiate with the Colombian government. An agreement was finally reached in January 1903 in the signing of the...