History of the Panama Canal

In 1825, a group of American businesspeople announced the

formation of a canal building company, with interests in constructing

a canal system across the Isthmus. This project was to take place in

an area now called Panama. The endeavor was filled with controversy.

Though the canal itself was not built until the early 1900\'s every

step toward the building and ownership, was saturated with difficulty.

Walter LaFeber illustrates the dilemmas in a historical analysis. In

his work he states five questions that address the significance of the

Panama Canal to United States. This paper will discuss the historical

perspective of the book\'s author, address pertinent three questions

and give a critique of LaFeber\'s work, The Panama Canal.

For proper historical analysis one must understand the

importance of the Canal. The Panama Canal and the Canal Zone (the

immediate area surrounding the Canal) are important areas used for

trade. Even before the canal was built there were to large ports on

both sides of the Isthmus. Large amounts of cargo passed through the

Isthmus by a railroad that connected the two ports. The most important

cargo was the gold mined in California before the transcontinental

railroad was completed in the United States. It has strategic

significance because of its location, acting as a gateway connecting

the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. This allows for rapid naval

deployment between fleets in either ocean. These two facets make the

Panama Canal very important in the region.

LaFeber notes that Panamanian nationalism played a large role

in the creation of the canal and, consequently, the cause for the

area\'s constant instability. The first expression occurred in the late

1800\'s with Panamanian struggle for independence from Columbia. The

United States eager to build the canal, and control its operation,

used and backed Panamanian nationalist. During the Roosevelt

administration, not only did the United States manipulate factors

isolating Panama from other world powers through the Monroe Doctrine;

but it committed troops aiding the revolutionaries against another

sovereign state. The reason this is a surprise is because the

Roosevelt administration normally held a position favoring stability.

The United States had no legal right to use force against Columbia.

Nationalism came back to haunt the United States. With the

treaty signed and a 99-year lease given to the United States, the

Canal was built. Since then, the United States has varied on its

stance of ownership and the principles of sovereignty concerning the

Canal. The ever persistent debate of who owns the Canal and who should

have sovereign control over it, has not been solved. The United States

has occasionally attempted to "claim" the Canal zone through

methods such as military occupation, exclusion of Panamanians for

important jobs in Canal operations and even through the customary

aspect of international law. However, each time the Panamanians have

managed to maintain claim to the Canal despite the United State\'s

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Category: History