American History Panama Canal the Thesis

Excerpt from Thesis :


The construction of the canal was taken over by the Americans in 1904. The first thing that the Americans set out to do was to improve the standard of living and make sure that ill health would be a thing of the past. After remedying these problems the first American steam shovel started work on the Culebra Cut on November 11th, 1904. A year later there were 2,600 men at work in the Culebra Cut. Sidings and tracks for the removal of the dirt had been constructed and the dredging at both the Atlantic and Pacific portions of the canal had begun. It wasn't until June of 1906 that it was decided that a lock canal was what was going to be built. The lock canal would facilitate the river Chagres to form a lake. The excavation at the peak of the Culebra Cut was over 512,500 cubic meters of material in the first three months of 1907. There were 39,000 people working on it everyday. The rock had to broken up by dynamite and then hauled away. They used 100 Bucyrus steam shovels each capable of excavating approximately 920 cubic meters in an eight-hour day in order to accomplish this feat (the Panama Canal, n.d).

Since the completion of the canal in 1914, the presence of the United States has been a major source of frustration for Panama. In the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty, the United States was granted the Canal Zone for ever and Panama was made the region of the United States. Relations with the United States and the status of the Canal Zone were major concerns of the people of Panama. Even though there had been treaty amendments in 1936 and 1955, limiting the right of the United States to get involved in Panama's internal affairs, there continued to be problems between the two countries. Besides the issue of jurisdiction over the canal zone, Panamanians complained that they did not feel that they receives their fair share of the proceeds from the canal, and that the large presence of the United States military in the zone was not good for national independence. In 1977 two new treaties were signed. The first provided for Panama to assume control over the canal in the year 2000. And the second provided for a permanent joint guarantee of the canal's neutrality (the History of the Panamanian Isthmus, n.d).

In October of1978, the Constitution of 1972 had been changed to allow the legalization of political parties, and political leaders that had been exiled were permitted to return to Panama. Torrijos formally stepped down as head of government, and a civilian president was put into power. Even after stepping down Torrijos continued to be a dominant force in the political system. When he was suddenly killed in an airplane crash in July 1981 there was a void created in the power in Panama. The newly elected democratic government moved on with the succession of civilian presidents controlled by the National Guard led by General Manuel Antonio Noriega Moreno, who had been in command since August 1983. Noriega successfully transformed the National Guard into the Panama Defense Forces that were the power base for his increasing political control (the History of the Panamanian Isthmus, n.d).

What makes the Panama Canal remarkable has been its self sufficiency over the years. The dam at Gatun is able to generate all the electricity it needs to run all the motors which operate the canal as well as the locomotives in charge of towing the ships through the canal. No outside force is needed to adjust the water level between the locks. As the locks operate, the water simply flows into the locks from the lakes or flows out to the sea level channels. The canal also relies on the massive rainfall of the area to compensate for the loss of the 52 million gallons of fresh water used during each crossing (the Panama Canal, n.d).

Despite the ship size limits that are in place, the canal remains one of the most highly traveled waterways in the world, handling over 12,000 ships per year. The 51-mile crossing takes about nine hours to complete, an immense time saver when compared with rounding the tip of South America to get from one side to the other. Up until the early 1970's the Panama Canal Company made large profits. But after a period of nearly 60 years the profits dwindled until it was essential to increase the tolls 3 times in 4 years. Some of the equipment that is still being used dates back to 1914 and is in desperate need of replacement or modification in order to continue moving ships at the present rate (the Panama Canal, n.d).

Recently Panama has announced an ambitious $5.3 billion plan to widen the canal to handle the new generation of giant container ships that are now so popular. President Martin Torrijos describes the project as a difficult challenge but a necessary one if the canal is to remain as a key route for global cargo travel. By law, expansion of the canal must be put to a vote in a popular referendum. In October of 2006, Panamanians voted yes in a national referendum on Panama Canal expansion (Panama Plans Huge Canal Expansion, 2006). The Panama Canal has long rich history that has seen everything from despair to delight. It is a magnificent piece of history that needs to be updated and preserved so that it can be useful for many years to come.


Panama Plans Huge Canal Expansion. (2006). Retrieved April 2, 2009, from

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The History of the Panamanian Isthmus. (n.d). Retrieved…

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