Panama Canal

“Determined to complete the transaction before real Panamanians could get to Washington, [Philippe Bunau-Varilla] negotiated a treaty drafted by Hay with his assistance and far more favorable to the United States than the one Colombia had rejected.  The United States got complete sovereignty in perpetuity over a zone ten miles wide.  Panama gained the same payment promised Colombia.  More important for the short run, it got a U.S. promise of protection for its newly won independence.  Bunau-Varilla signed the treaty a mere four hours before the Panamanians stepped from the train in Washington.  Nervous about its future and dependent on the United States, Panama approved the treaty without seeing it.  Colombia, obviously, was the big loser.  Panama got nominal independence and a modest stipend, but at the cost of a sizeable chunk of its territory, it’s most precious natural asset, and the mixed blessing of a U.S. protectorate.  Panamanian gratitude soon turned to resentment against a deal Hay conceded was ‘vastly advantageous’ for the United States, ‘not so advantageous’ for Panama.  TR vigorously defended his actions, and some scholars have exonerated him. Even by the low standards of his day, his insensitive and impulsive behavior toward Colombia is hard to defend.  Root summed it up best.  Following an impassioned Rooseveltian defense before the cabinet, the secretary of war retorted in the sexual allusions he seemed to favor:  ‘You have shown that you have been accused of seduction and you have conclusively proven that you were guilty of rape.’  Although journalists criticized the president and Congress investigated, Americans generally agreed the noble ends justified the dubious means.  Even before the completion of the project in 1914, the canal became a symbol of national pride.  The United States succeeded where Europe had failed.”  –George Herring, From Colony to Superpower (2008), pp. 368-9


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