Building the Canal,
For almost 300 years Panama belonged to the Spanish Empire. Panama declared separation on November 10th, 1821. The first 80 years following independence from Spain were spent under the sovereign rule of Columbia. (CIA- The World Fact Book)
Panama made several attempts to secede from Columbia, coming close twice but needing some extra assistance. Simultaneously, the U.S. had been negotiating with Columbia for allowance to use Panama as a site to build a canal, which would connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. (infoplease) Columbia refused every offer made by America and unwittingly provoked underhanded methods. The United States assured military backing to support Panama's revolution in exchange for the right of way to build a canal. Panama bequeathed the canal site to America at the conclusion of their successful revolution. While Panama's needs during the Panamanian Rebellion outweighed the right of Columbian sovereignty, America's involvement in the conflict stemmed primarily from self-interest and thus did not.
Panamanians were not satisfied with living under sovereign rule. They had become a Department of Columbia, one of the 32 composing the country, of their own free will but sought independence several times beginning in 1831. (CIA- The World Fact Book)
They were consistently refused having no legitimate justification, but this all changed when their citizens’ safety was put at stake. In 1899, they found themselves in the midst of a Columbian civil war. The Thousand Days War, a civil armed conflict between the ruling Conservative Party and the radical faction of Columbia’s Liberal Party, broke out because ruling conservatives were accused of maintaining power through fraudulent elections. (infoplease) The 3 year war was partially fought on Panamanian soil, though Panama had no involvement, putting the safety of the Panamanians in unnecessary jeopardy. At this point, Panama’s need for safety outweighed the rights of the Colombian ruling body, and justified the attempted secession.
The idea of building a canal across Central America dates back to 1534. (Global Perspectives)
It had been the dream of many to connect the two oceans. Doing so would enable more easily accessible trade routes along with giving the owner of the canal a significant amount of power over who he lets use it. Though the idea had been floating around for some time, it wasn’t until 1882 when the French started digging at sea level across Panama. (U.S. Library of Congress)
The United States was also interested in building a canal. They chose Nicaragua as the location for the site but the Maritime Canal Company lost all of its funding as a result of the stock panic and work on the canal abruptly stopped. The French had even less luck in building a canal. Twice they made their attempts, and twice they failed. The first company who took on the challenge was under the direction Ferdinand Lesseps. Thousands of lives were claimed by malaria, the company suffered financial setbacks and was liquidated to repay the investors. The second company, Compagnie Nouvelle du Canal de Panama, was also unable to complete the task. (Global Perspectives)
Desperate, France started searching for a buyer to purchase their equipment and the building rights. They set the price at 100 million dollars and started bargaining with the United States, who they believed to be the only country with enough recourses to make the purchase and finish the canal. The United States was intent on finishing the site in Nicaragua and the French had to lower their price to $40 million in order to convince the U.S. otherwise. The only hurtle remaining was the Columbian government.
The United States proposed a treaty in which they would pay the Columbian government $10 million initially and another $250,000 annually for their hundred year lease of a 6 mile strip of land on either side of the canal. (U.S. Library of Congress)
When the Columbians refused, Theodore Roosevelt was not too pleased. "We were dealing with a government of irresponsible bandits.” (Global Perspectives)
Roosevelt discovered that Panama was none too happy with their situation as a Department of Columbia. He organized a Panamanian rebellion for independence. The U.S. used its military to back the rebellion. Once Panama had successfully seceded, the Panama Canal Treaty of 1903 gave the U.S. ownership of the canal for as long as Panama received $10 million per year. (Global Perspectives)
Theodore Roosevelt saw fit to use Panama for the canal without permission from Columbia. His reasons for backing Panama were utterly selfish. There was no interest in saving Panama from the abuse of a sovereign ruler. Columbia’s tyranny was more valid than the United State’s self-indulgence.
The mistreatment that Panama faced as a country under the sovereign rule of Columbia justified their right to rebellion, however America’s support of the rebellion emanated from self-interest. Many times Panama tried to secede from Columbia and was disallowed. Because the United States wanted Panama to increase their wealth by building a canal, they prompted the Panamanian Rebellion and backed it with their military strength. Panama was set free from their abusive sovereign rulers for America’s benefits. A concern for ones safety is a common concern, shared by just about everyone. A secession is justified if the public's safety is put into jeopardy. Just as a single citizen would be justified to remove himself from the presence of danger. These dilemmas are inherent to every conflict that has been and will be.
"Central America: Panama Canal." COTF. Web. 15 Oct. 2010. <http://www.cotf.edu/earthinfo/camerica/panama/PCtopic2.html>
"Panama - United States Intervention." Country Studies. U.S. Library of Congress. Web. 15 Oct. 2010. <http://countrystudies.us/panama/11.htm>.
"Panama: History, Geography, Government, and Culture." Infoplease. Web. <http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0107870.html>.
"CIA - The World Factbook." Welcome to the CIA Web Site — Central Intelligence Agency. Web. 15 Oct. 2010. <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world- factbook/geos/pm.html>.