US Imperialism on Panama
Faith Ann Hawkins Mr. Collins World History and Geography 3 November 2018 In history, it is a common theme to see that sacrifices must be made, but can some be too drastic? Many people today know of the vital waterway called the Panama Canal. Opened in 1914, the Panama Canal was one of the greatest engineering achievements in the world.(Alfaro, 2018).
It was first a project started by France in 1881, but they quit due to engineering problems and a high worker mortality rate. The U.S took over the project in 1904. This canal cuts through the Isthmus of Panama with a 51-mile long waterway, turning a ship ride around a continent into an 8-10 hour cruise through the canal. This canal has seen many owners, including Columbia, France, and the United States.
Though, the way America got this canal is still a controversy. Was it right for Americans to do whatever it took to make this strategic waterway? The wrongdoing of this is summed up in the word imperialism. Though the Panama Canal is very important, how the U.S obtained it was not right. Imperialism is quite a strong word. At the time the canal was built, most countries sought to imperialism others for power. Imperialism is the control of one nation over another. Though, in this time era, the late eighteenth century, there was a different form of imperialism, New imperialism.
This started when countries wished to have complete control over colonies instead of just setting up trading ports and such. America, even though people don’t hear it much, was an imperializing nation too. What was so wrong with imperialism? There are many periods in history that are strong examples of to why imperialism is corrupt and wrong. There were three continents in which imperialism was very popular, Africa, India, and Asia. In southeast Asia, Great Britain was the first to start imperializing using the concept of new imperialisation. They wished to take Burma but failed.
Instead, there constant influence in Burma caused the monarchy to fall and they took over. Many countries soon heard of this and started following so they wouldn’t fall behind. New ways to rule an area appeared such as indirect rule, direct rule, and making protectorates. This colonialization caused many indigenous people to suffer. Colonizers didn’t want the colonies to make industries, this policy often led to the development of plantation agriculture (Spielvogel 229). In this system, peasants worked as laborers on others plantations. The workers were kept at the poverty level for profit increase and many died due to the unhealthy conditions. Things like this continued in many areas of the world as they were colonized.
The process usually was that colonizers took the area, colonists moved in, natives were treated unfairly, they colonizers try to change the culture, and then revolts pop up. The reason that the imperialist counties gave for these terrible actions was that Western powers were bringing the blessing of Western civilization to their colonial subjects, including representative government.(Spielvogel 229). Even then, not many native people were allowed to be in the government or even educated because the idea of political rights to the people scarred the colonizers. This example of imperialism doesn’t show the full suffering of the native people. In India, people would hold parties at the Taj Mahal, a grave burial for the king’s beloved wife. They would even chip pieces off as souvenirs. Imperialism corrupted many cultures and caused enormous amounts of hate and racism.
Now, is it possible to see that imperialism is unacceptable? The U.S is no exception. The United States intruded onto Latin America and became known as the Big bully to the north(Spielvogel 243). The U.S imperialization of Latin America included Panama. People had dreamed of building a canal across Central America to link the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans (“President Roosevelt Decides To Build The Panama Canal.” VOA. N. p., 2006. Web. 4 Dec. 2018.). This included President Theodore Roosevelt. Two places in North Latin America caught the eye of Roosevelt and the U.S; Panama and Nicaragua. Engineers claimed that in the 1880s, Panama would be the cheaper choice. Though, at the time, they would have to buy land and building rights from the French company who was already there, through imperialism. With these two purchases, it could easily cost a hundred million dollars just to own the land. Congress approved of the building of the canal in Nicaragua. A debate soon sparked however because France had lowered the price of Panama. Roosevelt supported the Panama plan, but it was clear Nicaragua would win this debate.
But as volcanic action destroyed homes and killed thousands, Panama became the only choice. The people in this area of Colombia wanted to separate themselves from the Columbian rule, so the U.S gave them a little shove. The United States was intrigued so much by Panama that they convinced rebel groups to take arms against the Colombians with the support of American troops and resources.(“Effects On Panama – Imperialism In Central America.” Sites.google.com. N. p., 2018. Web. 6 Dec. 2018.). The Panamanians successfully won their independence from Columbia with the support of the United States.
Though, the US only helped for one reason, the location to build the canal. Almost instantly the Americans restrained Panama with a treaty that gave the US the land where the canal would be built. The treaty was almost an exact replica of the treaty the US tried to give Colombia. Expect that the canal zone was now 16 meters wide instead of 10 and the US got permanent control of the canal (“President Roosevelt Decides To Build The Panama Canal.” VOA. N. p., 2006. Web. 9 Dec. 2018.). Panama signed it just 15 days after their declaration of independence from Colombia in 1903. Many Columbians and Americans protested and resented the actions of Roosevelt. Many saw him as a pirate. However, Roosevelt continued to build the canal. He said, I took the canal zone and let Congress debate. And while the debate goes on…so does work on the canal. After ten years, the canal was finished in 1914.
Panama, from 1903 to 1939, became a US protectorate. In 1921, Colombia and the United States entered into the Thomson“Urrutia Treaty. (“Panama Canal.” En.wikipedia.org. N. p., 2018. Web. 9 Dec. 2018.). In this treaty, paid Colombia $25 million and granted Colombia privileges to the canal. Colombia, in return, recognized Panama as an independent nation. Through all of the troubles of the imperialization a Panama, the US decided to return the canal. In 1977, US president Jimmy Carter and Panama leader Omar Torrijos signed a treaty that promised full control of the canal to Panama by 2000. Panama got full authority on December 31, 1999. The previous paragraph represented how the US controlled Panama and built the canal through the years, but what was the most important was how the people felt and were affected by this stage of imperialism.
At first, once America had helped Panama lead a successful revolt, the leader of the revolution, Manuel Amador, said, “Yesterday, we were slaves of Colombia. Today, we are free. President Theodore Roosevelt has kept his word. Long live the Republic of Panama! long live President Roosevelt!”. This shows that at first, Panama found the US as an ally that had helped lead them to freedom. Soon, however, they realized this was not true. Colombia protested. It said the United States had acted illegally in Panama. Many American citizens protested, too. (“President Roosevelt Decides To Build The Panama Canal.” VOA. N. p., 2006. Web. 9 Dec. 2018.). As stated earlier, Roosevelt was widely seen as a pirate. Despite all these protested, Theodore Roosevelt didn’t care. He stated, I took the Isthmus, started the canal and then left Congress not to debate the canal, but to debate me.”
Panama was utilized as a tool for America’s growing economy. Once the canal was finished, The US attempted to control all the profits made from it. The US propaganda that was directed toward the Panama government promised that the Panama canal would be profitable for their citizens. However, this was a complete lie on the US’s part. America’s only interest was to imperialize Panama and take control and use the country as a source of profit exclusively(“Effects On Panama – Imperialism In Central America.” Sites.google.com. N. p., 2018. Web. 9 Dec. 2018.). Truly, wealthy American businessmen were the profiteers. The attraction to the Panama canal was for economic growth, but instead, it aggravated tensions between Panama and the Us. Eventually, it leads to thousands of injuries and riots. Many other Latin American nations grew to fear the idea of American imperialization. Roosevelt, however, claimed that the US would only take action on nations who had debts to European countries.
Despite the unjust sides of this, there were some ups. America brought in railroads, sewage, electricity, and schools. No matter what, the cons overpower the pros. What the US did was wrong. Many unfortunate things befell on the people of Panama, and it happens to be America’s fault. In the end, America shouldn’t have imperialized Panama or any Latin American nation. After Roosevelt left office, the United States signed an agreement that showed America’s regret and gave $25 million to Colombia. Even though Roosevelt was out of office, his friends in the Senate rejected the proposal in his place. After his death, another agreement was signed. It still included the money but didn’t include a statement of regret as the previous one did.
This agreement was approved by the Senate. The engineering of this canal is something that should strike awe into anyone. The canal has a total of 3 locks and 3 chambers on each side of the ocean. The locks lift and lower ships from the Gatun Lake, an artificial lake to reduce excavation for the canal. This waterway is very important today. However, the imperialization that took place has left a permanent mark on the history of the US. People can hope that the US isn’t seen as a nation who conquers others for wealth and resource, but instead as an ally to other nations across the world.
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