How did the US get the Panama Canal?
The French were the first to try and build a canal across South
America, starting in 1882. Before they could start work, they
needed to secure a concession from the Columbian government, which
controlled Panama at that time. However, their project failed,
thousands of workers died (mainly from disease,) and the company
went bankrupt six years later, in 1888. A Frenchman named Philippe
Bunau-Varilla managed to keep the effort from collapsing entirely,
and looked for another party to take up the concession. The United
States, which was also interested in building a canal, negotiated
to buy the concession from the French. However, Columbia refused
Meanwhile, nationalism was stirring in Panama. An agreement was
made with the US government that if the US would help Panama gain
their independence, they would allow the canal to be built. In
1903, Panama became its own country, and the United States
immediately recognized the new government. Columbia sent troops to
reclaim Panama, but US warships prevented them from landing.
After the United States helped Panama win its independence, a
treaty was immediately negotiated to allow the US to build a canal.
The treaty granted considerably more to the US then the failed
agreement with Columbia had, including rights to use military
within Panama and US control of the Canal Zone in perpetuity. In
essence, the Canal Zone would be part of the US in all but name.
However, the man who signed for the Panamanians, the Frenchman
Bunau-Varilla, was not part of the official delegation from the new
Panamanian government, and some Panamanians felt that the rights
granted to the US in the treaty were excessive.