How did the United States gain the control over the Panama Canal?
What really happened in the negotiations between the U.S and the Colombian government to gain access to the canal?
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First of all, please note that when the US and the Colombian government were negotiating, the canal did not exist. The US got access to Panama through the negotiations and then it was the US that built the canal.
In 1903, the US and Colombia concluded a treaty that would have given the US the right to build a canal through the Isthmus of Panama (this was part of Colombia at the time). But the Colombian Senate rejected the treaty. This made Pres. Theodore Roosevelt very unhappy and so he helped Panama stage a rebellion against Colombia. The US Navy prevented Colombian troops from crushing the rebellion and Panama became independent.
After that happened, the US signed a treaty with the Prime Minister of Panama (who was actually a Frenchman who was part of a company that wanted to make money off the canal). The treaty gave the US the canal zone. After that, America built the canal, completing it in 1914 after 10 years of work.
The United States wanted to build a canal in what is now the country of Panama. We had gained the exclusive right to build a canal with the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty in 1901. We were negotiating with Colombia for permission to build a canal through a region that originally belonged to Colombia. We offered them a $10 million fee plus an annual rent of $250,000. However, Colombia refused this offer.
The people who lived in this area weren’t happy being ruled by the government of Colombia. The United States, in a behind the scenes role, encouraged these people to revolt for their freedom. When the Colombians tried to enter the area to end the rebellion, our navy wouldn’t allow this to occur. When the people revolted, the United States quickly recognized the independence of the new country of Panama. We made the same offer to Panama that we made to Colombia. Panama accepted our offer, and we began to build the canal. The Panama Canal opened in 1914.
Before the canal was built successfully by the United States, the Atlantic and Pacific were connected by a railroad through Panama. This railroad was later destroyed by the Chagres River. The French attempted to build the canal but this ended up with major losses in lives and resources. The French gave up on this expedition and they were to release the equipment to Colombia as per their agreement. America was also interested in building the canal for trade and defense purposes. After deliberations on whether to build the canal in Nicaragua or Colombia, America settled for Colombia.
President Roosevelt engaged the Colombian government through the then Secretary of State John Hay. The two countries negotiated and finally reached an agreement. The US was allowed to build the canal through Panama but due to vested interests, the Colombian government delayed ratification of the treaty. This led to a revolution for secession, staged by the Panamanians against Colombia. The revolution was supported by the US and the French company after a deal was struck between the two. Panama then became independent, a new treaty was signed which favored the US, and the French company was paid 40 million dollars for its machinery in this new deal.
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