Panama Canal Diplomacy & Construction I

Lead: The construction of the Panama Canal was as much a triumph of manipulative diplomacy as it was the result of engineering genius. It took nearly a century to be set right.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: At the end of the nineteenth century the great powers of Europe were scrambling to absorb the few remaining parts of the world free of empire. In 1898 they were joined by the United States which in that imperial summer in short order had come to control Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Hawaii. However reluctant, the United States now was a colonial power with holdings in two oceans, and desired, needed and planned a canal to shorten the travel time between them.

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Panama Canal Diplomacy & Construction II

Lead: In 1903 the United States wished to construct a canal across the Isthmus of Panama. There was a little problem, however. Columbia refused America the rights of passage.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: Phillippe Bunau-Varilla was a French engineer, born in Paris in 1859. At the age of twenty-five he joined a contracting firm that sent him to Panama to work on the canal in the last years of France’s great attempt to build a land bridge across the Isthmus. When, through corruption and exhaustion, France turned its back on the canal project, Bunau-Varilla considered this a moral and political catastrophe. He was determined that the canal should be finished, no matter who completed it. If France would not rise to the task, he would help the United States.

In 1903 the Colombian Senate rejected the Hay-Herrán Treaty giving the United States the right to construct the canal in Panama. With the way blocked by Colombian patriotism, Bunau-Varilla began to meddle in Panamanian politics.

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Panama Canal Diplomacy & Construction IV

Lead: Using the leverage of independence to win control of the Panama Canal zone, the United States took a century to give it back.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: After receiving tacit encouragement from President Theodore Roosevelt, French engineer Phillippe Bunau-Varilla, who life obsession was determined to see the Canal built, assured Amador Guerrero, the future President of Panama, that the U.S. would back his revolution against Colombia. The condition for such support was that the Americans have a free hand in the construction and operation of the Canal. In a room at the Waldorf Hotel in New York, on October 13, 1903 Bunau-Varilla offered $100,000 of his own money to grease the process. Amador went home and he and his allies set the revolution in motion. At that time Panama was part of Colombia which had rejected U.S. offers for the canal zone. Panamanians separated the officers of what few Colombian troops were in Panama and on November 6th, with little loss of life, the Republic of Panama was proclaimed.

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Panama Canal Diplomacy & Construction III

Lead: The construction of the Panama Canal depended on the United States securing the right to build and operate it. Such was impossible until the U.S. engaged in a little nation-building.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: In August 1903, the Colombian Congress, in a burst of patriotic fervor rejected the Hay-Herrán Treaty. Amid a flood of anti-treaty oratory, Colombians denounced this as a shameful sellout of rights to the Yankee colossus and poured out invective on their leaders who had so violated Yankee honor. When he received word that Colombia wished to re-negotiate the Treaty, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt sent a note to John Hay, his long-suffering Secretary of State, “Those contemptible little creatures in Bogatá ought to understand how much they are jeopardizing things and imperiling their own future.” Hay and Roosevelt began to quietly interfere in Colombian affairs.

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