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The Red Apple of Imperialism: Colombia-U.S. Relations during the Panama Affair

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One of Spanish Harlem's reasons why some of  us SHOULD write on walls
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We've all heard the stories about the heat, illness, and death that described the construction of the Panama Canal. There are stories about the mosquitoes being so thick that workers would trap a mouthful with every breath. Most of us also know that the canal is one of the greatest triumphs in engineering. However, behind this tale of struggle and triumph lies another story of dirty politics and international deceit.

Road

Panamanian Flavor / "Ever had a guanabana?"

After the Spanish-American War, the U.S. was well on its way to becoming the economic and political leader of the Western hemisphere. Since the San Francisco Gold Rush in 1849, the U.S. had been using the Isthmus of Panama to transport goods between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. At the time, the Isthmus was a state in the Republic of the United States of Colombia. There was a Colombian railroad used to transport goods across the narrow isthmus.. In fact, the U.S. had sponsored the construction of the railroad. The U.S. signed a treaty with Colombia for access to the railroad. The treaty guaranteed Colombia the right to govern the territory. The Colombian government had allowed the French to start building a canal. But the U.S. wanted to control the Isthmus, for the missing link in the growing chain of its empire.

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Treacherous conditions in the area led the French to stop building the canal. The U.S. wanted to take over, but Colombia said no. They did not want the U.S. to maintain military control around the canal. The president, Teddy Roosevelt, got upset, because his plans to control the important canal had been foiled.

Someone tell Stephen you can't swim to the Panama Canal
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Did Teddy Roosevelt's administration give in to Colombia's refusal? Of course not! Teddy Roosevelt actually broke the previous treaty with Colombia and began to pay residents of Panama to support a revolution against the Republic of Colombia. He thought that if a new republic was formed by the revolution, he could sign a treaty with the new republic and secure his plans for the canal.

Cartwheeling through Spanish-Harlem
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And so, the U.S. government sent its navy down to Panama and supported the birth of a new country. The new government of Panama signed a treaty which gave the U.S. complete control of a fifty-mile long, ten-mile wide strip of land across Panama, in exchange for $10 million.

Considering the U.S. treatment of Colombia, is the U.S. really the defender of the free world that it claims to be? Do you think there could have been a Panama Canal if the U.S. had not been tempted by the possibility of becoming a world leader?

Stephen

Please email me at: stephen@ustrek.org

 

Links to Other Dispatches

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Neda - A little taste of the Philippines - at the mall food court
Stephen - Cuba Libre! The sweet taste of freedom