For hundreds of years, ships rounding the southern-most tip of South America, known today as Cape Horn faced fierce winds, large waves, strong currents and icebergs. It was often referred to as a sailors' graveyard. After claiming the lives of many sailors, merchants and immigrants, it was apparent that a different passageway to voyage from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific or vice versa was necessary. The Isthmus of Panama seemed to be the most practical area to excavate a canal, but obtaining the rights and resources for the project was incredibly formidable. Overall, it would benefit a larger part of the world if the Panama Canal was constructed rather than for Colombia to continue to control the country of Panama with no change.

It was clear to the United States that if they could successfully construct the canal, their dominance in Latin America would be obvious to the rest of the world. The United States wanted to excavate the passageway through Nicaragua, and the location was almost finalized when a severe volcanic eruption forced them to look elsewhere. America then turned to Panama, a country misgoverned by Colombia and still under their control since 1821 when both countries joined together after breaking free of Spain’s dominance.

In order to achieve their quest for power and expansion, Secretary of State John Hay was directed by Theodore Roosevelt to form a treaty with Colombia, permitting the U.S. to build, operate and protect the canal. Colombia rejected the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty in 1901 because it required the U.S. to pay only 10 million dollars for the six-mile wide canal-zone, and a 250,000-dollar annual rent payment.  

Panama had staged over 50 uprisings against Colombia between the years of 1850 and 1902, which proved unsuccessful. The U.S., knowing that they would gain rights to the canal-zone if Panama’s independence was declared, quickly stepped in and prevented Colombian reinforcements from arriving in Panama. The Panamanian Rebellion lasted for one day, ultimately ending on November 4th 1903. With Panama’s independence declared official, permission was granted to the U.S. to commence operations and monitoring of the canal. Construction started in May of 1904 and the Panama Canal was fully completed on August 15, 1914. Theodore Roosevelt said his actions against Colombia were “justified by the interests of collective civilization.”

Looking back, most of the world benefited from the construction of the Panama Canal. Panama gained their long awaited independence, the United States became a dominant power not only in Central America, but also throughout the world, and international trade became safer and faster.

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