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Panama canal bridges the gap for the Americas

by Breonnah Colón - Editor- in- Chief
Fri, Nov 30th 2018 02:00 pm
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With the holiday season comes a strong sense of family, generosity and community. People seem just a little more pleasant with one another, willing to give a bit more than they typically would, all for the sake of wishing someone else a happy holiday. Be it due to Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah or sheer joy at sale prices and festive airs, Americans and others across the world become warmer to others and tend to be more positive and thankful.

With this same sense of appreciation and respect, we must pay homage to a country which has gifted the United States in a way not many other nations have. Panama has worked in collaboration with the U.S. on several different negotiations. However, perhaps the most impactful, not just for the two nations but the world as a whole, is the Panama canal. 

Serving as a sort of land bridge connecting North and South America, Panama is bordered by Costa Rica along one coast and Colombia on the other. The area was one of great interest as a Spanish colony because it not only played a major role in conquering the Inca empire, but was also used as a point of transfer for shipping gold and silver to Spain in the 19th century, according to britannica.com

As the fight for liberation spread across Latin America, Panama along with Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia became known as the Republic of Gran Colombia. Several years later in 1830, the established republic dissolved and each nation took its own path to progress, save for Panama which remained part of Colombia for several more decades until 1903 when the U.S. helped the nation secede. With this newfound independence and established relationship with the U.S. another monumental moment was cemented into the history of these two nations: the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty, which granted the U.S. rights to area where the canal would eventually be built, as explained by history.state.gov

As airplanes and highways have allowed for trade to be done relatively quickly, it may be difficult to understand why the Panama canal was so important to U.S. interests. The canal serves as a way to connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, allowing trade between the two to be done much faster and more efficiently than it had ever been done up until that point. 

This was done not only for financial reasons, but also as a way for the U.S. to maintain its position as one of the most influential superpowers in the world. According to pbs.org, maintaining control over both oceans as the canal allowed, offered the U.S. the sort of stronghold no other nation in the world had, a critical strategy which played a large role in political relations and war at the time.

Construction lasted 10 years, from 1904 until 1914 with the help of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, according to cia.gov. In addition to its exceptional engineering, one unique fact regarding the canal’s construction is most of the labor force that actually worked on the project regarding U.S. construction came from the West Indies, which includes countries like Barbados, Guadalupe and Martinique, among others. This mixup of cultures allowed for a huge diversity in Panama, where the official language is Spanish but languages like Creole as well as other indigenous languages and even Arabic, are widely used. 

As time passed, the U.S. eventually allowed Panama control over its canal, where it has been working to update, reconstruct and expand the structure until as recently as 2016. Between its exceptional biodiversity as well as its copious cultural diversity, Panama has proven it has much to offer the world. With the holiday season bringing the air of gratitude and hospitality, we cannot forget the impactful benefits we’ve been granted thanks to those living and working just a plane flight away in the other America.


stylus@brockport.edu | @b_co___ 

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