Transfer Of The Panama Canal Transfer of the Panama Canal Skepticism and controversy have surrounded the Panama Canal’s recent turnover by the United States to Panama. The Panama Canal, completed in 1914, spans 51 miles across Panama from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans. Considered to be the biggest civil engineering project in history, the canal shortened the trip from San Francisco to New York by 8,000 miles. It is navigated by fourteen thousand ships a year, four percent of the world’s maritime commerce. Although the United States picked up the $352 million price tag and it’s very existence is credited to former President Teddy Roosevelt, Panama still considered the canal rightfully theirs. Roosevelt engineered its independence from Colombia in 1903 so he could build the canal. In 1977, then President Jimmy Carter and Panamanian leader at the time General Omar Torrijos formed a treaty that would revert the ownership of the canal and the 10-mile Canal Zone surrounding it back to Panama on December 31, 1999.
The 22 years long process of turning over responsibility for the operation, administration, and defense of the canal officially ended with the withdraw of the last 10,000 U.S. troops from the canal zone. The handover of the Corozal military installation to Panama was also a symbol of Panama’s growing sovereignty, although a small number of soldiers will remain as part of the U.S. Embassy’s military assistance team. The new President, Mireya Moscoso, goal is to change a world-class location into a world-class country, technologically literate and future oriented.
Moscoso comes into office at a time when Panama is trying to rediscover itself. Although it’s economy is not totally dependent on the canal, it’s self-image depends on whether the newly-appointed members of the Panama Canal Authority can make the canal a valuable money-making resource instead of being run on a non-profit basis as in the past. One of her most difficult tasks will be to protect the canal’s neutrality by guarding it from political corruption and mismanagement. The economy is also at risk with unemployment rates at 13% and the closing of U.S. military bases, which may raise that even higher.
The security of the Panamanian-controlled canal is a major concern for both Moscoso and the United Sates, who has the right to defend the canal with military force under the Treaty On the Permanent Neutrality of the canal, but only if canal operations are jeopardized. On southern border regions of Columbia are leftist guerrillas, one of the most dangerous security threat to the undeveloped democracy. The Darian region of the Colombian rain forest, very close to the border, is a well-known supply and rest area for guerrillas and the Colombian paramilitary is slowly forcing them out of the forest and sometimes over the Panamanian border. The risk of submarine attacks has pushed the government to consider spending $12 million on the restoration of a second-world-war anti-torpedo dam. The nation’s army was dissolved following the 1989 U.S.
invasion to unseat military strongman Manuel Noriega. The country since has relied on a national police force, currently 18,000 strong. A poll of 1,200 Panamanians by the La Prensa newspaper showed 70 percent believe Panama is not capable of defending the strategic waterway. More than 72 percent said Panama needs the United States to protect the canal and 68 percent opposed the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Authorities, however, have insisted that Panama is ready to defend the canal without the U.S. military, which had maintained a presence here since 1903 when the country became independent of Colombia. A more serious problem facing the United States is the loss of U.S. military bases, which served as headquarters for U.S. drug-fighting efforts in the region.
About 2,000 planes a year took off from Howard Air Force Base to hunt out drug labs and mysterious landing strips in Central and South America and the Caribbean. Meanwhile, U.S. authorities worry that Colombian guerrillas will help drug traffickers ship more cocaine through Panama en route to the United States. History Essays.