Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A Brief History of the Panama Canal

For some of you, when you hear the word Panama your mind instantly flashes back to the anthemic PA!-NA!-mah in 1984 and David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen flying across the stage wearing neon spandex. Enjoy:

But for most of my esteemed readers, you instead think of the economic wonder that is the Panama Canal and the interesting political history involving the USA and Jimmy Carter and...er... France?

I had the pleasure of visiting the canal yesterday. They have a nice museum and the story is told well in both Spanish and English. There were lots of tourists there, most came via bus from cruise ships. We got to watch a massive cruise ship go through one of the three locks along the 80km route.

I recommend visiting if you find yourself in the neighborhood.

  • 1513: Spanish explorers are introduced to the narrow isthmus that is now Panama and realize it's a great place to cross between oceans
  • 1819: Spanish government authorizes the building of a canal
  • 1881: French begin construction of the canal, lead by the guy who had recently completed the leadership of the digging of the Suez Canal
  • 1880s: Construction extremely difficult and many workers die from malaria and yellow fever
  • 1902: French admit failure and sell their ownership of the rights to dig to the USA
  • 1914: Canal opens but is controlled by the USA
  • 1964: Protests by Panamanian students over the USA landholdings, a corridor along the entire route of the canal. Riots ensue. 9 die and 600 injured.
  • 1977: USA President Jimmy Carter signs deal to turn over ownership of the canal to Panama on Dec. 31, 1999
  • 1999: Panama takes ownership amidst great national celebration
  • 2016: Expansion of the canal is complete, allowing it to now accept even larger cargo ships
Wikipedia has more stats, including over 5,000 workers died and over 1 million ships have passed through the canal.

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