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Panama Canal Building Update


The Panama Goal was the result of a long-term goal of the United States. They and European trade partners had long been searching for a way to construct a trans-isthmian canal. It was a way of cutting the transportation costs of shipping from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific.

Originally, the first proposed mass scale canal project was supposed to be in Nicaragua. Great Britain and the U.S. agreed to the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty in 1850. It never entered even the early stages of construction.

France, at the time, had made more progress than the United States. Ferdinand de Lesseps, the mind behind the Suez Canal, began construction efforts in Panama in 1880.

France Enters the Game

The French efforts proved disastrous. Tropical diseases proved to be a major hindrance. After about 9 years and 20,000 lives later, the canal project went bankrupt.

American Insistence

American efforts were not deterred. American interests continued up until the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty of 1901, which gave the U.S. the ability to build the canal in Panama without the interference of European powers.

After much debate in Congress, the canal project was finally approved on June 19, 1902. However, the Colombian government were given unfavorable terms and rejected the American offer.

President Theodore Roosevelt responding aggressively. He sent Navy ships to both sides of Panama. The United States and Panama worked together to achieve Panamanian independence. At the time, Panama was still a part of Colombia. After gaining independence under American support in 1903, the government immediately negotiated a treaty with their American neighbors on the canal project.

The Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty of 1903 allowed the U.S. to build the canal under terms of a payment of $10 million dollars followed by an annual $250,000. The U.S. government also promised continued support of Panamanian sovereignty.

The canal was finally completed in 1914 and served as a soft power symbol of American economic power and prosperity. Though the Panamanian government was initially supportive of the venture around the time it was completed, it served as a thorn in the foreign relations of both countries for decades to come.

Recent Expansion

Recently, the Panama Canal received a wide-scale update. An expansion that was originally slated for completion in 2014, was finally opened in 2016. The expansion project began in 2007 and took almost a decade. At the time, international shipping was at an all-time high and there was a serious need for the canal to widen in order to fit modern-day shipping boats.

The update came as necessary for many. Competition in the maritime transportation industry is fierce, and the Canal served as a symbol of pride for Panama.

Water Supply Issues

Though some critics are concerned about water supply, the new locks were designed with a water-saving mechanism. This allows for the reuse of water. Although, even with the use of recycling, the canal and the country will have to lean more on Lake Gatun as a source of canal and drinking water.
Advocators of the expansion state the Lake Gatun and new water-saving practices will provide a more than adequate water supply, but time will tell.


The new locks also can be difficult to navigate for neo-Panamax ship pilots. The margin of error is smaller than ever, and pilots need to enter the necessary training beforehand. As globalization shrinks the world, the Panama Canal remains an important shipping canal.