Does the Panama Canal belong to the western hemisphere?

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By Kristy Tolley

What is the Panama Canal?

The Panama Canal is an artificial waterway that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It is located in Panama, a country in Central America that serves as a crucial crossroads for international trade. The canal is approximately 50 miles long and was built to facilitate the transportation of goods and people across the two oceans. It is often considered one of the greatest engineering feats of the 20th century and a symbol of progress and modernization.

Historical Background: Who built it and why?

The Panama Canal was built by the United States between 1904 and 1914. The project was initiated by President Theodore Roosevelt, who saw the canal as a way to boost American economic and military power. The construction of the canal was a massive undertaking that required the excavation of millions of cubic meters of earth and rock. It also involved the relocation of thousands of workers, many of whom were brought from the Caribbean and other parts of the world. The canal was finally completed in 1914, but at a significant cost both in terms of money and human lives. It is estimated that over 25,000 workers died during the construction of the canal, mostly due to diseases such as malaria and yellow fever.

Panama Canal Treaty: Ownership and Control

In 1903, the United States supported Panama’s secession from Colombia and gained control of a strip of land that became known as the Panama Canal Zone. The Zone was governed by the United States until 1979, when the Panama Canal Treaty was signed. The treaty allowed for the gradual transfer of control of the canal to Panama, and in 1999, the canal was fully handed over to the Panamanian government. However, the United States retains the right to intervene in the canal’s security and operation if necessary.

Arguments for Western Hemisphere Ownership

Many argue that the Panama Canal belongs to the Western Hemisphere because it is located in Central America, which is part of the Americas. The canal is also important for the economies of many countries in the region, as it facilitates the transportation of goods and reduces shipping times and costs. Additionally, the canal is a symbol of cooperation and partnership between the countries of the region, as it was built through the joint efforts of the United States and Panama.

Arguments against Western Hemisphere Ownership

Others argue that the Panama Canal does not belong to the Western Hemisphere because it is a global waterway that connects two oceans. They argue that the canal’s ownership and control should be determined by international law and not by regional considerations. Additionally, some point out that the canal’s history is marked by colonialism and exploitation, as the United States used its military power to gain control of the canal zone and to impose its will on the Panamanian government.

Economic Benefits of the Panama Canal

The Panama Canal is an essential artery for international trade, connecting more than 160 countries and handling over 5% of global maritime trade. The canal generates significant revenues for Panama, as it charges tolls for the use of its facilities. The canal also benefits the economies of many countries, as it reduces shipping times and costs and facilitates the transportation of goods. For example, the canal allows ships to avoid the long and dangerous journey around the southern tip of South America, saving time and money.

The Canal’s Impact on International Trade

The Panama Canal has had a profound impact on international trade, enabling the globalization of the world economy. The canal has facilitated the transportation of goods between Asia, Europe, and the Americas, allowing for the rapid growth of trade and commerce. Additionally, the canal has been a catalyst for the development of new markets and industries, as it has made it easier for countries to access new sources of raw materials and to export their products to distant markets.

Environmental Concerns: The Panama Canal Expansion

In 2016, the Panama Canal underwent a major expansion that doubled its capacity and allowed it to handle larger ships. However, the expansion also raised concerns about the canal’s environmental impact, as it involved the excavation of millions of cubic meters of earth and the destruction of natural habitats. Additionally, the expansion may increase the risk of invasive species entering the canal and causing ecological damage.

The Canal’s Role in National Security

The Panama Canal has always been of strategic importance for national security, as it allows for the rapid deployment of military assets across the oceans. During the Cold War, the canal was a key element of the United States’ global defense strategy, as it allowed for the projection of military power into Latin America and other parts of the world. Today, the canal remains an essential component of the United States’ national security infrastructure, as it allows for the rapid response to crises and emergencies.

Panama Canal and International Law

The ownership and control of the Panama Canal are governed by international law, including the 1977 Panama Canal Treaty. Under the treaty, Panama has full sovereignty over the canal, but the United States retains the right to intervene in the canal’s security and operation if necessary. Additionally, the canal is subject to international maritime law, which regulates the safe and efficient operation of the waterway.

Future Challenges: Maintenance and Upkeep

The Panama Canal faces significant challenges in terms of maintenance and upkeep, as it is a complex and aging infrastructure that requires constant attention. The canal must be dredged regularly to maintain its depth, and its locks and gates must be inspected and repaired as needed. Additionally, the canal must adapt to changing environmental conditions and technological advancements, such as the increasing use of renewable energy sources and the rise of autonomous shipping.

Conclusion: The Panama Canal and its Place in the Western Hemisphere

The Panama Canal is a remarkable engineering accomplishment that connects two oceans and facilitates the transportation of goods and people across the world. Its ownership and control have been the subject of debate, but it is clear that the canal has played a crucial role in the economic and strategic development of the Western Hemisphere and the world. As the canal faces new challenges and opportunities, its continued success will depend on the cooperation and partnership of all the countries that benefit from its existence.

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Kristy Tolley

Kristy Tolley, an accomplished editor at TravelAsker, boasts a rich background in travel content creation. Before TravelAsker, she led editorial efforts at Red Ventures Puerto Rico, shaping content for Platea English. Kristy's extensive two-decade career spans writing and editing travel topics, from destinations to road trips. Her passion for travel and storytelling inspire readers to embark on their own journeys.

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