Magazine article ReVista (Cambridge)

Panamá and the United States

Magazine article ReVista (Cambridge)

Panamá and the United States

Article excerpt

MARCHING BANDS IN THEIR COLORFUL UNIforms from schools all over Panamá fill the streets of the City for the November 3 Independence Day parades. Panamá is possibly the only country in the world that celebrates not one but three independence days every year. The people of Panamá have a strong sense of nationhood. The country's complicated history has resulted in a love-hate relationship with the United States that eventually became an extraordinary foreign policy success for both countries.

Today, the Panama Canal Authority is completing a US$5.5 billion selffinanced expansion program that will allow the transit of much larger ships. Both Republican and Democratic U.S. administration officials have publicly admitted: "Panamá is doing a much better job running the Canal than we did." To understand the current situation, one must first understand a bit of history. In 1821, Panamá declared its independence from the Spanish Crown and in an effort to protect its nation voluntarily joined "The Great Colombia." Those were many years of total abandonment by Colombia, including a congressional rejection of a treaty to assure the building of the Panamá Canal. In 1903, following the Thousand-Days' War, a civil conflict in Colombia that also engulfed its Panamanian province, Panamá declared its independence from Colombia. This second revolutionary act was successful in part because of the support of United States gunships offthe coast (similar to the French support of U.S. revolutionaries in 1776)....thus the love part of the Panamá- U.S. relationship. In the following days a very well-connected and shrewd Frenchman, Philippe Bunau-Varilla, involved in the failed French Panama Canal project, hastily signed (hours before the official Panamanian delegation arrived in Washington, D.C.) a U.S.-Panama Treaty granting the U.S. a "Panamá Canal Zone," ten miles wide across the center of the Isthmus, to be governed by the United States "as if it were sovereign..." in perpetuity". A treaty that no Panamanian ever signed laid the basis for the "hate" part of the Panamá-U.S. relationship. Ninetyfive years later, this ominous treaty was annulled and new reasonable treaties were put into place. Panamá again was sovereign in all of its territory, taking control of the Panama Canal. Thus, the Panamá-U.S. relationship swung back to its "love" part ...and Panamá's third independence. To the credit of the non-violent tradition of the Panamanian people, the first two independences were achieved through intelligent negotiation without spilling one drop of blood. In the third and final independence, shooting started from the U.S. side.

EFFORTS AT REFORM OR REVISION OF TREATIES

Since the very beginning of the Hay- Bunau Varilla Treaty, the Panamanian people objected to the one-sided document and began their national struggle to reform the treaty and the Panamá- U.S. relationship. On the U.S. side, the Canal Zone government was assigned to the U.S. military with an Army General appointed governor of the area, making the relationship that much more difficult. The Panama Canal Zone became the perfect colony. The United States owned all lands; no private businesses were allowed, all employees were U.S. government-employed, who lived in government housing, shopped in government commissaries, were educated in government schools, went to government theaters, and learned to live behind protective high chain link fences, psychologically isolating them from Panamá and its citizens. Jobs for U.S. citizens in the Canal Zone were inherited from generation to generation so that these people no longer felt the United States was "home." Nor did these Zonians feel Panamá was home either; they were colonialists in the full sense of the word. The Canal Zone's salary system had gold and silver levels: U.S. citizens were gold, and Panamanians were silver, earning much lower pay for equal work, thereby becoming second- class citizens in their own country. These disparities reinforced the hate part of the relationship between the United States and Panamá. …

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