Panama canal: uniting the world

Panama Canal: Uniting the World

Panama is a land bridging continents and oceans. Its isthmus connects South America and North America. The renowned Panama Canal joins the waters of the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. It is a great macroscopic crossroads so to speak. And Panama Canal is one of the most highly controversial man-made infrastructure.

The Panama Canal is approximately 51 miles long, extending from the mouth of the Caribbean to the Pacific. From the Caribbean entrance, you will go through Lim?n Bay. After that you will encounter a series of three locks, collectively known as the Gatun Locks. The Panama Canal continues on to Gamboa, the Culebra Cut, the Pedro Miguel Locks, Miraflores Locks, and finally the Pacific Ocean. The Panama Canal is indeed an engineering feat of great worth.

But by merely looking at it, the Panama Canal of today doesn’t even give a hint of the travails the people who have built it have encountered. Digging this manmade trench was an experience fraught with problems, obstacles and tragedy.

The construction of Panama Canal began in 1878 under a French company and under the leadership of the engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps. The digging began but in so disorganized a fashion that what the crew dug out remained where they were put. No clearing crew came after. Landslides became a grave concern.

There weren’t enough equipments and tools available to effectively excavate the canal. Large boulders stopped construction at every turn. Men were doing more than was humanly possible to keep the work going. Add to that the fact that there was no adequate housing and medical facilities there, most of the crew got sick at one time or another and most of these crew members chose to go home. There was enormous turnover of crew men and at the end, more than 22,000 crew members have died in digging the canal.

Of course, monetary problems were a great part of the controversy. The French company which greatly suffered financially. The mix of engineering problems, crew member turnover, sickness and pestilence wore down the company’s capital and halted construction once and for all.

But the United States saw the potential of a canal connecting the Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean. It also wanted access to and control of the canal that was being built. Thus, when construction halted, the American government negotiated with the French for rights to and control of the canal. No mutual agreement was reached, however. What the United States did then was cooperate and organize the Panamanian citizens to protest against Colombian authority. With American ships standing by, Panama officially became an independent entity on November 3, 1903. On the same month, Panama granted control of the Panama Canal to the United States for US$10 million and an annual sum of US$250,000.

The Panama Canal is now finished and fully operational. It has become a great tool in the traffic of goods from the South to North America, as well as one of the most famous tourist attractions.

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