Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Panama Canal

Panama Canal 1907

The history of the Panama Canal goes back to 16th century. After realizing the riches of Peru, Ecuador, and Asia, and counting the time it took the gold to reach the ports of Spain, it was suggested c.1524 to Charles V, that by cutting out a piece of land somewhere in Panama, the trips would be made shorter and the risk of taking the treasures through the isthmus would justify such an enterprise. A survey of the isthmus was ordered and subsequently a working plan for a canal was drawn up in 1529. The wars in Europe and the thirsts for the control of kingdoms in the Mediterranean Sea simply put the project on permanent hold.
In 1899 the US Congress created an Isthmian Canal Commission to examine the possibilities of a Central American canal and to recommend a route. The commission first decided on a route through Nicaragua, but later reversed its decision. The Lesseps company offered its assets to the United States at a price of $40 million. The United States and the new state of Panama signed the Hay-Bunau-Varilla treaty, by which the United States guaranteed the independence of Panama and secured a perpetual lease on a 10-mile strip for the canal. Panama was to be compensated by an initial payment of $10 million and an annuity of $250,000, beginning in 1913. This strip is now known as the Canal Zone.

The Panama Canal is undoubtedly one of the most complex, costly, and difficult engineering projects ever undertaken. As early as the 1550s there was talk of creating such a canal to create a vital waterway for speedier trade between the Americas. However, it wasn’t until over three centuries later that a serious attempt was made to build it. An initial effort by the French in the 1880s was given up after over 20,000 workers lost their lives to disaster and disease. Under subsequent American leadership systems were devised to transport soil away by rail and properly house workers for safety and health purposes though thousands of Americans also lost their lives before the canal was completed in the early 1900s.
Auckland Vintage Jazz Band live at the RSA

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