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ICE Case Studies
Number 169, Spring, 2006

The Panama Canal and the U.S. Columbia War
By Benjamin Bodnar

I. Case Background
II. Environment Aspect
III. Conflict Aspect
IV. Env. - Conflict Overlap
V. Related Information


1. Abstract:

This website aims to analyze the key events leading to the construction of the Panama Canal, and detail certain environmental and tactical problems that threaten the canal today. The website historically examines why people wanted to construct the Panama Canal and details the efforts that lead to the construction of the canal. The website will also go into detail on how the U.S. supported the liberation of Panama, the decisive strategies it implemented to complete the canal, and a brief overview of events that take us to today's situation with the canal. Finally, the website ends on how environmental problems of deforestation and fresh water loss coincide to threaten the maintenance of the canal as well as its proposal to increase capacity to satisfy rising demands.

2. Description:

There has been a strong desire to have a canal run through the Central American isthmus since the early 16th century when the Spanish dominated the region. They sought to build a canal to achieve an easier route to access their colonies on the Atlantic and Pacific sides. Though, the Spanish government had plans in place no action was taken. Interest intensified to build a canal when gold was discovered in California in 1848. American settlers, looking for land and gold, wanted a quicker route than making the arduous trek across the continental U.S. In 1850, an international expedition composed of Colombia, France, Britain and the U.S. went to explore a claim made by Dr. Edward Cullen on how to cross the Darien Gap, the shortest distance between the tide waters of the Atlantic and Pacific in the Americas. The U.S. expedition, led by Navy Lieutenant Isaac Strain, arrived early and went into the Darien Gap without Cullen's guidance. Most of Strain's men died on the misguided expedition and Strain declared that a canal built through the Darien Gap was "impracticable." (McCullough, 22-23) In 1870, Commander Thomas Selfridge took two expeditions through the Darien Gap and followed Dr. Cullen's trail. While his first expedition faced many hardships getting from the Atlantic side to the Pacific, his expedition made it. Selfridge added insight on how the canal should be built, saying it must be "through-cut," at sea level. (McCullough, 44)

Ferdinand Marie de Lesseps was not an engineer or an architect, he was an entrepreneur extraordinaire. "He had all the nerve, persistence, dynamic energy, a talent for propaganda, a capacity for deception and imagination." (53, McCullough) With his outgoing social manner and his dream firmly in place, de Lesseps made the construction of the Suez Canal happen. He was the chairman and president of the Suez Canal Company and was the charmed guardian for the fortunes of all his shareholders. De Lesseps had fascinating dreams that kept the public enthralled like railways from Paris to Moscow to Peking, or creating an inland sea in the Sahara Desert by breaking through a ridge on Tunisia's Gulf of Gabes and flooding a depression the size of Spain. (57, McCullough) He was able to handle and use money like no other man in his time. Though, in 1875 two things happened. One was the British took control of the Suez Canal, and while he remained president his influence was undercut. The second event that occurred was his decision to take on the project of building a canal between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans in the Americas.

In the summer of 1875, de Lesseps declared his desire to build an inter-oceanic canal through the Americas at France's Geographical Society. (58, McCullough) In May of 1879, de Lesseps hosted a meeting with delegations of 22 countries around the world, discussing the tactics on how to build the canal. This delegation, the International Canal Congress, brought suggestions to the floor on the type and location. There was debate over whether the canal should be built in Panama or Nicaragua. When Panama was chosen, the next argument was whether it should be a sea level canal or a lock canal. De Lesseps declared that it would have to be a sea level canal. The problem of a sea level canal was seen right away in terms of the landscape that the canal was to be built on. The source of this problem was the Chagres River. "The absolutely unavoidable problem was the river. Any canal at Panama-a lock canal, a sea-level canal-would have to cross the river at least once. If a sea-level canal were cut through, the result would be a stupendous cataract. The fall of the river into the canal would be 42 feet and this measurement was based on the level of the river in the dry season, when the river was only a few feet deep. In the rainy season the river could be instantly transformed into a torrent, rising ten feet in an hour. The cost of controlling so monstrous a force-if it could be done at all-was beyond reckoning." (76, McCullough)

Nicholas Joseph Adolphe Godin, chief engineer with the French Department of Bridges and Highways, agreed with one of the American delegates that the Chagres River needed to be bridged, though he decided for that to happen there needed to be dams creating two artificial lakes. These lakes would act like the lake in Nicaragua, when the Nicaragua plan was on the table. "There would be two artificial lakes, with flights of locks, like stairs, leading up to the lakes from the two oceans. As Lake Nicaragua was the essential element in the Nicaraguan plan, providing both easy navigation and an abundant source of water for the canal, so his man-made lakes would serve at Panama." (80, McCullough) These dams would allow the Charges River to flow into the lakes, providing an endless source of water for canal use. On May 28, 1879, Panama was pronounced the proper place for the canal and a sea-level canal was the type of canal that would be built.

After de Lesseps returned to France from his three month visit to where the canal would be built, he immediately started fundraising and propagandizing the campaign. De Lesseps and France were confident; they had exceptional engineers and the experience of the Suez Canal. Though, in Panama they had to improvise. Panama was infinitely more challenging than the Suez in every aspect except for the distance and any lesson that Suez provided was useless and a hindrance. The French had to go into a thickly matted jungle that had poisonous reptiles, jaguars and pumas, and tons of insects. The summer of 1881, the French also discovered another deadly obstacle in their canal project; yellow fever and malaria. By the end of 1881 there were 2,000 men at work, including office and technical staff. As the number of laborers increased so did the death rate. By the end of 1883, 1,300 laborers had died throughout the year. While progress was being made laborers would die, at times on average of 200 per month. (McCullough, 160-161)

The rate of sickness only got worse. The worst year for the French regime in Panama was 1885, where up to forty people per day died at times. (McCullough, 172) The death toll was not the only number increasing at a rapid rate, so too was the financial cost. De Lesseps’ efforts to raise the proper money were without comparison in his time. He was truly talented at raising money for his projects and inspired many of his countrymen. Unfortunately, the conditions kept getting more arduous in Panama and de Lesseps had to keep justifying to the French government to give him more money. While his efforts were valiant, on February 4, 1889, the shareholders of the original company assigned a liquidator and the French effort was brought to an end. De Lesseps could only whisper, “It is impossible! It is shameful!” (McCullough, 202)

While de Lesseps’ might have wanted to continue his legacy of the construction of important canals throughout the world, the U.S. had other reasons. President Theodore Roosevelt and Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan were obsessed with naval power. Sea power was necessary to facilitate trade and peaceful commerce, therefore, the country with the greatest sea power would be able to wield great influence on the world stage. Therefore, long coastlines, good harbors, and power over the Suez and the soon-to-be Panama Canal was essential. Mahan’s theories on sea power conflicted with another major geopolitical, that of Sir Halford Mackinder. Mackinder believed that spatial integration and advanced technology on the interiors of continents was essential. ( Perhaps the U.S. followed Mackinder and Mahan, because before de Lesseps arrived in Panama to begin work on the canal, the U.S. controlled the Panama Railroad that went from Colon, on the Northern Atlantic side, to Panama City on the Southern Pacific side. The railroad in addition to the canal in 1914, allowed the U.S. to control nearly all commodities and ships going between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and vice versa.

The burgeoning U.S. fleet needed to be able to move between the Caribbean and Pacific easier than taking the 18,000 mile route around South America. Secretary of State John Hay went to Colombia to negotiate the terms in buying the region so that the U.S. could start construction in the Colombian province of Panama. The Colombian Congress rejected the offer. Roosevelt who did not think highly of the Colombian government, demonstrated in this quote: "We were dealing with a government of irresponsible bandits," Roosevelt stormed. "I was prepared to . . . at once occupy the Isthmus anyhow, and proceed to dig the canal. But I deemed it likely that there would be a revolution in Panama soon." ( The U.S. sent battleships outside of Colon and Panama City to prevent the Colombian army from mobilizing, while the Panamanian rebels declared independence on November 3, 1903. The U.S. guaranteed sovereignty to Panama and paid them $10 million up front in order to have control over the canal zone.

The U.S. would end up building the canal through Panama, opening up on 1914, though not without more deaths from illnesses. The U.S. did though have Dr. Gorgas who had developed treatment for Malaria and Yellow Fever, which were the main source of diseases in the region. Unlike the French who had to improvise, the Americans learned from the mistakes the French engineers made and were not bogged down by Panama’s terrain. The U.S. also shifted the engineering plan from a sea-level canal to a lock canal. In total, the U.S. suffered over 5,000 worker deaths, bringing the total to over 25,000 for the whole project over the thirty year period of the canal’s construction.

Today, the Panama Canal faces a myriad of problems that need to be fixed, should the canal continue to be effective. Deforestation of the rainforest around the canal basin could lead to water loss. Considering the canal will be operating at maximum capacity all the time in 2009, due to increased trade between Asia and the Americas, fresh water used to fill the locks is emptying out at rapid rates. While this is not a concern during the wet season in Panama, during the dry season, between December and April, this could turn into a potential disaster. Deforestation can also hurt the burgeoning tourist industry, should most of the wildlife around the canal basin disappear. The other main problems that the Panama Canal faces today are the amount of ships that travel through the canal each day as well as the size of the ships. Last month, the Panamanian government decided to propose an enlargement program adding two more locks, one on the Atlantic side as well as the Pacific side. These locks will be able to increase the capacity of what the canal can handle, as well as provide enough room so that the post-Panamax ships that cannot fit through the current locks will be able to use the canal. Channels will be widened for these new locks and water reutilization plants will be established. Also, Gatun Lake is set to be deepened to increase water holding capacity. (Third Set of Locks Project, Fact Sheet)

3. Duration: Two Days- November 3rd and 4th, 1903

The duration of Panama's independence from Colombia lasted for two days. The head generals of the Colombian army, Tobar and Amaya, were arrested by the Panamanian guerilla in Panama City on November 3, 1903 and the forces that the generals came with left the following day. While the actual conflict lasted less than two days, the planning and events that led to the conflict were rather extensive. The dialogue for the U.S. acquiescence of the Panama Canal territory from the Colombian government had been ongoing since the beginning of 1903 and came to an end when the soldiers and generals Tobar and Amaya left Colon to go back to Bogota. In retrospect, the conflict for Panama's independence was one of the shortest and least violent revolutions in history.

4. Location: Panama

The conflict took place in the two cities of Colon and Panama City. The Panama Canal, on the Caribbean side, enters through the bay of Limon and passes through the cities of Colon and Cristobal into Lake Gatun. The canal travels through the enormous lake and passes by the city of Gamboa, to Miraflores Lake, where it then exits onto the Pacific side in the bay of Panama.

5. Actors: United States, Panama, and Colombia

The main actors in the building of the canal and the conflict included Ferdinand de Lesseps, who organized the French effort to build the canal in the decade of the 1880's. His failure in 1889 put the project on hold for the next decade and a half when the Americans would start to construct it in 1904. Another actor in the building of the canal was Theodore Roosevelt. He sought the canal since his time as Vice President of William McKinley and pushed hard for it when he became President after McKinley was assassinated. He is responsible for the U.S.'s effort to build the Panama Canal and show why it was of strategic importance to his countrymen. The actors in the conflict that should be noted are the two Colombian Generals, Amaya and Tabor, the new proclaimed President of Panama, Miguel Amador, a popular physician from Panama City, Phillipe Bunau-Varilla, who worked with de Lesseps during the French expedition and ended up being the main negotiator for the Panamanians with the U.S., and John Hay, who was the Secretary of State under Roosevelt and negotiated key treaties for the U.S., like the Hay-Paunceforth Treaty, getting control of canal rights from Britain, Hay-Herran Treaty, purchasing the canal zone from Colombia, and the Hay-Bunau-Varilla treaty, negotiating the purchase of the canal zone from Panama.


II. Environment Aspects

The Panama Canal Zone is filled with vegetation by heavy rainfall, is incredibly humid, and has tons of insects. It once was rid with diseases and was inhospitable to say the least. According to Lieutenant Charles C. Rogers, who had crossed the Isthmus in 1881 before excavation had started, was a mass of “thickly matted jungle” a growth which could be penetrated only by means of machete. (pg. 67, Duval) This canal would claim the lives of tens of thousands of construction engineers over the next 33 years and would turn out to be one of the finest achievements mankind has ever seen. However, there are many questions that are being addressed today that were of not of importance when construction started in the late 19th century, this being the environment.

When Colonel George Goethals was designated head of the Canal Zone for the U.S. in 1907, he wanted to maintain and even cushion the thick vegetation around him not for the sake of flora and fauna, but for security. At the time, this was the best way to keep enemy troops away from the canal and to allow the construction of it over the next seven years. ( Today, the flora and fauna that Goethals desired to keep intact is essential for the survival of the canal.

6. Type of Environmental Problem: Deforestation and Water Loss

The environmental problems that are being focused on today are the depletion of the rainforest, which in turn reduces the crucial amount of freshwater flowing into Lake Gatun. These environmental source problems of deforestation and water waste could end up shutting down the canal, should unsustainable farming practices as well as cutting down the rainforest area continue. This could have major economic ramifications for global trade and the Panamanian economy. Another problem that can be associated with the Panama Canal is the loss of biodiversity. The potential of this threat is that many species of birds and other animals could be greatly affected should the Panamanian government neglect the region.

With two billion gallons of freshwater being poured into the Pacific and Atlantic oceans on busy days at the canal, freshwater in the canal region could become scarce. As described by many of the construction workers like Lieutenant Charles Rogers, the heavy rainfall caused by the thick rainforests in the region is the source of the freshwater used for the canal. Should that rainforest be decimated, then the area would dry up, leaving no viable way to have ships be transported between the oceans. (

As for the biodiversity problem, this could have a negative effect on the burgeoning eco-tourism industry surrounding the Canal Zone. Panama looks to turn a profit with the Canal Zone through tourism. There are 300,000 estimated tourists that visit the zone per year and since the Panamanians now control the region, there will be efforts to increase that. The Panama Canal has also become a Mecca of sorts for science. There are many different species of bats, monkeys, sea turtles and other types of animals that have made the area a prime place to conduct research. Hotel magnates also intend to make lodges around the area for tourists interested in bird watching. These efforts will be compromised should reckless farming and timber methods be used in the region, decreasing the wealth of biodiversity. (

7. Type of Habitat: Tropical

The habitat in Panama is mostly tropical; however, it is cooler in the mountains. As Lieutenant Rogers recorded in his account describing it as a “thickly matted jungle” only gives more of a lively image. This habitat also is believed to cause the diseases of yellow fever and malaria, which plagued many of the workers in the region as the canal was being built. (pg. 67, Duval) While the Atlantic side of Panama has no dry season and experiences year long rainfall, the Pacific side has a dry season between December and April that has allowed the cultivation of land for farming. In Colon, it would not be unusual to see up to six inches of rainfall in a day during the strong months of the wet season. The month of November, which was usually the month of the strongest storms, the Chagres river basin could be filled with two to three feet of water throughout the month. (McCullough, 132) The main industrial centers, Colon and Panama City, as well as the segments cut out for the Pan American highway and the Canal Zones are the main deforested areas in the country. Before the development of cities and industry, Panama was covered by forests. (

8. Act and Harm Sites: Panama

The Panama Canal Zone only affects the land in Panama. Environmentally, the Panama Canal’s ramifications on the environment are deforestation, which leads to less rainfall puts wildlife at risk. Also, the canal’s need for freshwater to fill the locks has an effect on overall water loss in the region. In an economic context, the deforestation of the Panama Canal could lead to serious local as well as global economic consequences. Reckless practices in farming and neglect of the government to control the deforestation could negatively impact the local livelihood of its citizens and their standard of living. Also, world trade would be negatively affected, since shipping would have to go around the horn of South America.

III. Conflict Aspects

The war between the U.S. and Colombia broke out when the Colombian Congress rejected the Hay-Herran treaty in the late summer of 1903. The Hay-Herran treaty was signed on January 21, 1903 between Secretary of State Hay and the Foreign Minister of Colombia Herran. The treaty would not have been signed had a cable from Colombia instructing Herran not to sign the treaty reached him on time in New York. Since it was late, the treaty went through and President Roosevelt sent it to the U.S. Congress. The treaty was ratified by Congress on March 17, 1903 and it was now up to the Colombian government to approve it. The chief provisions of the agreement were: first, recognition by Colombia of the sale and purchase of the Panama Canal Company’s rights, properties and concessions; second, the cession to the U.S. of a strip of land thirty miles wide between the oceans, which was to be under the control of the U.S. but to acknowledge the sovereignty of Colombia; third, the payment to Colombia on the ratification of the Treaty of the sum of $10,000,000 in gold, and an annual payment of $250,000 thereafter. (McCullough, 332) The Colombian government had two main objections to the treaty; first, the Panama Company had not agreed to pay adequately for the right to transfer title to it properties and rights; and second, it was unconstitutional to part with the title to the Canal Zone. (McCullough, 334)

Throughout the months of June and July of 1903, Secretary Hay and the Ambassador to Colombia, Beaupre, exchanged cables about the negotiations of the treaty in Bogota. Roosevelt wanted it to be known that it was vital to the U.S. to have this treaty be accepted, and if it would not be, Colombia would regret it. Roosevelt said in a racy letter to Hay on July 14, 1903 about the cable going to the American office in Colombia: “Make it as strong as you can to Beaupre. These contemptible little creatures in Bogota ought to understand how much they are jeopardizing things and imperiling their own future.” (McCullough, 340) From there, diplomacy went down the slippery slope to war between the two nations. Bogota was not going to be intimidated and Roosevelt was not going to relinquish his quest to get the Panama Canal built. It was now U.S. policy, obviously covertly, to support revolutionary factions in Panama to secede from Colombia and become an independent country so that the U.S. could get the construction of the Canal underway. The Hay-Herran treaty was defeated unanimously by the Colombian Congress on August 12, 1903 and Beaupre cabled the result to Hay in Washington. (McCullough, 341)

Between August 12 and October 15, plans were being put in place to setup the secessionists with viable options and make sure they were onboard with the U.S. plan, especially the chief leader Dr. Amador. The U.S. and the secessionists realized that Panama was an island, in that the Darien Gap provided a thick barrier between Colombia and Panama. The only way that Colombia could reach Panama would be by sea on both the Atlantic and Pacific sides. (McCullough, 64) Therefore, the U.S. could block Colombian forces with its superior navy.

On October 26th and 27th, the two ships the Nashville and the Dixie set sale to Kingston, Jamaica and then ultimately to Colon, which is on the Atlantic side of Panama, with 450 marines and munitions. In the Pacific Ocean, scheduled to arrive two days later, the Marblehead and the Boston would prevent Colombian forces from engaging Panama just as the Nashville and Dixie were ordered to do on the Atlantic side. (McCullough, 355) On November 2, 1903, the Cartagena from the Colombian fleet arrived on the Colon side and the admiral of the Nashville boarded the ship. There were 500 Colombian soldiers who were left in Colon while the Colombian generals Tobar and Amaya went to depose the corrupted General Huertas in Panama City at Santa Ana Plaza. However, Huertas was in league with the Americans and had his soldiers arrest the two Colombian generals. (McCullough, 370) Celebration went on throughout the city and the Republic of Panama flag was raised. Five shells exploded from the warship the Bogota on the Pacific side outside the city and ended up killing a Chinaman and a burro in a slaughterhouse, the two casualties of the revolution. (McCullough, 371)

The last thing to be done was get the soldiers in Colon to leave. The Cartagena was scared off by the Nashville, which had its guns pointed at her, and the U.S. admiral bribed the commander in charge of the troops when the two Colombian generals left to Panama City. The 500 soldiers took an English steamer back home and so officially ended the Colombian threat. Beaupre was ordered by Hay to tell Bogota that the U.S. recognized the revolutionaries in Panama. (McCullough, 377) Panama was now independent and Roosevelt made his offer to build the Canal (the same one he offered to the Colombians).

9. Type of Conflict: Inter/Intra-state

The type of conflict that was exhibited by the U.S.-Colombian War was a mix of both interstate and intrastate war. It was an interstate war because the U.S. supported the revolutionaries of Panama and the warship Nashville ostensibly made the warship Cartegena retreat. It was an intrastate war because the Panamanians led by Dr. Amador and other revolutionaries were in charge of the arrests of Generals Tavor and Amaya.

10. Level of Conflict: Low

Since this conflict never elevated beyond shots fired by the warship Bogota into Panama City killing a Chinese man and a donkey, this was a low level conflict. There were no military fatalities in this conflict. There was the arrest of two Colombian generals, Tobar and Amaya, and the bribing of a Colombian commander of 500 soldiers to leave the newly independent country of Panama for $8,000 dollars in gold from the Atlantic city of Colon. (McCullough, 380)

11. Fatality Level of Dispute (military and civilian fatalities): Low

In total, there was one civilian death and the killing of a donkey in the city of Panama during the whole Panamanian Revolution from Colombia on the evening of November 3, 1903. These deaths were caused by the firing of five shells into Panama City by the Colombian warship Bogota in the Bay of Panama.

IV. Environment and Conflict Overlap

The second half of the 19th century, American naval power grew so that it could have a more prominent role on the global stage. As Ferdinand de Lesseps attempted to build the Panama Canal to help minimize the distance and time for world travel as he did with the building of the Suez Canal, the U.S. kept an eye on the progress of the project. Ferdinand de Lesseps' company eventually would go bankrupt and construction of the canal would cease for a few years. When Theodore Roosevelt succeeded William McKinley as President, he advocated strongly for the building of the Panama Canal. The importance of connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans was, in Roosevelt's opinion, essential for America to play a dominant role in global trade. When the Colombian parliament refused to ratify the Hay-Herran treaty in August of 1903, Roosevelt decided that the Colombians could not be counted on and sought other means to get the canal project underway. The other means of course was supporting a Panamanian independence movement so that the U.S. could build the canal in the new country of Panama. The U.S. took this route and succeeded in liberating Panama from Colombia and securing an agreement with the newly formed Panamanian government to build the Panama Canal in the designated zone near the cities of Colon on the Atlantic side and Panama City on the Pacific side.

12. Environment-Conflict Link and Dynamics: Direct Conflict

The Panama Canal provides us with various environmental and conflict relationships, including three that are cyclical in nature. The first is how the idea of the Panama Canal gave impetus to an increase in U.S. Naval power and hegemony in the region. The increase in U.S. hegemony in the region and its desire for a canal through Panama in turn gave rise to a jingoistic feeling in Colombia as well as the rise of an Independence Movement in Panama, especially after the Colombian Congress rejected the Americans bid to build the canal. This chain of events would lead to the U.S.-Colombian War and the independence of Panama. This relationship is portrayed in the red loop on the conflict side of the causal diagram. The other two relationships in the diagram are environmental issues surrounding the canal today. The first relationship, depicted in the blue lines, is how the Panama Canal and its potential increases in capacity affect deforestation. So long as global sea trade increases between Asia and the Americas, so will the need to accomodate more ships to pass through the canal. This leads to deforestation of the rainforest along the canal's basin to accomodate demands for increases in trade and could, in the long run, affect the canal negatively. This leads into the second relationship, which is represented by the light green lines. As demand to use the canal increases, water loss will increase as well. Fresh water, as noted above in the environmental section, is used at astounding rates to fill up the locks. Increase in the rate of ships and the size of ships passing through the canal could lead to serious water loss. Also, if deforestation continues around the canal's basin, the water could become dirty and could fill Lakes Gatun and Alhajuela with sediment runoff due to the lack of trees.


13. Level of Strategic Interest: Global Level

The interest of constructing a canal through the isthmus of Central America dates back to when the Spanish conquistadors controlled the region. They desired to connect their Western colonies; modern day Peru and Ecuador, to their Eastern colonies; the Caribbean, and modern day Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, and Florida. Sailors would find it a continuous burden to navigate around the horn of South America to get to Asia and vice versa. Therefore, the Panama Canal has always had global interests at stake in easing the burden of travel and increasing trade. While Theodore Roosevelt might have wanted to see the construction of the canal more than anyone else in his time, the whole world watched as global travel time was cut down by this man-made wonder.

14. Outcome of Dispute: Victory

The U.S. was victorious in its cause to liberate Panama and secure an agreement for the construction of the canal. It was a victory for Panama as well because they gained their desired sovereignty. Panama was also victorious 1999 it gained full control of the Panama Canal as designated in the Carter-Torrijos Treaty of 1977. Finally, it was a victory for global trade as travel time was cut down.

The Panama Canal Today: Third Set of Locks Project

The Panama Canal is of great importance to the welfare and development of the state of Panama. The reliance on toll fees of the canal is an integral part of the economy as well as the jobs it provides for local Panamanians. The purpose of the Third Set of Locks Project is to enhance long term sustainable growth that the canal provides to Panamanian society. The canal as well aims to increase capacity in the amount and size of ships and competitiveness in maritime routes. In order to accomplish this, the Panama Canal is adding two locks; one Southwest of the Miraflores locks on the Pacific side and another East of the Gatun locks on the Atlantic side. The chambers will be 1,400 feet long, 180 feet wide and 60 feet deep. The vessels they will be able to hold cannot have a beam longer than 160 feet cannot have an overall length past 1,200 feet and cannot have a draft deeper than 50 feet. These new dimensions will allow post-Panamax vessels to pass through the canal. An example of a post-Panamax vessel is the U.S. Nimitz class super-aircraft carrier measured at 1,092 feet in total length and a beam of 134 feet.

The Third Set of Locks Project also intends to deepen the Gatun Lake by four feet, widen its channels by 920 feet and 1,200 feet on straight and curving sections respectively. The project will also install 18 total water reutilization basins, including three at each of the new locks. Each basin will be 70 meters wide, 430 meters long, and five and a half meters deep. The canal is anticipating that traffic between 2005 and 2025 will double and are preparing accordingly. With these new improvements added, the competitiveness of the canal will increase greatly and solidify it as one of the most integral routes to sea trade.

The addition of the locks will not affect water loss, according to the Panama Canal Authority. No new reservoirs will be needed and water quality in Gatun and Alhajuela will not be diminished for the local population. In fact, the population of Panama will benefit, as will the economy. The Panama Canal Authority is expecting that 100,000 people can be pulled out of poverty due to the construction of the locks with all the jobs that will be offered. Also, the Third Set of Locks Projects will approximately feed 5% annual growth till 2025, making it a boon for the economy. Should all facets of the project go according to plan, the Third Set of Locks Projects will provide Panama with consistent growth in standards of living for its people and commercial influence for years to come.


V. Related Information and Sources

15. Related ICE Cases


16. Relevant Websites and Literature:

Text Citations:

Deborah Gangloff. Trees in the Balance. American Forests, Summer 2005.

Duval, Miles P. And the Mountains Will Move. London and Stanford: Oxford and Stanford Universities, 1947.

J. Buschini. The Panama Canal. Small Planet Communications, 2000.

James Wilson. Jungle Love-Scientists Remain to Study Panama Canal Area. Latin Trade, April, 2000.

M.A. Doyle. A Geopolitical Guide to the Middle East: Geopolitics. January 2004.

McCaleb, Walter F. Theodore Roosevelt. New York: A. & C. Boni, 1931.

McCullough, David. The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1977.

Office of the Historian. Building the Panama Canal. United States State Department.

Panama Canal Authority. Third Set of Locks Project, Fact Sheet. April 24, 2006.

Panama Land Use. CIA Factbook, 1987.

Sean Lang. The Panama Canal. Site last revised on July 9, 1997.

Graphic Citations:

Historical Atlas by William R. Shepherd, 1923: The Canal Zone, Profile of the Canal
Theodore Roosevelt hiking on the left on a hike "" and Secretary of State John Hay on the right "library of congress photo collection."
Dept. of State, picture of a deforested region Northeast of Panama City, Rio Charges, national park services
Library of Congress, "Gatun Lake, looking south with dam to the right, Panama Canal," 1913.
Library of Congress, "U.S. fleet off of coast of Panama," 1906.
Library of Congress, "Commemoration exercises, Gatun Lock, Panama Canal," 1939.
U.S. Naval website, <>, Picture of the USS Abraham Lincoln, Nimitz class aircraft carrier, May 8, 2006.


©Benjamin Bodnar, May 10, 2006.