After making a large investment in the development and construction of the Panama Canal in 1904, the United States felt compelled to maintain a strong presence in the canal zone. While the U.S. government was determined to protect its interests in the canal, its policies were in conflict with a strong sense of Panamanian nationalism and economic interests throughout the century. The control of the canal was eventually handed over to Panama.

History of the Canal

The Panama Canal is a 51-mile shortcut built by the United States through Panama to join the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The canal is a key route for maritime trade, and uses a lock system to raise and lower ships through the waterway. The United States bought the rights to build the Panama Canal in 1904, one year after Panama declared its independence from Colombia. The canal was completed in 1914.

Treaties Through the Years

The issue of sovereignty over the Canal Zone was a point of contention between the United States and Panama from the very beginning of the canal project and the signing of the vaguely written Panama Canal Treaty of 1903. In 1977, the Torrijos-Carter Treaty, also known as the Panama Canal Treaty and Neutrality Treaty, was signed by U.S. President Jimmy Carter and General Omar Torrijos Herrera. The new treaty promised to give control of the canal to Panama by the year 2000, and emphasized that the United States could not intervene in Panama’s internal affairs.

American Invasion of Panama

During the 1980s, General Manuel Noriega began building up Panama’s National Guard and renamed it the Panama Defense Forces. Noriega quickly grew in political and economic power in Panama. In 1989, he declared that parliament election results were invalid when he lost, and went on to declare a “state of war” as a result of ongoing threats coming out of Washington. The United States invaded Panama and placed Guillermo Endara into power. By 1992, Noriega was found guilty on drug charges and was sentenced to serve up to 40 years in a U.S. prison.

Official Handover

The Panama Canal Treaty that was signed in 1977 gave the country of Panama increased involvement in the operations and management of the canal. The treaty terminated at noon on December 31, 1999, when control of the canal was officially handed over to Panama. The United States’ nearly century-long jurisdiction that began in 1903 came to an end.