The Untold Story behind Colombia’s Bold Rejection of Panama Canal: Unraveling the Intriguing Factors That Shaped History

Colombia rejected the Panama Canal because they disagreed with the terms proposed by the United States in the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty, which gave the U.S. perpetual control over the Panama Canal Zone.

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Colombia rejected the proposal for the Panama Canal due to their dissatisfaction with the terms presented by the United States in the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty. This treaty, signed on November 18, 1903, granted the United States control over the proposed canal zone. The rejection by Colombia was largely driven by a combination of political, economic, and nationalist reasons.

The terms of the treaty heavily favored the United States, with Colombia feeling that their sovereignty and interests were being undermined. The proposed annuity payment of $10 million and the annual rent of $250,000 for the leased canal zone were considerably low, especially considering the potential economic benefits that the canal could bring. This financial aspect of the agreement was a major sticking point for Colombia. Additionally, Colombia’s government saw the proposed terms as an encroachment on their territorial sovereignty.

Furthermore, the political climate at the time played a significant role in Colombia’s rejection. The Colombian Senate fiercely debated the treaty, with many politicians arguing that it was tantamount to a surrender of national interests. There were concerns that signing this agreement would perpetuate a form of neocolonialism, where Colombia would be heavily dependent on the United States both economically and politically.

Colombian nationalists saw the canal project as a symbol of national pride and potential economic prosperity. There was a growing sentiment that Colombia should have complete control over the canal, allowing them to harness and reap the benefits of such a strategic infrastructure project. These nationalist aspirations fueled the rejection of the treaty by many Colombians.

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In the words of Colombian diplomat and politician, Jorge Holguín, who fiercely opposed the treaty: “Colombia rejects the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty because it represents an unacceptable infringement on our sovereignty. We should not surrender our riches and potential to foreign powers, but rather strive for self-determination and control over our own destiny.”

Interesting facts about Colombia’s rejection of the Panama Canal proposal:

  1. The Colombian government, led by President José Manuel Marroquín, had initially been open to discussions with the United States regarding the canal but the terms presented in the treaty led to its rejection.
  2. Colombia’s rejection of the treaty paved the way for a revolution in Panama, which eventually led to the independence of the Panamanians from Colombia.
  3. The United States actively supported the Panamanian independence movement, leading to the establishment of the Republic of Panama shortly after Colombia’s rejection.
  4. Panama then entered into negotiations with the United States, resulting in the signing of the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty between the U.S. and the newly formed Panamanian government.
  5. The construction of the Panama Canal began under U.S. control in 1904 and was completed in 1914, revolutionizing global trade and maritime transportation.

Table comparing key aspects of the rejected and accepted Panama Canal agreements:

Treaty Element Hay-Herrán Treaty (Rejected by Colombia) Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty (Accepted by Panama)
Control Colombia retains sovereignty United States has perpetual control
Financial Terms Annuity of $10 million, $250,000 rent/yr $10 million lump sum payment
Territorial Lease 6-mile wide canal zone 10-mile wide canal zone
Signatory Colombian Government Newly established Panamanian government
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Note: This table is for illustrative purposes only and the information might not be complete or completely accurate. The intent is to present a visual comparison of key aspects between the rejected and accepted treaties.

Video response

This video discusses the history of the Panama Canal and the construction efforts by the French and the United States. The French attempt to build the canal failed after spending $287 million and losing 22,000 lives, while the US built massive steel gates and raised the sea up the mountain instead of cutting it down to sea level. Over 9 years, 24,000 workers, mostly Black Caribbean migrants, lost their lives due to accidents and diseases. Finally, in the fall of 1913, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans were joined through the Panama Canal. The canal is still Panama’s main source of income and a source of national pride since obtaining ownership in 1999.

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Within 6 months, Secretary of State John Hay signed a treaty with Colombian Foreign Minister Tomás Herrán to build the new canal. The financial terms were unacceptable to Colombia’s congress, and it rejected the offer.

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Why did Colombia not want to build the Panama Canal?
The answer is: Because of uncertainty over its sovereignty (supreme political authority) in the canal zone, Colombia’s senate refused to ratify the treaty. Panama was an isolated province, and its inhabitants often rebelled against the government of Colombia.
When did Colombia reject the Panama Canal?
Answer: August 12, 1903
In 1903, the United States and Colombia signed the Hay–Herrán Treaty to finalize the construction of the Panama Canal but the process was not completed because the Congress of Colombia rejected the measure (which the Colombian government had proposed) on August 12, 1903.
Why did Colombia reject the canal treaty with the United States in 1903 How did the US acquire the canal area?
In 1903, the Hay-Herrán Treaty was signed with Colombia, granting the United States use of the Isthmus of Panama in exchange for financial compensation. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty, but the Colombian Senate, fearing a loss of sovereignty, refused.
What happened between Panama and Colombia?
Response will be: After winning independence from Spain in 1821, Colombia faced secessionist moves by its province of Panama, separated by impassable jungle from the rest of the country. Throughout the nineteenth century, Panamanian nationalists rebelled against rule by distant Bogotá.

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