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The Panama Canal: 1899-1903

Theodore Roosevelt jumped at the opportunity to build a canal through the Isthmus of Panama. He had stated that "to hold its own in the struggle for naval and commercial supremacy" the US had to strengthen itself as a world power and had to build a canal through Central America. The British government had given up its rights to the joint construction of such canal with the United States, and a French company was eager to sell to the United States its right-of-way across Panama.

Panama was a part of Colombia, and Colombian politicians were holding up negotiations, and Roosevelt described Colombia's president, José Manuel Marroquín, as "a villainous monkey."

Opportunity presented itself to Roosevelt in the form of people in Panama wishing to free themselves from Colombian rule. A rebellion in Panama soon followed. The rebels announced Panama's independence, and the Roosevelt administration recognized Panama within hours. In agreement with the new regime in Panama, Roosevelt sent troops to combat any attempt by Colombia to crush the new regime. Colombia backed down. There was no war, and Roosevelt cited the benefits of being strong. On 18 November 1903, US Secretary of State John Hay signed a treaty with the diplomat Bunau-Varilla of France – the Hay, Bunau-Varilla Treaty. As part of the Hay–Bunau-Varilla negotiations, the US paid $40 million for the shares and assets of the company that had been involved in building the canal, the Compagnie Nouvelle du Canal de Panama. US work began on the canal without delay, a project that was to take eleven years to complete.

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