In the early 20th century, the United States government had a strong interest in the Panama Canal being built and operated. The Canal was a strategic waterway that allowed ships to go from one ocean to the other, thereby shortening travel times and increasing trade.
The Canal was built by the French and then operated by the Panamanian government. Under French control, it was agreed that ships from any country could pass through the canal. This was important for American interests as it allowed for increased trade across oceans.
When the Panamanian people revolted against their government in 1903, US diplomats were quick to recognize their new government. Why? Because they wanted the new government to agree to let ships pass through the canal under conditions similar to those in place when it was controlled by France.
This article will go into detail about why America encouraged Panama’s declaration of independence from Colombia, what conditions America tried to impose on Panama, and what happened as a result.
The United States supported Panama’s independence from Colombia
In the early 20th century, Panama was still a region in turmoil. A stable government had not been established, and Panama’s independence from Colombia had only occurred a few years before.
Colombia had invested a great deal of money and resources into Panama, but instability in the region made it difficult for them to maintain that investment.
Panama was still struggling to find its own identity and government, and there were fears that it would default on its foreign debts. There was also concern that other nations might try to seize some of its assets as compensation for those debts.
The United States did not want to see another country in the region fall into chaos or be taken over by someone else. It also wanted to protect its own interests in the area, namely the canal and other ports.
US concerns about Colombian domestic policy
In 1904, the US government declared that it would not support the recognition of the government of Panama, which had recently separated from Colombia.
This was due to concerns about Colombia’s stability and domestic policies. The US was particularly worried about rampant corruption in Colombian government and businesses, which it believed encouraged immigration to Panama.
The country also had a history of violence against businesses and foreign workers, something that the US government worried would hurt its own interests. By supporting Panamanian independence, the US hoped to curb immigration from Colombia and possibly encourage more friendly relations between the two countries.
In fact, one of the reasons given for recognising Panama was to “check the inflow of Colombian immigrants into [that] republic”. The US was also concerned with rising Chinese influence in South America, and saw separating Panama from Colombia as an opportunity to keep China at bay.
The US was concerned about Colombia turning to an ally of France
By the early 1900s, Colombia was beginning to show signs of moving away from a strong relationship with the US and toward France, one of the leading powers of that era.
The two countries had been at odds since the 1800s, when the US was in a period of expansion and growing in power. At that time, it sought more land in the Pacific and an outlet to the east via Panama.
Colombia held control of part of its territory, so the two nations were not on good terms. The US even engaged in several wars with Colombia over this issue.
By 1903, there were reports that Colombia’s president was leaning toward stronger ties with France and possibly selling them a shipyard located on Brazil’s coast. This would have strengthened French naval power at a time when many countries were building up their navies.
The US did not want to see another ally lose out on resources and strength, so it encouraged Panama to declare its independence from Colombia in November 1903.
The United States wanted to ensure good relations with the new state
The Canal Zone was an important part of the United States’ foreign policy. The U.S. wanted to ensure that Panamanian officials and the new Panamanian government respected the rights of Americans living in the zone and continued to allow American ships to pass through the canal.
The United States also wanted to maintain its role in controlling the Panama Canal. Although the U.S. didn’t directly control Panama, it had a lot of influence over how things were run there.
By encouraging Panama’s declaration of independence, the U.S. hoped to ensure that there would be a friendly country next door instead of a potentially hostile one.
The United States encouraged Panama to break away from Colombia for its own gain
In 1903, the United States helped Panama declare independence from Colombia. The U.S. did this for its own benefit, as it wanted to build a Panama Canal and needed an independent Panama to agree to certain treaties that would guarantee its sovereignty.
The U.S. also wanted to prevent any other country, like Germany or Japan, from building too much influence in the region. By encouraging Panama’s independence and helping establish a government there, the U.S. could more easily keep out other powers.
In addition, since the U.S was one of the major economic forces at the time, having an independent Panama would likely mean that it would become more economically dependent on the U.S., which is what happened after 2003 when President Ricardo Martinelli renegotiated several treaties with Washington.