In Panamá: The Panamá Canal

Of course, Barry and I needed to see the Panamá Canal – that engineering and commercial feat that cost the lives of many but today allows commerce to flow between the Atlantic and Pacific. Most of the workers came from Barbados – but also from Martinique, Guadeloupe, Trinidad, and Jamaica.

The Spanish, Italians, Greeks, Hindus, Americans, Armenians, Cubans, Costa Ricans, Columbians, and Panamanians came too.  On March 30, 1854, the Sea Witch clipper arrived with 705 Chinese to work on the transoceanic railroad project, which was crucial for the construction of the canal.

According to the Miraflores Locks Museum, the labor force peaked in 1884 with 19,243 workers. “They managed to understand each other, started families, made fortunes, and exhausted the country,”  says the museum.  However, thousands  of those who came to work died – mainly of yellow fever or malaria.

canal map

Instead of going around South America, the Panamá Canal allows quicker and less dangerous passage for commerce

On October 10, 1913, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson gave the signal via telegraph to blow up the Gamboa Dike – to join the waters of Gatun Lake and the Culebra Cut, thus creating the Panamá Canal.

Richard Haluburton

In 1928, U.S. adventurer Richard Halliburton swam through the whole Panamá Canal. He was charged $.38 for his passage

canal B & Ron

Barry with Ron, a U.S. citizen married to a Panamanian woman. Ron says the roads and other aspects of life have improved since military dictator Manuel Noriega was removed in 1989. Ron was a member of the President George H.W. Bush ordered U.S. invasion of Panama

In 1977, U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Panamanian leader General Omar Torrijos signed Torrijos-Carter Treaties that started the process of handing over the canal to the Panamanians by 2000.  The U.S. military bases remained and the transfer was to assure that the canal would be kept open for U.S. shipping.

“The US had long-standing relations with General Noriega, who served as a US intelligence asset and paid Central Intelligence Agency informant from 1967, including the period when Bush was head of the CIA (1976–77).[6]”  

However, according to a Mother Jones article, “As George H.W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations, Thomas Pickering said about Operation Just Cause: ‘Having used force in Panama… there was a propensity in Washington to think that force could provide a result more rapidly, more effectively, more surgically than diplomacy.’ The easy capture of Noriega meant ‘the notion that the international community had to be engaged… was ignored.’

‘Iraq in 2003 was all of that shortsightedness in spades,’ Pickering said. ‘We were going to do it all ourselves.’  And we did.

The road to Baghdad, in other words, ran through Panama City. It was George H.W. Bush’s invasion of that small, poor country 25 years ago that inaugurated the age of preemptive unilateralism, using ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ as both justifications for war and a branding opportunity. Later, after 9/11, when George W. insisted that the ideal of national sovereignty was a thing of the past, when he said nothing—certainly not the opinion of the international community—could stand in the way of the ‘great mission’ of the United States to ‘extend the benefits of freedom across the globe,’ all he was doing was throwing more fuel on the ‘wildfire’ sparked by his father. A wildfire some in Panama likened to a “little Hiroshima” [because of the destruction of at least 4,000 residences, and according to human-rights organizations, the deaths of  thousands of Panamanian civilians].

From: “How Our 1989 Invasion of Panama Explains The Current U.S. Foreign Policy Mess” -The road to Baghdad started in Panama City, 25 years ago, by

Today, the Panamanians Barry and I talked to have mixed opinions about the removal of Noriega.  Major roads are good throughout the country; Panamá City has a terrific metro system, new high rises,  construction is everywhere, and many American and European ex-pats are moving to Panamá.

Right now, construction is underway to double the capacity of the Panamá Canal to accommodate even larger vessels.  The “Third Set of Locks Project” will create a new lane of traffic with about one and a half times the current maximum width and length – known as Panamax – that carry over twice as much cargo.


Panamá Canal expansion

Image from: <;

I hope you too will be able to see the Panamá Canal.

Adios, Renée



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About reneeriley

Our blog was begun as a way to share our experiences in China. From August 2010 to July 2011, my husband, Barry Kristel, and I were at our University of Hawaii Maui College sister school, Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University in Lin'an, China, a city considered rural because it has only 500,000 people! We had a wonderful time. Then in February 2012, we returned to teach this time at our other sister school, Shanghai Normal University, in a city of over 21 million people. We've made many discoveries. Did you know that now Chinese girls, at least the ones who go to university, for the most part feel they are luckier than the Chinese boys? Did you know that Shanghai saved over 20,000 European Jews during WWII? Do you know how Chinese university students would deal with problems that come up in Dear Abby letters? What's it like to be on the Great Wall of China? Do you know how many Chinese girls had their feet bound and why? And we have recipes from many of the places we've visited. Among others, you can find instructions on how to fry cicadas from one of my ZAFU students and how to make chocolate-Kahlua waffles from my brother Mike in Gainesville. You can also look back to our earliest entry to see what we experienced in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 during the mainly peaceful six months of protest until the Mexican government sent in the troops. Between our stays in China, Barry and I have been on the Mainland U.S. visiting family, friends and Servas hosts as we traveled home to Maui. We share those experiences too. Welcome to our blog! Aloha and Zài Jiàn, Renée and Barry

One response to “In Panamá: The Panamá Canal”

  1. Rosita says :

    beautiful photos of the Panamá Canal! I didn’t knew its history, but it obviously have had a strong impact both in economic and ambiental questions. I’m doing my part in doing this world a better place, by helping poor & unwanted dogs and cats. As I couldn’t adopt a dog at this moment, I’ll volunteer at the local animal shelter, and I’ll visit the animals all weekends and take care of them as them would mine! ❤️ Until they go adopted, when I’ll feel a mix of happiness & sadness 😉 So, we can do our part on doing this world a better place, anyone can do its part, before hope, true love & world peace become nothing more than monumental blurs. And we should take care of our planet too! It’s suffering a lot due to global warming & pollution 😦 I can feel its effects on my homeland, because it’s being more and more crowded & have a chaotic traffic, with lots & lots of motorbikes, buses & cars, who’s bad to our planet, although it’s the price to be paid due to globalization… Oh, if there’s any form of globalization who isn’t too aggressive to our planet & ourselves.

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