Panama

Looking for Roosevelt and Carter

As we have travelled around  Panama City, we have not seen any statues or other memory of either Presidents Roosevelt or Carter. I may be a bias citizen of the Estados Unidos, but shouldn’t there be more acknowledgements? The Canal is the central feature in nearly all aspects of Panama and this region. Hmmm…..

It was truly Teddy Roosevelt’s tenacity and perseverance that led to the completion of the Panama Canal—despite the many leadership, disease and engineering challenges. (Yes, Presidents Taft and Wilson also had an important role). In Panama the idea for the Canal is credited to Carlos the V, who was the Spanish Emperor in Panama during the 16th century. He is recognized in Plazetta Carlos V and in the Canal Administration building. The French role in the Canal is recognized in Plaza de Francia, where there is the French Embassy, as well as statues and a memorial for its leaders, including Ferdinand de Lesseps, the original builder of the Canal. Yet, the French were simply overmatched and could not finish the job. Enter the United States. Presidents typically get more credit and discredit than they normally deserve, but by nearly all accounts, Teddy Roosevelt seems to deserve much credit for completing the canal in 1914.

Fast forward to 1977, when President Jimmy Carter signed the Torrijos-Carter Treaties to return the Canal Zone to Panama. On noon on December 31, 1999, the complete transition to Panama occurred.  The Treaties did not get ratified in the United States without controversy—President Carter thought it was the right thing to do and he led the way for the execution of the treaty. You can imagine many scenarios where this transition would not take place—President Carter deserves acknowledgment.

The U.S. role in Latin America has always been controversial and many of the region’s leaders get elected on a platform decrying U.S. imperialistic policies; yet, it strikes me that in a country that is so defined by and supported by the Canal—there should be an honest and perhaps non-political perspective that calls for Panama to more fully recognize the contributions of these U.S. Presidents.

***In an interesting note, there was a bronze statue of Teddy Roosevelt in Panama, which was destroyed in protests to economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. in 1987. The statue seemed to disappear for many years, although his head has now emerged in a Panama museum.  The pictures on this blog are from the rotunda of the Edificio de la Administración for the Canal de Panama.

by David

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