April 14, 2015
Panama Canal being expanded

by Oscar Ramjeet in Panama City

The Panama Canal is being expanded. It is the largest project at the Canal since its original construction in 1881 — 126 years ago.

Last week, Panama was the centre of attraction since it was the host country for the 8th Summit of the Americas, which was attended by more than 40 world leaders, including US President Barak Obama and Cuba’s head of government Raul Castro.{{more}}

There were many twists and turns in the construction of the world famed canal which extensively reduced the time for ships to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, enabling them to avoid the lengthy, hazardous Cape Horn route around the southern tip of South America via the Drake Passage or Strait of Magellan. The construction of the Panama Canal was one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken.

France started the canal, but the United States took over in 1904 — 23 years later and took a decade to complete the project. The US handed over the canal to the Panamanian government in 1999, and it is now managed and operated by the Panama Central Authority. Annual traffic has risen from about 1,000 ships in 1914, when the canal was officially opened, to 14,702 in 2008.

Reports state that the US government spent $375 million (roughly equivalent to $8.6 billion now) to construct the canal.

The US invaded Panama in December 1989. The invasion was called Operation Just Cause. It occurred during the administration of US President George HW Bush. Ten years after, the Torrijos-Carter treaties were ratified to transfer control of the canal from the United States to Panama by January 1, 2000.

During the invasion, de facto Panamanian leader, general and dictator Manuel Noriega was deposed, President-elect Guillermo Endara sworn into office and the Panamanian Defence Force dissolved.

Hundreds of persons are now engaged in the expansion programme.