Panama deserves return of canal

The transfer of the Panama Canal back into the hands of the people of Panama is an action the United States can be proud of. The canal made much of the growth that the United States has seen in the last century possible, but the time has come to return the surrounding land and the canal to Panama.
Without the canal, boats had to travel all the way around South America to reach the other side of North America. The opening of the canal in 1914 made it possible for ships to travel relatively quickly from coast to coast, allowing not only trade, but also travel to flourish. In addition to the economic advancements the canal made possible, the completion of the canal was also a major technological achievement.
Building the canal required the coordination of thousands of workers, the hauling of thousands of tons of dirt away from the area and the development of a sophisticated system of locks that allowed extremely heavy ships to traverse an area that did not naturally have a very deep level of water. In effect, the system of locks and hydraulics functions as a bridge of water over the isthmus. The decision to build the canal was an important one for the United States, one that allowed not only the development of new technology, but began the push for the United States to create other major public works such as the Hoover Dam.
Although the canal brought many benefits, it also created a number of negatives. The cost in human lives was astounding: more than 25,000 people died during the course of the canal’s construction, mostly as a result of malaria and yellow fever.
The building of the canal also created problems for Panama. The canal cuts directly through the middle of the country, with a 10-mile wide Canal Zone that creates a major colonial presence in the relatively small country. As the century went on, Panama became increasingly bothered by the strong U.S. presence. In 1964, the resentment came to a head as a fight between American and Panamanian students resulted in 23 Panamanians and four Americans dead. After the fight, the United States and Panama began to negotiate a new treaty. The talks concluded 13 years later in 1977 with two new treaties.
The Panama Canal Treaty called for the removal of the Canal Zone, the 10-mile stretch of line surrounding the canal in 1979, and the gradual transfer of all responsibility for the canal to Panama by Dec. 31, 1999. Panama would be responsible for the primary defense of the canal, but the second treaty — the Treaty on Permanent Neutrality — gave the United States the right to secondarily defend the canal if necessary.
The return of the canal to Panama will bring changes to the operation of the area surrounding the canal. Panama has hired a Hong Kong firm to manage the port, and other investors are developing hotels and eco-tourism facilities to garner profits from the canal.
The building of the Panama Canal was a major accomplishment for humankind that allowed the United States to become the world power it is today. Returning the canal and the land surrounding it to Panama will in no way decrease the power of the United States; rather, it is a small price to pay for the thousands of Panamanian laborers who died and for the opportunity the United States had to build its economic and military force for so long.