A Brief History of the Panama Canal

The Panama Canal was amazing.  For those not in the know, the French first attempted it in the 1880s and by 1888, and millions and millions of francs or whatever, decided cutting a flat canal through the 50 miles of jungle and the 400+ ft elevation was a fool’s errand.

Hell, I coulda told them that for free.

Our tour guide, a super sweet man with a rather pronounced accent, kept saying they intended to do it like the Swiss.  “Juss like the Swiss.”

Well, okay, I know they have canals in Europe, but never having been to Switzerland, I’m not really familiar with what they have going on.  

But…y’know, I thought the Europeans also used locks, which work like watery elevators, lifting and lowering ships between different levels of lakes or oceans… not a flat canal system like the French were trying to do initially.

“Buht” says Elisio, the guide, “the Swiss was flat.”

Um…what?  Okay, that I KNOW is wrong.  High on a hill was a lonely goatherd and all that?

“Ahnd…eht whass a dezzert.”

Switzerland is NOT a des…OHHHH…

So the USA bought the project, thinking they could do better at a Central American version of the SUEZ CANAL.

Couple million bucks later, changed their minds, but fortunately found someone who patched together technology from all over to flood the middle of the country and create a giant lake using the bigass river they have.  

Then they used the lock system from Belgium to float the freighters up and down to this enormous lake.

Now, me… if I were Panamanian, I’d be a wee bit unhappy about having a huge swath of my country submerged so these American idiots could ship their shi.. uh, stuff across my land.  Especially since in 1914, the Panamanians were swindled into a 999 year lease with the Americans.  

Understandably, they were a bit perturbed.  Finally in April, 1963, Kennedy agreed to the fly the Panamanian flags alongside the American ones.  In 1964.

Unfortunately, in November of 1963…. Yeeeeeah.  Kennedy really wasn’t available in 1964 to make sure the flags went up.  So, the flag date came and went and the Panamanian college students were up in arms.  They decided to help the Americans with the oversight.  Hopped the fences, threw rocks and tried to put up the flags.

In the process more than 20 of them were shot and killed.  Funny how this isn’t mentioned in US history classes (at least it wasn’t when I was in school).

And it wasn’t until 1999 that the US actually returned the Canal to Panama, but the flag incident was the catalyst.  Yikes.

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