Panama Canal

How many of you remember the name of the man I talked to you about last week? Gen. Walter Reed. And what was his great contribution to human history? Finding the cause of and controlling yellow fever in the closing days of the l9th Century.
Soon after the turn of the century, Walter Reed was assigned to the job of cleaning up the city of Havana and ridding the city of mosquitoes and yellow fever. Gen. Walter Reed selected Major William Gorgas as his assistant and work was started, but a year and nine months later Walter Reed was dead at the age of 52.
Major Gorgas was promoted to Colonel and continued the clean-up job. Col. Gorgas did a tremendous service to the people of Cuba and particularly Havana. The people griped about the strict sanitation measures that he instituted, but he made the city of Havana one of the cleanest cities in the Western Hemisphere. This brings up the most important part of this history lesson-the building of the Panama Canal.
For years there had been a strong desire in this country for a canal across Central America linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Walter Reed's challenge was plain and to the point: "Get rid of the mosquitoes and you get rid of yellow fever." You remember his final experiments came when the company headed by Ferdinand De Lesseps, builder of the Suez Canal, had failed in an earlier attempt to dig a canal across the Isthmus of Panama. In l903, the United States purchased the canal rights of the French and was soon ready to begin work on the canal. After considerable deliberation and negotiation with civilian engineering firms, President Teddy Roosevelt decided that building the canal was a job for the Army. Col. George W. Goethals of the Army Engineers was selected as the chief engineer and later civil governor of the Canal Zone. Gen. Goethals was an able soldier and an expert administrator, and he pushed construction of the canal and despite tremendous obstacles, completed the canal in about l0 years.
One of the most important reasons for the failure of the French to complete the canal was the dread disease of the tropics-yellow fever. From the work of Walter Reed and William Gorgas in Cuba, Colonel Goethals knew that it would be necessary to curb yellow fever and malaria that was also caused by mosquito infection, if the canal was to be completed. The Army Medical Corps assigned Col. Gorgas of Havana fame to head the Sanitary Commission in the Panama Canal Zone. Col. Gorgas rigidly applied the principles of field sanitation such as proper handling of waste and garbage, drainage of stagnant pools where mosquitoes breed, disinfecting of houses and buildings, spreading oil on lakes and streams to destroy the mosquito larva, and the screening of buildings.
The Medical Corps under the command of Col. Gorgas brought malaria under control and yellow fever, the curse of the tropics, was wiped out completely and the Canal Zone was transformed from a pesthole to a healthy and attractive place to live. Gorgas also made the cities of Panama and Colon as clean and healthy as any in the United States. Without the splendid work of Colonel Gorgas and the Army Medical Corps, it is doubtful that Col. Goethals would have ever been able to successfully complete one of the greatest engineering feats of all history.
Today, the Canal stands as a lasting monument to the technical ability, discipline, and efficiency of the Army working at its best in the fulfillment of a peacetime mission. When the canal was finished Col. George Washington Goethals was named the first civil governor of the Canal Zone and served for two years in this important post. He then returned to the States where he was promote d to Major General and the Congress gave him a rousing welcome and a vote of thanks for his fine work in building the Panama Canal. If they ever have a medical hall of fame, Gen. Walter Reed and Col. William Gorgas would surely be honored there and certainly Gen. Goethels would be nominated for any engineering hall of fame anywhere in the world.
Now I plan to give you some additional background that explains some of the difficulties we have faced in our relations with the Repu blic of Panama and our South American neighbors to the South. There is no doubt that the United States used some very unusual if not actual illegal ways to get the original treaty signed in the first place. Here are some facts that can be documented to show that the United States did not exactly play fair in its wheeling and dealing to gain its ends-that is the rights and property to build the canal. First, a French company, organized by DeLessups, the man who built the Suez C anal in Egypt, started to build the Panama Canal in l884, but ran into difficulties and five years later abandoned the project.
Now here enters into the picture an unusual man, a Frenchman named Buno Varelya who was an engineer that worked for the French Company. He believed wholeheartedly in the canal so when the French Company folded he turned to the United States. The United States commissioned Buno to negotiate a treaty with the defunct canal company and the Republic of Columbia that owned the State of Panama. At that time, Buno got the canal company to agree to sell their interest in Panama to the U.S. for $40 million. The U. S. through Buno offered Columbia a payment of $l0 million and a rental of $250,000 a year and a 99-year lease on the land. The Columbian Government wanted $25 million so no progress was made in negotiations with Columbia.
Now here comes the Frenchman again. He and his friends in Panama, aided and abetted by American interests, staged a revolution and declared Panama independent of Columbia. The revolution broke on November 3, l903, and President Teddy Roosevelt evidently knew all about the situation for on November 2nd, the day before the revolt, he ordered two battleships to Panama to protect "free and uninterrupted travel across the Isthmus of Panama." On November 6, three days after the revolt, President Teddy's government recognized the new Panama Republic. Then exactly seven days later President Teddy Roosevelt received the newly appointed Panama Ambassador to the United States-and who do you suppose that new ambassador was? It was our old friend the Frenchman, Buno Varelya. A treaty was drawn up and signed by Ambassador Buno and our Secretary of State wherein the United States gave Panama $10 million dollars and a yearly rental payment of $250,000 and received a grant of land l0 miles wide across Panama. This grant was in perpetuity-that means forever.
This treaty, according to President Carter, was signed in the middle of the night without any citizen of Panama present. Only the Frenchman Buno represented the Republic of Panama, and he had been an agent for the United States throughout all the negotiations. Charles and Mary Beard in their Basic History of the United States have this to say about the Panama Canal deal: "A few men in Panama, feeling that the United States would support them, provoked a revolution in l903. Within a few days President Teddy Roosevelt recognized their independence and made a treaty with the new government that granted the U.S. the right to build the Canal through their territory. Soon 'the dirt began to fly' as Roosevelt expressed it, and in l9l3 the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific were joined; the voyage between New York and San Francisco was shortened by nearly 8000 miles. Roosevelt was criticized for his 'high handed action' in dealing with Columbia and he later confessed that he simply 'took' Panama to stop endless talk and get the work done."
So after all, there are two sides to this question and maybe the people of Panama have a legitimate claim against the United States. It appears that President Carter and a n umber of the leaders of many countries in Central and South America thought so too. My personal feeling is that we did not exactly play fair with Columbia or Panama and some kind of settlement was in order.

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