Who Built the Panama Canal?
Date Written: 21/06/2017
Year Published: 2017
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX21190
Donald Trump might not know it, but the United States didn't build the Panama Canal. Workers did.
On June 19, 2017, President Trump met with Panamanian president Juan Carlos Varela and commented, "The Panama Canal is doing quite well. I think we did a good job building it, right?" President Varela looked stunned and Twitter lit up with derision and jokes.
Yet politicians from Theodore Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan would not have found the statement controversial. What has changed?
For more than one hundred years the Panama Canal has been a flashpoint for how Americans think about themselves and the world. Trump's comment seemed clueless because Americans' understanding of sovereignty and US power in the world has changed. Almost twenty years ago, at long last, the United States transferred the Panama Canal to Panama. Panama's ownership of the canal constructed through the heart of its territory has changed the story -- and the history -- in complex ways.