The political climate in the country of Panama after the disgraceful sacrifice of General Victoriano Lorenzo on May 15, 1903 had left in place an ineffectual pedantic elite in government. The sureness of peace had led the Colombian army to almost abandon the small Departamento, or annexed province of Panama.
The deserted streets of 1903 spoke louder than the later cry of exploitation against the central government in Bogota. The Radical Liberal faction, at whose insistence on the manumission of the slaves had caused a civil war, and whom the sacrificed general had collaborated with, were left out of the new negotiations with the North Americans. Such negotiations were intended to secure a more stable environment in the critical isthmian canal area, practically vacated by the French transnational since 1889.
The Colombian negotiators, however, proved no match for the shrewd North Americans, who had, by this time, proven their war powers in the recent Spanish American War, securing colonies in the Pacific Ocean. They had also pacified the Native Americans in a genocidal incursion known to them as the Indian Wars.
In Central America their “American Interests” had been secured with the Banana Industry, and in the Caribbean Basin area had manoeuvred their hold through concessions and empowerment of the impoverished kingdoms of Europe transforming them into rich royalties able to hold on to colonies of rich agricultural lands worked by valuable Black slaves. The Westindian “neo slave” awaited employment as the powerful Americans collected on their debts, which had been their secret weapon in putting a final end of the known guerilla fighter- “that little Indian man” who had been fully capable of fighting even against American troops.
Nevertheless, the great plan for owning the entire country of Panama had been discussed and agreed upon in sporadic meetings between the Banana plantation groups, who had received all kinds of concessions from many of the countries in Central America and Panama. The railroad faction, on the other hand, had already secured rights to the security lease of the highly transited strip of the narrowest point of land on the continent.
Many studies surrounding this tiny strip had already revealed that it would be a real deal for that dream of successfully floating ships through an overland canal in the area. A great amount of work, in fact, had already been done on excavations and infrastructure by the French. The Americans hoped to secure by “legal means” a country that was near enough and far enough from the recent turmoil of a Civil War over slavery, since no more slave states were allowed under the North American Constitution.
Acting as custodian after pacifying a major uprising it was time for decisive action since the Americans foresaw no further opposition in Panama. With the 1846 Bidlack-Mallarino Treaty with the Colombian Government in hand, and an American railway currently operating almost without passengers, it was time to act. Since the railroad barons had unified the country of the United States the Americans moved with their characteristic confidence and adroitness.
The facts were clear, the Colombian government was in a state of bankruptcy, the French government had no legal rights in the area any longer, and the banana plantation industry, monopolized by the Yankees, seemed to be operating very smoothly. The political climate had already been set by the events on the USS Wisconsin, the awesome warship that had “just showed” up in the area in 1902. Those facts alone indicated that the gringos controlled that neglected canal area for good.
The country of Panama at this time lived under a quiet kind of truce, where most of the illiterate and functional illiterate population was either in the countryside or hidden in the dense bush of the tropical jungle, practically inaccessible to the central government.
In the United States, Congress had finally passed the Spooner Act, signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt on June 28, 1902, authorizing him to “buy the rights and properties of the New French Canal Company and ‘to cause to be constructed’ an Isthmian canal of sufficient capacity and depth to provide ‘convenient passage for vessels of the largest tonnage and greatest draft now in use, and such as may be reasonably anticipated.’”
By January of 1903 the Colombian Congress had authorized the ratification of a treaty to concede a 100 year lease agreement for the ten kilometer wide strip of land in the area of the Canal in Panama. The Panamanian employees of the railroad were being encouraged to enter into a secret negotiation with people they did not really know or trust. Furthermore, they were afraid, and with good reason, to end up hanged if they didn’t go along with the negotiations.
This story continues.