5/28/13 - the u.s. helps the rebels in panama

In today's selection -- in 1903, when President Theodore Roosevelt wanted to dig a canal across the Colombian state of Panama and the Colombian government stood in the way, the U.S. assisted Panama in rebelling against Colombia and becoming an independent country. In 1913, when Theodore Roosevelt toured South America and gave a speech in Chile, Colombian students protested, but he was unapologetic in his defense of U.S. actions:

"Roosevelt considered the Panama Canal to be one of the greatest achievements of his presidency, and he believed that the canal's archi­tectural genius and the indelible mark that it -- and, through it, he -- would leave on the world more than justified the small South American revolution he had had to foment in order to make it a real­ity. In 1903, Roosevelt's third year in the White House, the United States government decided, after much heated debate, that Panama rather than Nicaragua would be the best location for a canal that would connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. At that time, Panama was a state within Colombia, and so Roosevelt had offered Colombia twelve million dollars for the right to build the canal. When the Colombian Senate countered with restrictive treaty language and a demand for more money, Roosevelt's response was impatience and contempt. He wrote to his secretary of state, John Hay, that the United States should not allow the 'lot of jackrabbits' in Colombia 'to bar one of the future highways of civilization,' and he proceeded quietly to encourage and support a Panamanian revolution that had been bubbling under the surface for years.

"On November 3, 1903, with U.S. Navy ships lined up in nearby wa­ters, Panama declared its independence. Fifteen days later, John Hay and Philippe Bunau-Varilla, a Frenchman who had been the canal's chief engineer, signed the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty, which gave the United States control of the Canal Zone, a five-mile-wide swath of land on ei­ther side of the waterway. A decade later, the Colombians were still fum­ing. When asked by a Brazilian official why he had left Colombia off of his South American itinerary, Roosevelt had replied, 'Don't you know, my dear friend, that I am not a 'persona grata' in Colombia?'

"Although Roosevelt had steered clear of Colombia, he would not be able to avoid a hostile encounter in Chile, where Colombian stu­dents had organized protests against him. When his train pulled into Chile's capital, Santiago, in late November, he was greeted by a crowd that at first seemed to mirror the friendly masses that had welcomed him to Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina. But the moment he leapt from his Pullman to the train-station floor, with the triumphal strains of the American and Chilean national anthems echoing around him, his welcoming party suddenly transformed into an angry protest rally. 'The human multitude, showing marked hostility, shouted with all their might vivas! -- to Mexico and Colombia, and Down with the Yankee Imperialism!' a journalist for Lima's West Coast Leader excit­edly reported.

"The Chilean government went to great lengths to shield Roosevelt from the demonstrations, even buying and destroying newspapers that covered anti-Roosevelt rallies, but their guest had no desire to hide from any assault on himself or his country. On the contrary, he took every opportunity to face down his attackers, ready to explain in no uncertain terms why he was right and they were wrong. At a state reception welcoming him to Chile, he vigorously debated Marchial Martinez, a former Chilean ambassador to the United States, about the continued relevance of the Monroe Doctrine. Days later, in an electrifying speech, he gave an impassioned, utterly unapologetic de­fense of the Panama Canal. ...

"Roosevelt told the spellbound crowd, 'I took the action I did in Panama because to have acted otherwise would have been both weak and wicked. I would have taken that action no matter what power had stood in the way. What I did was in the interest of all the world, and was particularly in the interests of Chile and of certain other South American countries. I was in accordance with the highest and strictest dictates of justice. If it were a matter to do over again, I would act precisely and exactly as I in very fact did act.' As these words rang through the hall, the audience leapt to its feet, cheering and applaud­ing the Yankee imperialist.



Candice Millard


The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey


Broadway Books a division of Random House


Copyright 2005 by Candice Millard


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