Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Pro Mundi Beneficio

Pro Mundi Beneficio
"For the Benefit of the World"
- Motto of Republic of Panama
On August 15, 1914 the Panama Canal was officially opened with the SS Ancon as the first ship entering the locks. At the time, no single effort in American history had exacted such a price in dollars or in human life.

The U.S. cost from 1904 to 1914 totaled $352,000,000, far more than the cost of anything built by the United States Government up to that time. Together the French and American spent $639,000,000.

The construction took 34 years from the initial effort in 1880 to actually open the Canal in 1914. It is estimated that over 80,000 persons took part in the construction and that over 30,000 lives were lost in both French and American efforts.


Have you seen the ships line up 24 hours a day to enter the Panama Canal?

Have you have seen the amount of earth that was moved to create this eight wonder of the world?


I HAVE... and until you do... you'll never understand the impact the Canal has had on all our lives. It's truly one of the greatest things the United States has done.

AND really cool to see in person.

I write this STUCK in the Miami airport waiting for my plane to arrive. The flight back to Baltimore is only 6 hours late. The so-called "jet-set" lifestyle is truly overrated.

So having some time... I've decided to post about my trip to Panama. I've talked web marketing for the past 3 days... and I'm burned out. So today instead of discussing my Panama conference, I can get to that later, I'd rather discuss... or rather introduce you to...


I stayed in the old town of Panama City called El Casco Viejo. The area is booming and real estate is hot. These buildings are "fixer uppers." OK - some are crumbling. But that's not stopping investors. It's potential that they are buying, as well as retirement in a city with history, culture, and one that runs on the U.S. dollar.

Remember the dollar? The weak falling dollar? Well not here... it's strong. And you can live very well on little to no money at all.

And did I mention the people are friendly and welcoming too? They actually like Americans.

The trip certainly was a treat.

As to the canal... it's a story of greed, hardship and the power of man forcing his will over nature. We humans can do amazing things when we put our minds to it.

The history of the Panamanian isthmus starts with Spain. The well traveled Spaniards first landed on its shores in 1501. It's a story of treasure, treasure seekers, and exploitation. It's Balboa, (his name is everywhere including a local brew I enjoyed many times) and his trek from the Atlantic to the Pacific in 1513... conquistadors seeking gold for the motherland.

It's hard to imagine this was a century before the English settled Massachusetts Bay. At that time Panama was already the crossroads and marketplace of the Spanish Empire. It was a major player in international trade and a destination for pirate and trader alike.

However, by the seventeenth century the thriving colony entered a period of decline and neglect. The English settlers drove the trade and commerce north to "the new world" and Panama was lost in the shuffle.

I believe it was the Spanish monarchs in the 1500s who first considered digging a canal across the isthmus. U.S. interest wasn't seen until the 1850s... caused by the California gold rush.

In 1879 a French company under the direction of Ferdinand de Lesseps, builder of the Suez Canal, began constructing a canal in Panama. The project fell victim of disease, faulty design, and ultimately bankruptcy and was abandoned in 1889. However, they had excavated a total of 59.75 million cubic meters before abandoning.

By the turn of the twentieth century, the U.S. had become convinced that a canal was needed. In addition to the geographic advantages of the isthmus, President Teddy Roosevelt was attracted by the separatist tendencies of Panama, then a part of Colombia. When Panama rebelled against Colombia in 1903, Roosevelt deployed the U.S. Navy to stop, or rather scare Colombia from intervening in the "self-determination" and thus, help establish the independence of the Republic of Panama.

I told you the locals liked Americans!

The first American shovel started digging on 11th November 1904. By December 1905 there were 2,600 men at work on the canal.

The descendants of those men remain in Panama today... Chinese, American, and Frenchmen alike. Now all proud Panamanians.

Since its completion in 1914, the Panama Canal has been the forefront of Panama's economic base. And although Banking is now a major industry in the capital city, the canal remains an economic force. AND it gives off a great amount of national pride.

To make a long story short... the overall building of the canal was plagued by problems, including disease (particularly malaria and yellow fever) and landslides. AGAIN... as many as 30,000 workers are estimated to have died during its construction.

The length of the Panama Canal is approximately 51 miles. A trip along the canal from its Atlantic entrance would take you through a 7 mile dredged channel in Limón Bay.

The canal then proceeds for a distance of 11.5 miles to the Gatun Locks. This series of three locks raise ships 26 metres to Gatun Lake. It continues south through a channel in Gatun Lake for 32 miles to Gamboa.

This channel through the cut is 8 miles long and 150 metres wide. At the end of this cut are the locks at Pedro Miguel. The Pedro Miguel locks lower ships 9.4 meters to a lake, then takes you to the Miraflores Locks that lower ships 16 meters to sea level at the canals Pacific terminus in the bay of Panama.

AND it's really cool to see in person.