It doesn't quite have the same ring to it, but in 1502 the land currently known as Panama was discovered by revered explorer Christopher Columbus. Prior to the arrival by his fleet of Europeans, Panama's current inhabitants were native Chibchan, Chocoan, and Cueva peoples. With little resistance, Columbus created a small settlement in the Darien region of the country, which laid the groundwork for future explorers and Old World people to colonize.
During the Colonial Period, Panama was part of the Spanish Empire, and because of country's useful isthmus, became the crossroads and primary marketplace for Spain's empire during the development of the New World. This practice and partnership lasted for roughly 300 years, until 1821 when Central America revolted against the Spanish by declaring their independence. As a result Panama joined Columbia, but this forced unity created little synergy. For the next eight decades, Panama made five attempts to break away from Columbia, but to no avail. The 19th century was a rough period for the country, as the United States intervened 13 times due to various riots and attempted successions from Columbia, all with the intent to help Panama win their independence but also to get the country to relinquish rights of the isthmus.
In 1903, Panama achieved independence, but at a price. For an upfront cost of $10 million, and additional $250,000 each year, Panama turned over ownership of the Isthmus of Panama to the United States. In exchange, the U.S. got the Canal Zone- a 10-mile-wide strip across the isthmus- and a hand in Panama's affairs. In 1907 President Theodore Roosevelt appointed George Washington Goethals as Chief Engineer of the Panama Canal. Seven years later, construction on the canal was complete and formally opened with the first passage of the cargo ship SS Ancon.
During World War II, the canal became one of America's most valuable assets, heavily protected by fleets of U.S. warships. But following it, contentious feelings grew between Panama and the U.S, as many Panamanians believed the Canal should be theirs, sparking frequent student protests in the 1960s. The solution? The Torrijos-Carter Treaty. Signed in 1977 by President Jimmy Carter and Panama's de facto leader Omar Torrijos, the act was to grant Panama control of the Canal as long as it remained neutral in use. The move was swift, but turnover did not occur until December 31, 1999, when the Panama Canal Authority began it's post as commander of this famed waterway, a true lifeblood for all Panama citizens.
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