Excerpts from "the first rough draft of history" as reported in The Washington Post on this date in the 20th century.
Linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans through Central America, the Panama Canal is one of the world's greatest engineering marvels. Three weeks after Panama revolted against Colombia and declared its independence on Nov. 3, 1903, the United States and the new republic signed the Hay-Bunau-Varilla treaty, ceding permanent and exclusive control of the proposed canal and the zone surrounding it to the United States. Decades-long resentment in Panama over the agreement resulted in a new treaty transferring control of the Canal Zone to Panama in 1979 and operations of the canal itself on Dec. 31, 1999. An excerpt from The Post of Nov. 19, 1903:
Secretary Hay and M. Phillippe Bunau-Varilla, the Minister of Panama, at 6:40 o'clock last evening signed the Hay-Bunau-Varilla treaty, providing for the construction of the Panama Canal by the United States. The ceremony took place in Secretary Hay's study. The Panama Minister arrived at Mr. Hay's house promptly at 6 o'clock, having made an appointment with the Secretary for a conference at that hour. He was surprised to find that the Secretary had before him the treaty engrossed in duplicate. The Secretary informed M. Bunau-Varilla that he was ready to sign the treaty. The Minister read the document carefully and then he and Secretary Hay attached their signatures to it.
Hearty congratulations were exchanged and it was agreed that the news of the signing of the treaty should be kept from the public for the present. President Roosevelt was immediately advised of the signing of the document, and Minister Bunau-Varilla sent a confidential cablegram to his government, stating that the treaty had been signed.
The secretary and the Minister refused to comment on the ceremony. The only official admission that can be had is that the "terms of the treaty are practically settled."
Although the treaty has not been made public The Post is enabled to give the substance of the document. It consists of between twenty-two and twenty-five articles, but the main points of the convention are contained in the first six articles. The keynote of the treaty is the provision in one of the very first articles by which Panama cedes to the United States whatever land or lands throughout the republic of Panama this government shall find desirable in connection with the building or the operation and maintenance of the canal. In addition the treaty gives to the United States absolute sovereignty over the canal strip, which it is understood comprises between eight and ten miles on each side of the canal. Within this zone the power of the United States is as absolute as if the zone were part and parcel of this country. ...
Permission is also given the United States to fortify the line and the terminals, and it may police it with troops. That portion of the treaty dealing with the fortification of the terminals is rather general, but sufficiently explicit not to be misunderstood.
The cities of Panama and Colon retain their municipal autonomy under the republic of Panama so long as they maintain public order and sanitary conditions to the satisfaction of the United States. Failure to do this gives the United States, according to the treaty, the right to force strict compliance with the wishes of this government in this direction, and the United States can even use force to compel obedience to its rules as to public order and public health in these cities.