Strip of territory, a historic administrative entity in Panama over which the U.S. formerly exercised jurisdictional rights (1903–79). The zone came into being in 1904 when Panama granted the U.S., in return for annual payments, sole right to operate and control the Panama Canal, including a strip of land 10 mi (16 km) wide along the canal extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean and bisecting the Isthmus of Panama. The zone was abolished by treaty in 1979, and civil control of the territory was returned to Panama. By the same treaty a commission under joint U.S.-Panamanian ownership was established to operate the canal until the year 2000, when Panama assumed full control.
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From 1903 to 1979 the territory was controlled by the United States of America, which had built and financed the canal's construction. From 1979 to 1999 the canal itself was under joint U.S.-Panamanian control. In 1977 the Torrijos-Carter Treaties established the neutrality of the canal.
Except during times of crisis or political tension, Panamanians could freely enter the Zone. In fact, normally anyone could walk across a street in Panama City and enter the jurisdiction. However, the 1903 treaty placed restrictions on the rights of Panamanians to buy at retail stores in the Zone. This was for the protection of Panamanian shopkeepers.
During U.S. control of the Canal Zone, the territory, apart from the canal itself, was used mainly for military purposes; however, approximately 3,000 American civilians (called "Zonians") made up the core of permanent residents. U.S. military usage ended when the zone returned to Panamanian control. It has now been integrated to the economic development of Panama, and is a tourist destination of sorts, especially for visiting cruise ships.
The largest U.S. Army unit based in the Canal Zone was the 193rd Infantry Brigade (Light), a mixed parachute-infantry/air-assault-capable light infantry unit. It was honored in 1994 as the first major unit to inactivate in accordance with the Panama Canal Treaty of 1977 treaty implementation plan, and reactivated in 2007 with the mission to conduct basic combat training for new entrants to the Army.
Documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman made a film about the Panama Canal Zone, entitled Canal Zone, which was released and shown on PBS in 1977.
The Canal Zone had its own police force (Canal Zone Police), courts, and judges (the United States District Court for the Canal Zone). Civil and criminal jurisdictions were assumed by the Republic of Panama. The head of the company was also the Governor of the Panama Canal Zone. Residents did not own their homes; instead they rented houses that were assigned, primarily based on seniority in the zone. When an employee moved away, the house would be listed and employees could apply for it. The utility companies were also managed by the company.
In 1953, Congress passed legislation to specify the status of Americans born in the Canal Zone--and to exclude non-Americans born there from citizenship. Title 8, Section 1403 of the United States Code grants citizenship to those born in the Canal Zone with at least one parent who is a United States citizen. This differs from the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment which grants citizenship to all born in the United States, regardless of parental nationality.
The Canal Zone was generally divided into two sections, the Pacific Side and the Atlantic Side, with Gatun Lake separating them.
A partial list of Canal Zone townships and military installations: