The Panama Canal Zone
(Zona del Canal de Panamá), was a 553 square mile (1,432 km²) territory inside of Panama
, consisting of the Panama Canal
and an area generally extending 5 miles (8.1 km) on each side of the centerline (but excluding Panama City
, which otherwise would have fallen in part within the limits of the Canal Zone). Its border spanned two of Panama's provinces
and was created on November 18
with the signing of the Hay-Bunau Varilla Treaty
. When artificial lakes were created to assure a steady supply of water for the locks, those lakes were included within the Zone.
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.
Notable people born in the Panama Canal Zone include the Republican 2008 presidential candidate and US Senator from Arizona John McCain, Richard Prince, Kenneth Bancroft Clark and Rod Carew.
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.
Panama Canal Company
The canal was operated by the Panama Canal Company (after 1979, it was the Panama Canal Commission). The Canal Zone Government controlled the Canal Zone; it was described as a cross between a colonial
company enclave and a socialist
government. Everyone worked for the Company or the Government in one form or another. There were no independent stores, goods were brought in and sold at a series of stores run by the company such as a commissary
, housewares, and so on. Although denied by the government, for many years there was blatant racism in the Zone, with "gold" and "silver" facilities separated largely on the basis of color.
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.
Tensions and the end of the Canal Zone
The existence of the Canal Zone, a political exclave of the U.S. that cut Panama
geographically in half and had its own courts, police and civil government, was a cause of conflict between the two countries. Demonstrations occurred at the opening of the Bridge of the Americas
in 1962 and serious rioting occurred in 1964. This led to the United States easing its controls in the Zone. For example, Panamanian flags were allowed to be flown with American ones. After extensive negotiations the Canal Zone ceased to exist on October 1
in compliance with provisions of the Torrijos-Carter Treaties
Almost from the inception of the Canal Zone, questions arose as to whether the Zone was considered part of the United States for constitutional purposes, or, in the phrase of the day, whether the Constitution followed the flag. On July 28, 1904, Controller of the Treasury Robert Tracewell
stated, "While the general spirit and purpose of the Constitution is applicable to the zone, that domain is not a part of the United States within the full meaning of the Constitution and laws of the country.
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.
Townships and military installations
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:
- Pacific Side
- Military Installations
- Atlantic Side
- Brazos Heights: privately owned housing (by United Brands and other, mostly shipping companies) where employees/owners of shipping agencies, lawyers and the head of the YMCA lived
- Coco Solo: main hospital and only Atlantic Side high school (called Cristobal High School)
- Cristóbal: main harbor and port
- Mount Hope: site of the only Atlantic side cemetery and the only drydock
- Rainbow City
- Military Installations
- Murillo, Luis E. (1995). The Noriega Mess: The Drugs, the Canal, and Why America Invaded. 1096 pages, illustrated. Berkeley: Video Books. ISBN 0-923444-02-5.
- Mellander, Gustavo A. (1971) The United States in Panamanian Politics:The Intriguing Formative Years. Danville, Ill.: Interstate Publishers, OCLC 138568
- Mellander, Gustavo A.; Nelly Maldonado Mellander (1999). Charles Edward Magoon: The Panama Years. Río Piedras, Puerto Rico: Editorial Plaza Mayor. ISBN 1563281554. OCLC 42970390.
For an excellent book on U.S. involvement in Panama during its early years as a republic see:
Mellander, Gustavo A. (1971) The United States in Panamanian Politics: The Intriguing Formative Years.
Danville, Ill.: Interstate Publishers. OCLC 138568.
As well as: Mellander, Gustavo A.; Nelly Maldonado Mellander (1999). Charles Edward Magoon: The Panama Years. Río Piedras, Puerto Rico: Editorial Plaza Mayor. ISBN 1563281554. OCLC 42970390.