In a past post, I discussed the idea of geopolitics. That is, certain aspects of geography lend strategic advantages to whichever country possesses them. One of the best examples of such a geographical location is the Panama Canal.
Completed in 1914, the Panama Canal connected the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This 48 mile man-made waterway accommodates over 14,000 vessels every year. The canal allows for ships in either ocean to get to the other without circling Tierra Del Fuego in South America. This saves the ships nearly 8,000 miles and drastically cuts costs for transoceanic voyages. These facts make this little strip of land quite valuable. Any power that controls the canal can exact tolls for ships to pass and can block any ships it doesn’t want to pass.
The United States was the power that first built and controlled the canal with permission of the Panamanian government. It was a great asset during both World Wars and was incredibly valuable for ships going from New York to San Francisco. In 1999, the US government handed over complete control to the Government of Panama, but US businessmen still hold a large portion of the stock for the canal. As long as there is need for transoceanic trade between the Atlantic and Pacific, the Panama Canal will remain a key geopolitical item.