Panama Canal Treaty U.S. Department of Seal
Department of State

The Panama Canal Treaties of 1977-78 meant to rectify a long-term, contentious issue in U.S.-Latin American relations. In 1903 U.S. military force supported Panamanian revolutionaries in their quest for independence from Colombia and ensured U.S. control, for a century, of a strip of land in the center of Panama for the canal. By the 1960s, Panamanian calls for sovereignty over the Canal Zone had reached high pitch, and U.S. relations with the isthmian country deteriorated.

President James E. ("Jimmy") Carter saw returning the Panama Canal as key to improving U.S. relations in the hemisphere and the developing world. Although opponents of the treaty returning the canal to Panama by 2000 criticized Carter's efforts on the basis of "We Built it, We Paid for it, It's Ours," the treaties narrowly passed the Senate in April 1978. Although U.S. relations with Panama were cordial in the early 1980s, by the mid-1980s, with the country under the leadership of Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, relations again deteriorated.

Additional Reading:
Walter LaFeber. The Panama Canal-The Crisis in Historical Perspective, 2d ed. (New York: Oxford, 1989)
J. Michael Hogan. The Panama Canal in American Politics-Domestic Advocacy and the Evolution of Policy (Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 1986).
William J. Jorden. Panama Odyssey (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1984).