Honorable Louis Caldera

The Transition Ceremony of the Panama Canal from The U.S. to Panama

Speech given gy the Honorable Louis Caldera, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Panama Canal Commission, at the transition ceremony held on December 31st, 1999.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

It is my honor to lead the distinguished delegation that is here today representing the United States of America as we proudly fulfill our final and major obligation under the Panama Canal Treaty of 1977. Thank you, President Moscoso and the people of Panama, for your kindness in receiving us so warmly on this historic day. Today is truly a special day for people of the world over. Today is a day of new beginnings, a day in which we celebrate the end of the 20th century, and in which we greet the dawn of a new millennium with hopeful anticipation. Here in Panama we are privileged to celebrate more than just the turning of a page on the calendar and the hopeful promise of a new day.

Here we ring in a new era for the Panama Canal and for the two great countries, the United States and Panama, which built and stewarded this eighth wonder of the modern world to the course of most of this past century. As of 12:00 noon this day full control of the Panama Canal will pass from the United States to the sovereign nation of Panama, uniting the whole of her territory under one flag for the first time since the birth of the Republic of Panama in 1903.

For Panama this is indeed a proud and important day. For the United States, too, this is an important day in history. We look back with great pride on the achievement represented by the building of this Canal and its continuous operation since 1914 for the benefit of all nations. At the same time, we look forward to a new day in our relations with Panama and with all the countries of the Western Hemisphere.

Panama and the United States can be proud that we accomplished all the tasks that where necessary to achieve this transfer in a manner that is worthy of countries that share a common destiny as part of the family of nations that call the Americas our home.

It is hard for some Americans to recall that at many times throughout this century relations between our countries were strained because of issues surrounding the very thing that bound us together uniquely as partners in the world: the Panama Canal. Today our relations are as strong as ever, precisely because we have worked together to resolve those issues in a manner befitting two great countries through diplomacy, cooperation, and with an abiding spirit of goodwill. We look forward to continuing the good relations that exist between our two nations. Indeed, we look forward to building even stronger and better relations between the United States and Panama, and between the United States and all the nations of Latin America; relations based on mutual respect, trust cooperation, and partnership in charting a course for the Americas that will help us achieve our shared goal of creating a better life for all the people of our Hemisphere.

When the signers of the 1977 Carter-Torrijos Treaty selected this day for the transfer of the Canal they could little have imagined how the world would be caught up in ushering in a new millennium. But they chose wisely, for it is a date that causes us to reflect on where our nations stood just one hundred years ago and how far we have come.

In 1899 a young America had just completed her first century of existence, growing from a small English colony to a bustling nation that crossed the whole of North America. Panama, a land of ancient history, was on the brink of gaining her independence from Colombia. At the turn of the century, America's interest like those of other former colonies in the need the New World lay close to home. The United States was determined to end the domination of the Americas by the European monarchies so that the people of the former colonies would be free to explore and develop the bounty of their own land and free to govern their own lives.

It would be fair to say that one hundred years ago America was not yet a world power. The global responsibilities that would soon be thrust upon her in the first and second World Wars still lay ahead. In Panama, Ferdinand de Lesseps had given up after toiling for years, without success, at a dream that had captured man's imaginations for nearly 400 years: to build a great Canal across the Isthmus. Three short years later that goal was begun in earnest when Panama, with the support of the United States, declared her independence and almost immediately entered into a treaty to construct the Canal.

President Teddy Roosevelt said of Panama's independence, "by every law human and divine, Panama was right in her position." President Roosevelt was deeply committed to building the Canal with full knowledge of all the obstacles and challenges that such a great project entailed. As work on the Canal progressed, he would visit the excavation sites telling the workers, "This is one of the great works of the world. It is a greater work than you, yourselves, at the moment realize."

The effort was indeed monumental. Laborers from America, Panama, the West Indies, and the world over struggled for ten long years before they realized the seemingly impossible dream of building a waterway across the Isthmus of Panama that would connect the two greatest oceans in the world: the Atlantic and the Pacific.

Eighty-five years after `The Ancon' made the maiden voyage through the Canal and nearly one hundred years before the plan of this Canal was conceived, we now know what this Canal meant to the world. It has brought the entire world closer together. Through the commerce that passes through her locks, the Canal has made new markets viable for more nations and helps spread the goodness of trade that benefits all to even more people of the world giving them a chance to improve their lives and their well-being to the fruits of their own labor, and it has brought us all closer in our relationships and understanding of each other.

Looking back now, we can see that Panama was a gateway to the future, opening the door to this century of globalization and helping to build the interdependence and inter-connected world we live in today.

At the same time we can see, as President Jimmy Carter reminded us just two weeks ago, that from the beginning the Treaty under which the canal was built contained language that raised typical questions regarding the extent of Panama's sovereignty over her own land within the canal zone, questions that soon became a matter of great controversy between our countries.

The Treaty effectively divided Panama into two separate territories and gave the United States throughout the Canal Zone that divided Panama, a level of sovereignty reminiscent of a colonial era more appropriate to the I 9`h century than to the 20`".

This arrangement became a source of conflict between our countries precisely because it was inconsistent with the principles the United States came to stand for in the 20`" century: a commitment to preserving freedom, promoting democracy and protecting human rights. In two World Wars, in Korea and throughout the Cold War, the United States has been dedicated to the proposition that preserving and spreading the blessings of liberty is the best hope for improving the lot of mankind. By the midpoint of the century, the contradictions in this 1904 treaty were coming into conflict with the role America was playing in a rapidly changing world, and the role of the United States sought to play here in our own hemisphere.

In 1961 President John Kennedy articulated a compelling vision for the Americas, an alliance, "Alianza para el Progreso", in which the United States would work with our friends and closest neighbors to realize the highest aspirations of our common destiny. "Our hemisphere's mission is not yet complete," he said, "for our unfulfilled task is to demonstrate to the entire world that men's unsatisfied aspirations for economic progress and social justice can best be achieved by free men working within a framework of democratic institutions."

John Kennedy would have understood that America could not aspire to be a good neighbor to Latin America and continue to occupy and divide the territory of a sovereign country it considered a friend, no matter how beneficial that arrangement had been for both countries. He would have understood that America could not stand for democracy and self-determination yet deny Panama the sovereign control over her own territory that Panama yearned for.

In 1962 he had tried to settle the trouble waters between our countries by agreeing with President Chiari that the flag of Panama should fly side by side with the American flag in all places in the Canal Zone where the American flag flew, including here at the Panama Canal Administration Building and on the Bridge of the Americas. I believe that had he been alive, President Kennedy surely would have promised to negotiate reversion of the Canal just as President Johnson did in 1964, in response to the tragic incidents that occurred that year in which three American soldiers and nineteen Panamanians lost their lives as a consequence of the growing resentment that was undermining the long standing bonds between our two countries.

President Johnson tried to keep that promise. In 1968 what President Johnson was unable to achieve fell to a new administration. During both the Nixon and Ford administrations, Doctor Henry Kissinger steadfastly and courageously pursued negotiation of a new treaty. He said recently of those negotiations that it was important for the United States to make a decision about whether we, the United States, would rest our interest in the Panama Canal on our undoubted ability to retain our rights by force or whether we would rely on cooperation with the nation of Panama, and in consensus with the Western Hemisphere, that what we were doing reflected our common destiny. The United States, he said, needed to negotiate a new treaty if we were to proceed in the Western Hemisphere on the basis of a commitment to a common destiny and a common commitment to human dignity of democratic institutions and of cooperative relations.

But it was President Jimmy Carter, building on the work of his predecessor's administrations, who took the final bold steps necessary to negotiate and sign with General Omar Torrijos the 1977 Panama Canal Treaty providing for the full reversion of the Panama Canal to the people of Panama. And every administration since has worked to support this transfer.

Today we culminate the work that was begun with the signing of the 1977 Treaty. Today, a young Panama standing on the brink of her second century assumes historic responsibility as steward for this vital waterway. Panama meets this new role, a strong and vibrant democracy, a land of great beauty and promise, and she starts this exciting century with complete sovereignty over all her territory.

As Chairman of the Panama Canal Commission, a U.S. chartered commission that ceases to exist today, I can assure you that Panama is more than ready. The new independent Panamanian Board of Directors, the Panama Canal Authority ("La Autoridad del Canal de Panama"), the Panama Canal Administration Management Team, and the talented and loyal workforce of the Canal have over the last ten years effectively transitioned to running every aspect of canal operations. Our two countries have worked extremely hard to ensure a smooth transition.

Panama takes control with the most modern management practice in place and with a clear sense of responsibility for what this canal must continue to mean for the world. I thank my board members, American and Panamanian alike, the members of the Panama Canal Authority, the Administrator and Management Team, the pilots, the line handlers, the engineers, and all the employees of the Canal and their unions for all their hard work in making this day a reality. Our motto was "one team, one mission" "un equipo, una mision", and we did it. We chartered, as one team for the Canal, a passage into the 21 S` century. The spirit of cooperation in which the Canal was built, and in which the reversion treaties were negotiated and now fully implemented, is reflected in the observation of President Clinton that at the edge of a new century the Canal, long a symbol of American power and prestige, now also symbolizes the unity and common purpose of the democratic nations of the Americas.

For now we move ahead as partners in a new era, never taking our accomplishments for granted, never forgetting that making progress takes hard work. The challenges that John Kennedy called us to face are still before us. Too many of our people still live in poverty, ignorance and despair. We must build on the opportunities this canal has provided to our region and the world and the enormous progress our region has made in this last half century to build stronger democracies, more tolerant societies, and greater economic opportunity. Our community of democracies must be commited, as we have done here, to choosing cooperation over confrontation.

Our destiny is a common one, so we must seize the enormous opportunities of the 21S` century to force together a hemisphere where the dignity and the rights of every individual to life, home, work, employment, and health is an undeniable birth right. And we must make it our first order of business in this new century so that 100 years from now history will record that we did not miss the opportunity to create a region that is an example to the world, a region where freedom, justice, opportunity and respect for human dignity prevailed.

Panama, our friend, the United States salutes you. Que Dios los bendiga.

December 31, 1999.