Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty (1903)

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Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty (1903)

Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty (1903), an agreement between Panama and the United States providing the legal basis for U.S. construction of the Panama Canal and the creation of the Canal Zone. It was signed on 18 November by U.S. Secretary of State John Hay and Philippe Bunau-Varilla two weeks after the Panamanian revolution against Colombia. Early in 1903, the United States had negotiated a canal treaty with Colombia, but opposition within the Colombian National Assembly to concessions made by the Colombian negotiator (Tomás Herrán) and concerns that Colombia would not receive sufficient economic benefits from the sale of the French canal company's properties to the U.S. led to its defeat. In the U.S. Senate, those who favored a Nicaraguan canal were heartened. As a French national with a strong commitment to a canal in Panama, Bunau-Varilla lobbied for the Panama route and served as intermediary between dissident Panamanians, French canal interests, and important U.S. officials who favored the Panama route. Through his contacts, Bunau-Varilla knew that the U.S. government would guarantee the revolution's success once the Panamanians had acted. As Panama's first representative to the United States, Bunau-Varilla granted virtually every right and privilege the United States had asked for in the earlier Hay-Herrán Treaty with Colombia. These included the right to construct a canal, fortify it, and to "act as if it were sovereign" in the Canal Zone, for $10 million and a $250,000 annual rental. The treaty expired in 1979.

See alsoGood Neighbor Policy; Panama Canal; Roosevelt, Theodore; Taft Agreement (1904); United States-Latin American Relations.


Walter La Feber, The Panama Canal: The Crisis in Historical Perspective (1978).

Richard H. Collin, Theodore Roosevelt's Caribbean: The Panama Canal, the Monroe Doctrine, and the Latin American Context (1990).

Michael Conniff, Panama and the United States: The Forced Alliance (1991).

                                     Lester D. Langley