Hay-Herrán Treaty (1903)

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Hay-Herrán Treaty (1903)

Hay-Herrán Treaty (1903), the agreement of 22 January which, had it been ratified, would have authorized the United States to build a canal through Colombia's province of Panama. The agreement, negotiated by John Hay, U.S. secretary of state, and Tomás Herrán, Colombian chargé d'affaires in Washington, was rejected by the Colombian Senate. That prompted President Theodore Roosevelt and other canal promoters to endorse Panama's separation from Colombia. After independence, the treaty served as a draft for rights ceded by the new republic to the United States.

The treaty empowered the United States to purchase the machinery and works of the French Compagnie Nouvelle in Panama and to build a canal along the route worked by the French. Colombia would grant to the U.S. government a zone six miles wide (excluding the terminal cities of Panamá and Colón) for construction, operation, maintenance, and defense of the canal. Colombia, in exchange, would retain sovereignty over the zone. The United States would pay $10 million upon ratification and $25,000 per year upon completion of the canal. The treaty would remain in effect for one hundred years and was renewable at the sole discretion of the United States. Finally, the United States would operate all administrative services in the zone except the police.

On 12 August 1903 the Colombian Senate unanimously rejected the treaty, which had become hugely unpopular in Bogotá. The main reasons were insufficient compensation, threat to sovereignty, and perpetuity. At this point, agents of the Compagnie Nouvelle and Panamanian conservatives conspired to declare Panama independent, with the blessing of the U.S. government.

See alsoColombia: Since Independence; Panama Canal; United States-Latin American Relations.


E. Taylor Parks, Colombia and the United States, 1765–1934 (1935).

Eduardo Lemaitre Román, Panamá y su separación de Colombia, 2d ed. (1972).

James M. Skinner, France and Panama: The Unknown Years, 1894–1908 (1989).

John Major, Prize Possession: The United States and the Panama Canal, 1903–1977 (1993).

                                Michael L. Conniff