CHAPTER XXIII. LATER INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

    Yesterday morning the negotiations with Panama were far from 
    complete. But by putting on all steam, getting Root and Knox and 
    Shaw together at lunch, I went over my project line by line, and 
    fought out every section of it; adopted a few good suggestions: 
    hurried back to the Department, set everybody at work drawing up 
    final drafts - sent for Varilla, went over the whole treaty with him, 
    explained all the changes, got his consent, and at seven o'clock 
    signed the momentous document.

Although the Senate ratified the treaty, the action of the President was the cause of a storm both in that body and throughout the nation. In self-defence Roosevelt condemned Colombia's refusal to ratify the Hay-Herran treaty and asserted that no hope remained of getting a satisfactory agreement with that country; that a treaty of 1846 with Colombia justified his intervention; and that our national interests and the interests of the world at large demanded that Colombia no longer prevent the construction of a canal. On the other hand the President's critics called attention to the unusual haste that surrounded every step in the "seizure" of Panama; condemned the disposition of war vessels which prevented Colombia from even attempting to put down the uprising; and insinuated that the administration was in collusion with the insurgents. Roosevelt's successors in the presidency felt there was some degree of justice in the claim of Colombia that she had been unfairly treated by her big neighbor and several different attempts were made to negotiate treaties which would carry with them a money payment to Colombia. On July 29, 1919, the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate unanimously reported to that body the favorable consideration of a treaty providing for a money payment of $25,000,000, but other matters intervened and no further progress resulted.[3]

The work of constructing the waterway was delayed by changes of plan until 1906, when a lock canal was decided upon, and shortly afterward a start was made. So huge an undertaking - the isthmus is forty-nine miles wide at this point - was an engineering task of unprecedented size, and involved stamping out the yellow fever, obtaining a water supply, building hospitals and dwellings and finding a sufficient labor force, as well as the more difficult problems of excavating soil and building locks in regions where land-slides constantly threatened to destroy important parts of the work. At length, however, all obstacles were overcome and on August 15, 1914, the canal was opened to the passage of vessels.

The final diplomatic question relating to the canal concerned the rates to be charged on traffic passing through. By the terms of the Hay-Pauncefote treaty with Great Britain, the United States agreed that the canal should be free and open to all nations "on terms of entire equality." In 1912 Congress enacted legislation exempting American coast-wise vessels from the payment of tolls, despite the protest of Great Britain. As President Wilson was of the opinion that our action had been contrary to our treaty agreement, he urged the repeal of the act upon his accession in 1913, and succeeded in accomplishing his purpose.

The construction of the Canal under American auspices committed the United States to new responsibilities in the Caribbean. Her coaling station in Cuba, the possession of Porto Rico and the protection of the isthmus made it a matter of national safety to preserve stable governments in Central America and the West Indies. The infiltration of American capital into the region served to ally economic with political interest, for like European investors, our capitalists have taken a part in the exploitation of South American sugar, fruit, coffee, oil and asphalt. With the islands and shores of the Caribbean Sea alone, American trade doubled in the decade after 1903. Orderly government south of the United States became accordingly essential to the welfare of our outlying possessions, and to the commercial interests of a group of investors. The most important international questions that have arisen in Spanish America related to Venezuela in 1902 and Santo Domingo in 1905.