Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Geography and Anthropology

First Advisor

Carville Earle


This dissertation examines the recurring conflict between the United States and the Republic of Panama regarding the Canal and the Canal Zone by analyzing three salient geographic issues: first, the extent to which international commerce or national security required the building of a canal in Central America; second, ambiguities arising out of notions of sovereignty and extraterritoriality in United States constitutional law; and third, the political controversies between an inland society and a maritime society in Panama itself The theoretical implications of Edward Fox's work in his geographic history of French politics and the works of Panamanian historians and sociologists studying eighteenth and nineteenth-century Panama were used to offer an explanation of Panama's contemporary political relations with the United States. Panama has historically been divided between an inland and a maritime society, with the maritime society tending to be the more politically and economically dominant one. After its independence in 1903, Panama's internal political competition created a situation where all sides felt compelled to assume an antagonistic posture with the United States and demand treaty concessions beyond what might even seem to be within Panama's reasonable national economic interest. The interpositionist role of the United States in Panamanian affairs is the product of a longstanding commitment. The United States has assumed sole responsibility for protecting the neutrality of interoceanic communication across Panama since the middle of the nineteenth century. The goal was to prevent European powers from threatening a maritime choke point affecting U.S. national security and potential commercial expansion. The project to construct an American Panama Canal was, therefore, a product of commercial as well as military concerns. Contrary to conventional thinking about the nature of U.S.-Panamanian relations, this dissertation examines how the influence of the United States, at times, became the means by which Panamanian opposition leaders leveraged political pressure against internal rivals.