The Central American country of Panama has a long and less honourable history. Events of this week have done nothing to change that fact. The Spanish explored and settled the country in the 16th century; by settled I mean they solved the problem of the indigenous population in the way colonialists almost always did – they either replaced them or eradicated them. Around 200 years later, in 1821, Panama broke with Spain and joined a union of Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela, named the Republic of Gran Colombia that lasted until 1830, after which Panama remained part of Colombia.
With US backing, Panama seceded from Colombia in 1903 and promptly signed a treaty with the US allowing for the construction of a canal and US sovereignty over a strip of land on either side of the structure called the Panama Canal Zone. The Panama Canal was built by the US Army Corps of Engineers between 1904 and 1914.
More than 75% of Panama’s GDP in its dollar-based economy comprises a services sector that includes operating the Panama Canal, logistics, banking, the Colon Free Trade Zone, insurance, container ports, flagship registry, tourism and offshore banking. However, public debt has surpassed $37 billion because of excessive government spending. About a quarter of the population lives in poverty. Panama has the second worst income distribution in Latin America.
In 1977 an agreement was signed for the complete transfer of the Canal from the US to Panama by the end of the century. With help from the USA, Panamanian Dictator Manuel Noriega, who died recently, was deposed in 1989. The entire Panama Canal, the area supporting the Canal, and remaining US military bases were transferred to Panama by the end of 1999. An ambitious expansion project to more than double the Canal’s capacity was carried out between 2007 and 2016 at a cost of $5.3 billion. The USA and China are the top users of the Canal.
Just a few days ago, China added one more breach to the long-established policy of desisting from dollar diplomacy over Taiwan’s diplomatic relatives by buying the fealty of this impoverished nation for somewhere around 9 billion dollars and a few soft loans, proving once again that the Age of Economic Colonialism is not yet past. Like many other Caribbean nations Panama has put a price on its independence and has chosen vassalage, which must be of concern to its former patron state, America.
After taking Panama and its Canal under its wing, it takes no more than a glance at the map of the Caribbean to see that China is fast gaining control of this whole region, so strategically important to World Commerce and so vital to Global Political Dominance. To the east of the Caribbean Sea lies a more or less contiguous chain of Small Island Developing States that has historically formed a protective barrier against invaders.
Today China is getting very close to total dominance among these mini-SIDS, which should be a cause for concern in Trump’s America, and it is only a matter of time before we see Chinese warships calling at their ports, establishing Chinese bases along their coastlines, and patrolling the waters of the Caribbean. Soon perhaps, only the French Islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico and the American Virgin Islands, the BVI and perhaps the Dutch Antilles will be able to resist the bribes that China dangles beneath the noses of their leaders.
Centuries ago, tribal chieftains sold their people into slavery to be transported across the great ocean in the west and become the property of people who likewise came from far away. I personally have no doubt that a portion of the billions China has paid for diplomatic ties with Panama and essential control of world trade through its Canal has ended up in the pockets of Panamanian politicians and chieftains.
China has increasingly expanded its sphere of influence in the seas around its coastline, even going so far as to create artificial islands while America and its President stand impotently by. How long will it be before the reefs and shallow waters of the Caribbean are converted into Chinese territories and our tourism facilities and industrial complexes are swarming with tiny Chinese workers whose work ethics and energy far surpass those of our indigent, fairly indolent, comfortable, somewhat lazy, less skilled workforce?
And I have not even mentioned our true and trusted allies, the Taiwanese, who deserve our loyalty and continued friendship for all that they have done for us through the years.