Panama Canal treaty was signed between the US and Panama in 1977 and ratified by the US in 1978. The signatories were the US President Jimmy Carter and Panamanian Colonel Omar Torrijos. The treaty is one of two Torrijos-Carter treaties that regulate the rights of the US and Panama for the Panama Canal.


According to the “Neutrality Treaty” or The Treaty Concerning the Permanent Neutrality and Operation of the Panama Canal, the US secured the right to use armed forces to protect their interests in case of threat to Panama Canal neutrality. The Panama Canal Treaty spelled out the process of transferring the Panama Canal to the Panamanians. So, according to The Panama Canal Treaty, the Canal Zone ceased to exist on October 1, 1979, and was finally transferred to the jurisdiction of the Panamanian government on December 31, 1999. Both treaties were signed on September 7, 1977.

But still the treaties had to pass a vote in Senate. Many senators did not support the idea of giving control over the Panama Canal to Panamanians. The conservatives did not trust Torrijos, attributing to him a pro-communist position. Therefore, President Carter had to enlist the support of Congress and held a series of consultations. His officials run numerous forums explaining the reasons for signing the treaty to the general public to bring the ratification to an end. Torrijos met US senators in Panama, assuring them he is not a communist or enemy of the United States. The ratification campaign was even supported by actor John Wayne, who was a conservative and friend of Torrijos.

Senate ratified the “Neutrality Treaty” on March 16, 1978, with 68 senators voting “for,” and 32 – “against” the ratification. On April 18, 1978, The Panama Canal Treaty was ratified. But still, it was necessary to reconcile the law on the implementation of treaties with Congress. President Carter finally signed the law on September 27, 1979.

Speaking of significance of the Panama Canal treaty for the US history, one should remember that the whole story started when the Hay-Herrán Treaty was signed with Colombia in 1903. Hay-Herrán Treaty allowed the US the right for the land where they were going to construct the Canal. When the Colombian Senate refused to ratify the treaty, President Theodore Roosevelt supported Panama’s seceding from Colombia. On November 18, 1903, the United States and Panama signed the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty. However, the representative of Panama, Philippe Jean Bunau-Varilla, started negotiations without the official consent from the Panamanian government. Therefore, after the opening of the Canal in 1914, many Panamanians did not recognize the validity of the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty.

In 1964, due to unrest over the right to establish a Panamanian flag in the Canal Zone, countries broke off diplomatic relations. After the restoration, both parties became aware of the necessity of a new treaty. In 1967, they achieved an accord on the Canal status but had to postpone negotiations due to a period of political turbulence in Panama. Negotiations were recommenced after Colonel Omar Torrijos came to power.

The Latin American public demanded immediate actions, and the international partners accused the United States of imperialism. That is why giving away the Canal to Panama became an essential step for the United States. From 1973 to 1976, Ellsworth Bunker made a series of preliminary agreements with the Panamanian government. These agreements became the basis for the 1977 Torrijos-Carter treaties.

Despite the temporary warming, relations between the countries worsened after Torrijos died in 1981. In December 1989, the United States intervened in Panama’s politics when President George W. Bush sent US troops to Panama to remove Manuel Noriega from power. In 1999, United States finally transferred all the territories in Canal Zone to Panama. About 1,500 km² of land was transferred, including some 7,000 buildings, such as military facilities, warehouses, schools, and private homes.
Senate of the United States April18, 1978