Torrijos-Carter Treaties
The Torrijos–Carter Treaties (sometimes referred to in the singular
Grammatical number
In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions ....

 as the Torrijos-Carter Treaty) are two treaties
A treaty is an express agreement under international law entered into by actors in international law, namely sovereign states and international organizations. A treaty may also be known as an agreement, protocol, covenant, convention or exchange of letters, among other terms...

 signed by the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 and Panama
Panama , officially the Republic of Panama , is the southernmost country of Central America. Situated on the isthmus connecting North and South America, it is bordered by Costa Rica to the northwest, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The...

 in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

, on September 7, 1977, which abrogated the Hay-Bunau Varilla Treaty
Hay-Bunau Varilla Treaty
The Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty was a treaty signed on November 18, 1903, by the United States and Panama, that established the Panama Canal Zone and the subsequent construction of the Panama Canal...

 of 1903. The treaties guaranteed that Panama would gain control of the Panama Canal
Panama Canal
The Panama Canal is a ship canal in Panama that joins the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean and is a key conduit for international maritime trade. Built from 1904 to 1914, the canal has seen annual traffic rise from about 1,000 ships early on to 14,702 vessels measuring a total of 309.6...

 after 1999, ending the control of the canal that the U.S. had exercised since 1903. The treaties are named after the two signatories, U.S. President Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter
James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr. is an American politician who served as the 39th President of the United States and was the recipient of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize, the only U.S. President to have received the Prize after leaving office...

 and the Commander of Panama's National Guard, General Omar Torrijos
Omar Torrijos
Omar Efraín Torrijos Herrera was the Commander of the Panamanian and National Guard and the de facto leader of Panama from 1968 to 1981...

. Although Torrijos was not democratically elected as he had seized power in a coup in 1968, it is generally considered that he had widespread support in Panama to justify his signing of the treaties.

This first treaty is officially titled The Treaty Concerning the Permanent Neutrality and Operation of the Panama Canal and is commonly known as the Neutrality Treaty. Under this treaty, the U.S. retained the permanent right to defend the canal from any threat that might interfere with its continued neutral service to ships of all nations. The second treaty is titled The Panama Canal Treaty, and provided that as from 12:00 on December 31, 1999, Panama would assume full control of canal operations and become primarily responsible for its defense.


Panamanian efforts to renegotiate the original Hay-Bunau Varilla Treaty
Hay-Bunau Varilla Treaty
The Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty was a treaty signed on November 18, 1903, by the United States and Panama, that established the Panama Canal Zone and the subsequent construction of the Panama Canal...

 had been ongoing almost since it was first signed in November 1903, a few weeks after Panama obtained its independence from Colombia
Colombia, officially the Republic of Colombia , is a unitary constitutional republic comprising thirty-two departments. The country is located in northwestern South America, bordered to the east by Venezuela and Brazil; to the south by Ecuador and Peru; to the north by the Caribbean Sea; to the...

. However, activity to renegotiate or abrogate the treaty increased considerably after events in 1964 precipitated a complete breakdown in relations between the U.S. and Panama. On January 9 of that year, Panamanian students entered the canal zone to fly the Panamanian flag next to the American flag, as per a 1963 agreement to defuse tension between the two countries. Panamanians watching the event began rioting after the students raising the Panamanian flag were jeered and harassed by American school officials, students, and their parents. During the scuffle, somehow the Panamanian flag was torn. Widespread rioting ensued, during which over 20 Panamanians were killed and about 500 were injured. Most of the casualties were caused by fire from U.S. troops, who had been called in to protect Canal Zone property, including private residences of Canal Zone employees. January 9 is a National Holiday in Panama, known as Martyrs' Day.

The next day, January 10, Panama broke off republican relations with the United States and on January 19, President of Panama Roberto Chiari
Roberto Francisco Chiari Remón
Roberto Francisco Chiari Remón was the President of Panama in 1949 and from 1960 to 1964. He belonged to the Liberal Party.-Before being president:...

 declared that Panama would not re-establish diplomatic ties with the United States until the U.S. agreed to begin negotiations on a new treaty. The first steps in that direction were taken shortly thereafter on April 3, 1964 when both countries agreed to an immediate resumption of diplomatic relations and the United States agreed to adopt procedures for the "elimination of the causes of conflict between the two countries". A few weeks later, Robert B. Anderson, President Lyndon Johnson's
Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon Baines Johnson , often referred to as LBJ, was the 36th President of the United States after his service as the 37th Vice President of the United States...

 special representative flew to Panama to pave the way for future talks. Negotiations over the next years resulted in a treaty in 1967, but it failed of ratification in Panama.

Negotiations were resumed on February 15, 1977 and were completed by August 10 of that year. On the American side the negotiators were Ellsworth Bunker
Ellsworth Bunker
Ellsworth F. Bunker was an American businessman and diplomat...

 and Sol Linowitz
Sol Linowitz
Sol Myron Linowitz was an American diplomat, lawyer, and businessman born in Trenton, NJ.Linowitz helped negotiate the return of the Panama Canal to Panama under the direction of President Jimmy Carter...

; the Panamanian side of the negotiations were headed by Rómulo Escobar Betancourt. Senator Dennis DeConcini
Dennis DeConcini
Dennis Webster DeConcini is a former Democratic U.S. Senator from Arizona. Son of former Arizona Supreme Court Judge Evo Anton DeConcini, he represented Arizona in the United States Senate from 1977 until 1995....

 sponsored a critical amendment to the Panama Canal Treaty that allowed the Senate to come to a consensus on giving control of the Canal to Panama. A few days before final agreement on the treaties was reached, President Jimmy Carter had sent a telegram to all members of Congress informing them of the status of the negotiations and asking them to withhold judgment on the treaty until they had an opportunity to carefully study it. Senator Strom Thurmond
Strom Thurmond
James Strom Thurmond was an American politician who served as a United States Senator. He also ran for the Presidency of the United States in 1948 as the segregationist States Rights Democratic Party candidate, receiving 2.4% of the popular vote and 39 electoral votes...

 responded to Mr. Carter's appeal by stating in a speech later that day, "The canal is ours, we bought and we paid for it and we should keep it".


Both treaties were subsequently ratified in Panama by a two-thirds vote in a referendum
Panamanian Torrijos–Carter Treaties referendum, 1977
A referendum on the Torrijos–Carter Treaties was held in Panama on 23 October 1977. Voters were asked whether they approved of the treaties with the United States, which would give Panama control of the Panama Canal in 1999 and abrogate the Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty of 1903. Around 67% voted in...

 held on October 23, 1977. To allow for popular discussion of the treaties and in response to claims made by opponents of the treaty in the U.S. that Panama was incapable of democratically ratifying them, restrictions on the press and on political parties were lifted several weeks prior to the vote. On the day of the vote, ninety-six percent of Panama's eligible voters went to the polls, the highest voter turnout in Panama up to that time. The neutrality treaty was of major concern among voters, particularly on the political left, and was one reason why the treaties failed to obtain even greater popular support.

The United States Senate
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

 advised and consented to ratification of the first treaty on March 16, 1978 and to the second treaty on April 18 by identical 68 to 32 margins. On both votes, 52 Democrats and 16 Republicans voted in favor of advising and consenting to ratification, while 10 Democrats and 22 Republicans voted against.

The treaties were the source of controversy in the United States, particularly among conservatives such as Strom Thurmond
Strom Thurmond
James Strom Thurmond was an American politician who served as a United States Senator. He also ran for the Presidency of the United States in 1948 as the segregationist States Rights Democratic Party candidate, receiving 2.4% of the popular vote and 39 electoral votes...

 and Jesse Helms
Jesse Helms
Jesse Alexander Helms, Jr. was a five-term Republican United States Senator from North Carolina who served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1995 to 2001...

 who regarded them as the surrender of a strategic American asset to what they characterized as a hostile government. In the year preceding the final transfer of canal assets there was an effort in the United States Congress, notably House Joint Resolution 77 introduced by Helen Chenoweth-Hage
Helen Chenoweth-Hage
Helen P. Chenoweth-Hage, born Helen Margaret Palmer was a Republican politician from the U.S. state of Idaho, the first Republican woman to represent that state in the United States Congress....

, to declare the Carter-Torrijos treaties null and void. Despite the fact that the pullout of the United States is now complete, there are still organizations (primarily conservative ones such as the John Birch Society
John Birch Society
The John Birch Society is an American political advocacy group that supports anti-communism, limited government, a Constitutional Republic and personal freedom. It has been described as radical right-wing....

) that urge the United States to declare the treaty null and void, saying that the Spanish text is different from the English text. Support of HJR 77 was part of the 2000 platform of the Texas Republican Party but no longer appeared in the 2004 platform.

Possible sabotage

According to The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

the day after the U.S. Senate ratified the treaty, Torrijos declared that his regime had contingency plans to sabotage the Canal if ratification had failed. In August 1990, the Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune
The Chicago Tribune is a major daily newspaper based in Chicago, Illinois, and the flagship publication of the Tribune Company. Formerly self-styled as the "World's Greatest Newspaper" , it remains the most read daily newspaper of the Chicago metropolitan area and the Great Lakes region and is...

reported that documents captured by the U.S. military revealed that Torrijos had asked Manuel Noriega
Manuel Noriega
Manuel Antonio Noriega Moreno is a Panamanian politician and soldier. He was military dictator of Panama from 1983 to 1989.The 1989 invasion of Panama by the United States removed him from power; he was captured, detained as a prisoner of war, and flown to the United States. Noriega was tried on...

 to prepare such plans. Noriega's handwritten notes on the plan were found during the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama.

These reports were confirmed in Noriega's book, America's Prisoner published in 1997. The contingency plan was code-named "Huele a Quemado" ("It smells like something's burning"). In Noriega's account, Panamanian military specialists had infiltrated the U.S. security cordon and lived for two months, posing as peasants and fishermen. They were prepared to assault the Canal and the Panama-Colón railway with explosives and rocket launchers upon Torrijos' signal, to be broadcast as a coded message on the program of a popular radio personality.

In the book, Noriega also repeats the charge made by critics of U.S. foreign policy that the invasion of Panama under Operation Just Cause was launched primarily to circumvent the treaty.


The treaty laid out a timetable for the transfer of the canal, leading to a complete handover of all lands and buildings in the canal area to Panama. The most immediate consequence of this treaty was that the Canal Zone
Panama Canal Zone
The Panama Canal Zone was a unorganized U.S. territory located within the Republic of Panama, consisting of the Panama Canal and an area generally extending 5 miles on each side of the centerline, but excluding Panama City and Colón, which otherwise would have been partly within the limits of...

, as an entity, ceased to exist on October 1, 1979. The final phase of the treaty was completed on December 31, 1999. On this date, the United States relinquished control of the Panama Canal and all areas in what had been the Panama Canal Zone.

As a result of the treaties, by the year 2000 nearly 370000 acre (578.1 sq mi; 1,497.3 km²), including some 7,000 buildings, such as military facilities, warehouses, schools, and private residences, were transferred to Panama. In 1993, the Panamanian government created a temporary agency (Autoridad de la Región Interoceánica or "Interoceanic Region Authority", commonly referred to as ARI) to administer and maintain the reverted properties.

External links

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