Historically, Panama has always been “a place of transit.” While technically the isthmus formed part of Colombia in the nineteenth century, it was linked geopolitically to the United States soon after the California gold rush, beginning in the late 1840s. The first attempt at building a canal ended in failure in 1893 when disease and poor management forced Ferdinand de Lesseps to abandon the project. The U.S. undertaking to build the canal could only begin after Panama declared itself free and broke away from Colombia in 1903, with the support of the United States.
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