Jimmy Carter Signs The Panama Canal Treaty

President Jimmy Carter and Panamanian Chief of Government Omar Torrijos signed the Panama Canal Treaty and Neutrality Treaty on September 7, 1977.

Also known as the Carter-Torrijos Treaty, this agreement relinquished American control over the canal and transferred authority to the Panama Canal Authority on December 31, 1999.

On May 4, 1904, Panama granted the United States the right to build and operate the canal and control the five miles of land on either side of the water passage in exchange for annual payments. President Theodore Roosevelt viewed building the canal as indispensable for securing U.S. military and commercial power.

Construction on the canal began in 1904 and the canal opened to traffic on August 15, 1914. Ships passing through the lakes and locks travel approximately 51 miles between the Atlantic Ocean entrance and the Pacific Ocean entrance, eliminating the lengthy and often precarious 8,000-nautical-mile trip around South America's Cape Horn.

The Torrijos-Carter Treaties (sometimes referred to in the singular as the Torrijos-Carter Treaty) are two treaties signed by the United States and Panama in Washington, D.C., on September 7, 1977, abrogating the Hay-Bunau Varilla Treaty of 1903. The treaties guaranteed that Panama would gain control of the Panama Canal 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 and the Commander of Panama's National Guard, General Omar Torrijos. 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.

Look what they did with the Pay-no-more Canal…When they started to build, they said it would bring New York a thousand miles closer to San Francisco. Why it's ridiculous. We spent four hundred million dollars, the canal is nearly finished, and New York is still in the same place.”

— The Speaker of the House: A Monologue, Part 3