Philippe-Jean Bunau-Varilla - Panama Canal

Panama Canal

After the Panama Canal Company went bankrupt in 1888 amidst charges of fraud, Bunau-Varilla was left stranded in Panama. He struggled to find a new way to construct the canal. When the New Panama Canal Company sprang up back in his native France, Bunau-Varilla sailed home, having purchased a large amount of stock. However, as de Lesseps' company had before, the New Panama Canal Company soon abandoned efforts to build the canal. It sold the land in Panama to the United States, in hopes that the company would not fail entirely. U.S. President Grover Cleveland, an anti-imperialist, avoided the canal issue. With the election of the more supportive President Theodore Roosevelt, canal planning resumed in the United States.

Bunau-Varilla vociferously promoted construction of the canal. With aid from the New Panama Canal Company's New York attorney, William Nelson Cromwell, he persuaded the government to select Panama as the canal site, as opposed to the popular alternative, Nicaragua. When opponents voiced their interest in constructing a canal through Nicaragua, which was a less politically volatile nation, Bunau-Varilla actively campaigned throughout the Northeast, carrying pictures and postage stamps of Nicaragua's Mt. Momotombo spewing ash and lava over the proposed route. Through lobbying of businessmen, government officials, and the American public, Bunau-Varilla convinced the U.S. Senate to appropriate $40 million to the New Panama Canal Company, under the Spooner Act of 1902. The funds were contingent on negotiating a treaty with Colombia to provide land for the canal in its territory of Panama.

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