Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty

The Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty (Spanish: Tratado Hay-Bunau Varilla) was a treaty signed on November 18, 1903, by the United States and Panama, which established the Panama Canal Zone and the subsequent construction of the Panama Canal. It was named after its two primary negotiators, Philippe-Jean Bunau-Varilla, the French diplomatic representative of Panama, and United States Secretary of State John Hay.

Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty
Panama canal cartooon 1903.jpg
1903 editorial cartoon on treaty
TypeBilateral treaty
Signed18 November 1903 (1903-11-18)
LocationWashington, D.C., USA
  • Panama
  •  United States


Bunau-Varilla was originally involved in the building of the Panama Canal under Ferdinand de Lesseps, who had built the Suez Canal. After the collapse of the de Lesseps efforts to build the Panama Canal, Bunau-Varilla became an important shareholder of the Compagnie Nouvelle du Canal de Panama, which still had the concession, as well as certain valuable assets, for the building of a canal in Panama.[1] Although not Panamanian himself, Bunau-Varilla had provided financial assistance to the rebel side in Panama's independence from Colombia, which occurred two weeks prior to the signing of the treaty. He had not, however, been in Panama for seventeen years, nor had he ever returned.[2] As part of the Hay–Bunau-Varilla negotiations, the U.S. bought the shares and assets of the Compagnie Nouvelle du Canal de Panama for US$40 million.[3][4]


The treaty was negotiated in Washington, D.C. and New York City. The terms of the treaty stated that the United States was to receive rights to a canal zone which was to extend five miles on either side of the canal route in perpetuity, and Panama was to receive a payment from the U.S. up to $10 million and an annual rental payment of $250,000. Though legally, Panama never officially became a colony of the United States. Instead of full overbearing control, the Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty gave the United States governance only in the Canal Zone.[5]


This treaty was a source of conflict between Panama and the United States since its creation. The Canal Zone became a racially and socially segregated area, set aside from the country of Panama. The push for environmental determinism seemed to be the best framework to justify American practices in Panama. The conflict from the treaty reached its peak on January 9, 1964, with riots over sovereignty of the Panama Canal Zone. The riot started after a Panamanian flag was torn during conflict between Panamanian students and Canal Zone Police officers, over the right of the Panamanian flag to be flown alongside the U.S. flag. U.S. Army units became involved in suppressing the violence after the Canal Zone Police were overwhelmed. After three days of fighting, about 22 Panamanians and four U.S. soldiers were killed. This day is known in Panama as Martyrs' Day.

The events of January 9 were considered to be a significant factor in the U.S. decision to negotiate the 1977 Torrijos–Carter Treaties, which finally abolished the Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty and allowed the gradual transfer of control of the Canal Zone to Panama and the handover of the full control of the Panama Canal on December 31, 1999.[6]

See alsoEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Parker, Matthew (2007). Panama Fever. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 978-0385515344.
  • Bunau-Varilla, Philippe. Panama: The Creation, Destruction, and Resurrection. New York: McBride, Nast and Company, 1914. Google Books.


  1. ^ Ameringer, Charles. "Panama Canal Lobby of Philippe Bunau-Varilla and William Nelson Cromwell." The American Historical Review 68, no. 2 (January 1963): 346-363. Accessed March 24, 2015.
  2. ^ "The 1903 Treaty and Qualified Independence". U.S. Library of Congress. 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-01.
  3. ^ "AMERICAN CANAL CONSTRUCTION". Panama Canal Authority. Retrieved 12 January 2014.
  4. ^ Kinzer, Stephen (2007). "3. From a Whorehouse to a White House". Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq. pp. 56–62. ISBN 9780805082401.
  5. ^ "Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty - Original document".
  6. ^ Ameringer, Charles. "Philippe Bunau-Varilla: New Light on the Panama Canal Treaty." The Hispanic American Historical Review 46, no. 1 (February 1966): 28-52. Accessed March 24, 2015.

External linksEdit