Teddy Roosevelt Revisits the Panama Canal
by Louis J. Barbier (BHS 57’)

 First, Teddy Roosevelt was the Panama Canal! Without his interest in the project there would not be a canal. He was also a great supporter of the US Navy. He understood that to say something that was in the great interest of the United States, you must be able to back it up with a powerful Navy. We are a maritime nation. The Navy and the Marines made it possible to do what we have done around the world and in Panama.

Second, Teddy Roosevelt is not pleased with the idea of the turning over the Panama Canal that was paid in full with greenbacks, sweat, and blood! He never liked the idea of reimbursing Columbia when we could not do a deal -- deal with them! I don't think they should have gotten a red cent for giving us the privilege of building the Panama Canal in Panama. With their refusal to be part of the equation and be partners in this grand enterprise. They were out of it, so why give them a red cent!

Now, to Teddy we have done the same thing again with the Torrijos and Carter Treaties! Now picture if you will Teddy Roosevelt arriving at Tucumen International Airport in a white Suit with maybe a staff of three other people on 26 December 1999. Who will meet him? It is the day after Christmas. Everybody is partying. The Panama Canal Commission is no longer what it use to be.......who will meet this great leader. Fortunately on his staff he has me. Yes, I will be his tour guide and local country expert. Teddy will notice the heat and the greenhouse affect as he steps off the plane a modern 747. We will quickly go through customs and he will realize that nobody knows him. He is expected the morning of the 31st. But Teddy as always been a person who will, surprise you. His opponents never saw him coming on the Panama deal. So, after a short work out in the gym at 0430, Teddy said, "Louie, we are going to Panama, now! pack my suitcase with three white suits and a couple of white shirts. We'll travel light, but I want you to wear a bowie knife, carry a compass, $25, 000, a map of the Canal Zone and two pistols. I understand the military now issues 9 mm Beretta. Go by the Quartermaster and get us 3. I'll also be packing one. Yes, we will leave in an hour."

Well, here we were in Panama. It was in the middle of the dry season. We were traveling in a classic Lincoln Town Car. We are sitting with two Marines up front in white suits. Matter we are all in white suits. The two Marines up from are one both sharpshooters. And Nathan, they are packing too! Well, Panama has had a history full of conflicts and riots. The governments were elected one day and bright Monday morning a coup would replace the government. The US Marines have had to go into Panama to restore order in 13 different occasions. This is something that bothers Teddy. The Red Chinese have moved into Panama and are deployed as if to take over the country after the official US last day. So, we are packing for self protection. Plus Teddy has always felt that the Amendment Two ........"the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." He felt law biding citizens have a right, no a duty to carry a conceal weapon for the protection of self, love ones, and property. We live in a dangerous world! Where good order and discipline must often be protected by the law of the "Peacemaker!"

So, this is something that bothers me. Having gone through many civil disturbances, riots, operation just cause, and being gassed almost every day by tear gas, I wonder what it will be after the last American leaves Panama. Yes, this bothers me. "Teddy, the place looks like it has been trashed," I say. Teddy answers, "Yea, Louie, I hope they don't ask me again to send in the Marines. What is surprising is why people will trash things when they have not sweated long and hard in the noon day sun to build? Louie, I have forgotten how hot it gets here eight degrees above the equator. Will we be staying at the Tivoli Guest House?" I reply, "No, Teddy they tore that down and never to rebuilt it." "That is really a crying shame, Louie, I won this Lincoln Town Car in a late night poker game at the Tivoli Guest House from my dear friend General Gorgas. I talked to him a couple of days ago, he was his usual self smoking those hand made cigarettes. he is a little peeved that his hospital has been closed. So, where are we staying?" "Teddy, we will be staying at the Marine Barracks at Rodman on the other side of the Canal pass San Juan Hill, "I answered. I continued by saying, "With your permission, We'll be stopping by Diablo Clubhouse for some of their famous Cafe Duran and those finger licking good empanadas. This will also give us an opportunity to survey the canal area." Teddy looked out the window as we drove by the Balboa High School and he said, "Nice school. And you know they say I planted these trees.....not so. John Steven's told them I was a Naturalist and I loved trees and fauna. So, he got them to plant them. Glad to see they're still here. Make a note too much trash laying around. I know we're in the tropics, but lets pick up the trash."

"Louie is the railroad running? " " Not yet Teddy, the Kansas Southern is working to bring it back. Should be ready by late next year!" Teddy then asked, "Didn't we give it to the Panamanians running? Good Grief man, if they can't keep a railroad running what are they going to do with my canal?" We were now proceeding on Gaillard Highway. "Louie, has that bump been there all this time?" "You bet Teddy, kind of takes your breath away, doesn't it?" Teddy then says, "No, Louie more like being on a bronco! Did I ever tell you I was a Bronco Rider in Montana? What are those little blue chivas we keep pass? "

"That is part of the independent owner and operated small business of mass transit." "Yes, I'm all for everybody doing their thing less laws and red tape is my model. Give the little guy the opportunity to go as far as he can go.....yes sir! That is the American way, a Democracy that works for the people! That is what scares me about this turnover! I honestly think it is not good for Panama or for the United States. You know Louie, I was moving for Statehood but we were distracted by the Great War!"

Well, we're here. We went in and took a corner table facing the door. Teddy, was a gambler but not stupid! We never and he never sat with his back to the door. "Oh, these empanadas are bully fabulous! The Cafe Duran is great too. Well, lets talk shop!

"Now, there have really been great advances in Medicine then in my day. But Gorgas and Reed and their research made it all possible. Without these discoveries we would still be dying here! Wow, did you see that big cucaracha scurry under that table over their? We could never get rid of those pesky critters but we really tried. I heard in California, they keep them in jars to predict the next big quakes. Well, DDT my friend is the ticket, at least that is what my friend George said, 'You got to gas them and kill the larvae where they live. Make a note are they still doing that, Louie?"

"You, know being a military man, that 1989 Invasion (Operation Just Cause) was necessary! We can't have any tin horn general killing our people and harassing our citizens. The Panamanian people won in the long run. Now, I know they got a drug problem here! In my day there were a few funny looking cigars, but for me give me little Napoleon in a snifter and a good Cuban Cigar! Kind of picked up the habit in Cuba when I was the leader of the 'Rough Riders!'. Yes, they were good men they do anything for me. Too bad we lost some of them in that charge up San Juan Hill. Could use them now! That is what really bothers me! The drugs and the idea that the Red Chinese are on the ground here already. Can the Panamanian Civil Police handle and invasion? I don't think they can. So, Louie we better get ready to send in the Gunboats and the Marines."

"Now this exodus of Americans from the Canal Zone really bothers me too. No amount of money can repay them for their sacrifices. I was looking at one of those 4 family houses........they're really primitive! The maintenance is out of this world. I don't think Panama will spend the money. You know, Louie, the journalist pictured me digging a a ditch and carrying a big stick, well, that is not completely false. Think about it for a minute, we use tons and tons of dynamite. And we have always had the guts to protect our project with armed forces if necessary. Years later it was the maintenance. You know the Panama Canal is like an old grand lady but she gets up twice during the night. Oh, Louie you should have been there. I had the best engineers. We developed methods that nobody else imagine were possible. Saw an interesting article in The Panama Canal Society of Florida's Canal Record on the mechanism of closing the lock gates. Have you read it? It is amazing the stuff we came up with the idea on the spot. Still the number one engineering feat in this century and in the world. Yes, water-stairway over the mountains. So, I hate to see Zonians and Panagringos leave the only place called home. A little like what has happen in Kosovo. I read the newspapers. But that CNN Bunch is really the pits! The greatest event in our century and nobody is here to cover it! Yea, heard the last BHS Class of 1999 had a nice graduation. But no coverage. A none event they called. You know on The San Juan Hill Campaign many of the journalist stayed at the bar and drank rum and told lies....then they came out in their newspapers as experts of the Cuban Operation...BALDERDASH! But who do we have as leaders today, a bunch of pantywaist who have never been there or done that. I am not really looking forward to this ceremony at high noon 31 December 1999. I think it is a mistake and a rotten deal all around! Look at the way we treated loyalty and dedication of hard working Zonians and Panagringos. When it goes down the toilet and it is you know.............. remember I told you so.......but who will tell our people who now have no homes and no birth right in the Canal Zone that it was in their best interest!....."

"Now they tell me, there is some great fishing in these parts. Lets go fishing. And Louie, bring some of those La Bruja Lures you packed! I need to relax.....this whole experience is becoming too stressful." 

I don't have much more to add ......but my gut feeling is that it is a lousy deal all around. Quoting directly from Teddy Roosevelt:....."to each generation was allotted a task, Roosevelt knew, 'I wish to see the United States the dominant power on the shores of the Pacific Ocean." (The Path Between the Seas - The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870 -1914 by David McCullough)

We are a Super Power! The number one power in the world. But what are we doing? We are in full retreat around the world. We have gutted our Armed Forces. The Navy is in the same position it was prior to Pearl Harbor! And our troops are involved in 153 countries around the world in many Operations other than War (Pizza Deliveries.) In Teddy Roosevelt time a Battleship like the USS Nashville backed up or talk! But where are our Battleships today. No, Teddy Roosevelt is not pleased. In fact, that is why we are going fishing!

Teddy Roosevelt is one of our greatest leaders and Presidents in this century. If he be here today we would all still be in living in the Canal Zone. But that is all gone..gone now.................... too bad.

One final word, "Don't let Reality Spoil Your Dreams!" Teddy Roosevelt would had said, "Bully for you!"

God Bless you and Yours.
BHS Class of 1957
A native of Panama
An aficionado of the Panama Canal
The greatest Project in this Century