Since its inception, Panama has been known as the crossroads of the western world. As a land-route bottleneck from North and Central America to South America, and with the canal passing through this isthmus, Panama factors into world trade as a crucial point in world economics. As such, Panama has been subjected to the growth of global economics and has had to respond with the expansion of its canal.
The shipping trade has changed in the past century, specifically in the size of boats that pass through the canal. Prior to 2006, most ships were designed to fit the Panama Canal, although many of these pass through the locks within a foot if its edges. In recent years improved ship building has made for bigger and bigger ships. Any ships that are too large to fit must unload their cargo to be transported by railroad across the isthmus and picked up on the other side by another gigantic ship. Panama was recently forced to respond to the demands of world trade by expanding its capacity for the larger ships, and in 2006, issued a nation-wide referendum to approve or deny the construction of a new, larger set of locks to be able to handle the increase in ship size that the world demand necessitates.
Heavy on the minds of rural Panamanians was the issue of corruption within the canal expansion project. Often disillusioned with the amount of money spent on infrastructure within Panama City and not in the rural parts of the country, many Panamanians debated about the hopes of the canal expansion and the trajectory of the country. Would expanding the canal result in a circus of government spending, or would it really bring a benefit to the rural Panamanian? After all, Panama doesn’t have the infinite budget to juggle that many other countries possess.
As nearby Nicaragua threatened to build its own canal in the event of a Panamanian rejection of the referendum, the result of the election was a resounding “SI” on the part of the Panamanians. Signs posted on doors and windows across the country claimed such, stating the world was moving forward and Panama would progress with it.
In overwhelming fashion, Panamanians voted almost 77% in favor of the canal expansion. Poignantly, this is depicted in a popular Panamanian commercial in which a campesino holds up a pineapple and claims that “They’re going to eat this pineapple in Austria!” followed by the Panamanian grito, or yodel. It was a victorious moment for Panama. The government had gained the trust of the people in carrying out a major infrastructure project, something that cannot necessarily be said for Panama’s neighbors. The world is moving forward, and Panama, fully in control of its canal since 2000, will keep pace with it.