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At the OAS, Experts Highlight the Impact and Relevance of the Panama Canal and its expansion for the Global Connectivity

  March 14, 2012

Experts, diplomats and regional leaders meeting at the headquarters of the Organization of American States (OAS) today highlighted the importance of the Panama Canal and its expansion as a means of integrating the region and connecting it with the global economy. They also praised the Panamanian government’s ability to adapt to a changing world and the latest technological developments.

At the opening of the XLVI Lecture of the OAS, titled "The Panama Canal: Furthering Development in the Americas", OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza stressed the importance of the Canal in the context of the theme chosen for the Sixth Summit of the Americas, to be held in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, next April: "Connecting the Americas: Partners for Prosperity." In this regard, he noted that the meeting of Heads of State and Government will focus on "the role of regional integration and cooperation as a means for development."

Secretary General Insulza recalled that 35 years ago the United States formalized the return of the Canal's Administration to Panama through the Torrijos-Carter Treaties, signed in the same Hall of the Americas where the Lecture was taking place. He remarked that the memory of the event provides "a good opportunity to talk about what happened to the Canal, what is going to happen, and how it has become a world model in trade and economic integration, and a meeting point for our cultures, the heart of the Americas, the bridge between East and West and the link between the Pacific and the Atlantic."

The OAS leader also praised Engineer Alberto Alemán Zubieta, Administrator of the Panama Canal since it was returned to Panama on December 31, 1999. "When the Torrijos-Carter Treaties were signed, many had doubts about how the Canal would operate, and wondered if the country was ready to handle this enormous responsibility, for which the Americas had advocated so hard. Today the answer is very positive and encouraging, and for that reason we want to pay tribute to his leadership," he said.

The Permanent Representative of Panama to the OAS, Guillermo Cochez, highlighted the work that his country has done to keep the Canal at the highest levels of technology, and agreed on the point of how Panamanians have dissipated the doubts that existed about their ability to manage the Canal. "Today, after 12 years of Panamanian Administration of the Canal, we have shown not only our ability to improve what we received, but also the ability to project it into the future once the expansion is completed in 2014," he said.

"The Canal belongs to the whole world, and particularly to those who participated in its construction, many of whom lost their lives," continued Ambassador Cochez, who also emphasized the Canal’s central function of serving world trade and shortening distances." Regarding the Canal's Centennial celebration in 2014, the Panamanian diplomat said, "the Canal will be ready to continue serving as a bridge to the world and the heart of the universe."

In the keynote presentation of the Lecture, Engineer Alberto Alemán Zubieta shared his vision on the role of the Canal in regional integration, the expansion and modernization plans, and the new role that Panama will play in the global maritime concert. He also spoke of the vision, values and strategies implemented over recent years that led to it becoming a flagship of global connectivity. "What we did was making the most of the geographical position we have and understanding that this was precisely our best asset, and what we have to offer the world," he said.

Engineer Aleman Zubieta explained the way the Canal administration was able to achieve greater reliability, which has allowed them to undertake the tremendous work of expansion. "The Canal's success is due to the Panamanian society, which understood the change in the constitution and proposed a new management model," he said. Zubieta went on to reveal that the Canal represents revenues of more than $2.3 billion/year. That is projected to increase to $2.4 billion/year. "The financial success of our management model allowed us to assume the commitments to address a project of the size we are working on today," he noted.

In explaining the components of the Canal expansion project, Engineer Alemán spoke about the modernization of the existing plant and the ongoing dredging project, which is 77 percent complete. He explained that the effort "is based on the idea that an expanded Canal allows a great connectivity, which implies being able to reach other markets and improve competitiveness."

The Canal expansion to larger vessels will have immediate impact on the ports of the region. In this regard, the Senior Deputy Executive Director of External Affairs of the Virginia Port Authority, Jeff Keever, referred promptly to the efforts that the United States is conducting to accommodate the new ship requirements. Making specific reference to ports on the East Coast such as Virginia, New York and Florida, and their capacity and infrastructure, he said that "America as a nation is ready to welcome the ships and the increased trade resulting from the expansion of the Canal."

Finally, the Permanent Representative of Chile to the OAS, Ambassador Dario Paya, referred to the positive effects that the Canal expansion will have for his country in particular and for the region in general. He said it would increase exports from the region and contribute to the further integration of the region. In addition, he said history shows Panama’s ability to adapt the operation of the Canal to a changing world and to emerging technologies. "What Panama is doing is a colossal effort," he said, and concluded by recalling that the greatest challenge is to remain at the forefront in terms of technology, operation and efficiency.

A gallery of photos of the event is available here.

For more information, please visit the OAS Website at

Reference: E-096/12