Media Center

Press Release


  May 19, 2006

Panama’s Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Samuel Lewis, today briefed the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) on the economic and social benefits that his country and the hemisphere would gain from a proposed expansion of the Panama Canal.

Speaking at a special meeting of the Permanent Council, Lewis explained that under Panama’s Constitution, citizens must give their approval in a referendum for such a project to become a reality. The proposed project, which includes the construction of a third set of locks, carries out the political commitment to reaffirm the Panama Canal’s importance “as a national instrument of development, so that its benefits can allow us to urgently overcome the extreme poverty and the most striking inequalities faced by too many Panamanians, and can help take us towards higher levels of development and well-being,” he said.

The government of President Martín Torrijos presented the Panamanian people with the proposal to expand the waterway based on the results of multiple studies – carried out by national and foreign technicians in different fields – on the project’s potential social and environmental impacts, economic and financial projections, and engineering considerations.

The proposal includes the construction of new locks on both the Atlantic and Pacific sides, and the work “will not at any time interrupt the operation of the canal,” Lewis explained, cautioning that the “future project must combine the interests of the Panamanian people with the realities and needs of global commerce.” The proposed expansion would enable the canal to handle almost twice the current volume of cargo and would expedite the movement of ships that today must wait in long lines at the entrances of the canal, he said.

“If we do not face the challenge of expanding the canal and improving its traffic capacity, so we can continue to provide an efficient, competitive service, other alternatives will inevitably arise that may imply a competitive pressure on the canal,” warned the Panamanian Foreign Minister during the meeting chaired by Ambassador Marina Valere of Trinidad and Tobago.

OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza congratulated the government and people of Panama for their successful struggle to fully recover the Panama Canal and for its promise of progress and development for their country. “Today, Minister Lewis has told us about bringing the canal in line with international needs so that it can continue to be a critical transoceanic route at the center of global commerce,” Insulza said. He recalled that the Torrijos-Carter Accords, which turned over sovereignty of the canal to Panama, were signed 29 years ago at OAS headquarters. “Panama has been at the heart of the Americas, not only of the Organization, because its canal is the largest engineering feat in the hemisphere,” he said.

The United States transferred control of the Panama Canal on December 31, 1999, and since then, Panama has had total administrative control of this mega-project, unique in the hemisphere, which unites the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

Reference: E-122/06