Classic Cons: the Panama Canal Bubble (Part 3)

This is the part 3 of the “Classic Cons: the Panama Canal Bubble” article. Read the Part 2.

The investigation revealed such grandiose scale of corruption at all the levels of the Third Republic bureaucracy so that many MPs and the government had to resign. there was even a French slang word to refer to corrupt officials – “checkists” (a bribe was given not in cash shamefully hidden away in an envelope, but in a bank check).

In 1889, “The Universal Inter-oceanic Canal Company” was declared bankrupt. But the majority of high-level scammers safely got away from criminal punishment. Only Ferdinand de Lesseps together with his son Charles and the engineer Eiffel accused of improper expenditure of depositors’ funds got real prison terms.

However, engineers who actually were only puppets in the hands of financial puppeteers didn’t have to be in jail – after a while they were amnestied. Lesseps Sr. soon fell ill from deep depression caused by emotional state and a few years later, in 1894, died peacefully on his estate. For a long time his name was associated not with the Suez engineering masterpiece but with Panama scam. Charles de Lesseps’s health suffered from the Panama climate and goodwill ruined by the grandiose scandal. For decades the word “Panama” became synonymous with such a concept as “financial scam.”

Americans Set to Work

In 1903, the United States bought the French rights for the unfinished canal. A year later, the Americans with their usual scope got down to business, which many experts considered hopeless. First of all, Walter Reed, Colonel of the Medical Service of the US Army, got rid of the worst disaster of these places — yellow fever. Just in 1905, scientists made an important discovery, finding out that the cause of the terrible disease was not miasmas rising from the surrounding marshes, as it was previously thought, but the female mosquitoes that carried pathogens of “yellow death.”

Once the true enemy was discovered, 4000 military medics from a special Reed’s team declared it all-out war. For wetlands to be drained drainage ditches with the total length of 2,700 kilometers were dug in the protection zone near the canal in a short term. And to prevent mosquito breeding the surface of all ponds and puddles located near the construction was poured with kerosene. During the year, every month 200,000 liters of kerosene, 300 tons of sulfur, 1200 special receptacles for smoking mosquitoes were spent to fight the fever. 100,000 US dollars was spent alone on mosquito nets for tents and houses of the construction personnel. At the time, the management of “Universal Company” spent twice as much on the banquet in honor of the work start.

But this time, taxpayers’ money was spent under the strict control of the US government, Congress and President Theodore Roosevelt. The work was done almost round the clock. According to eyewitnesses, from day till night special machines-dredgers pumped out loosened land and rock appeared as a result of dynamite explosions from a huge ditch.

On August 15, 1914 the first ocean steamer “Cristobal” went through the canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific. During following 80 years the US had full control of the strategically important transport facility – the Panama Canal.