The Panama Canal opened in August 1914 but not dedicated until 12 July 1920, is an artificial 50-mile long waterway built by the United States that cuts through the isthmus that joins North and South America and connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The canal was under Washington's sole control until a US-Panamanian joint agency took over in 1979. The Panamanian government assumed complete control in 1999.
The canal is considered one of the most strategic shipping lanes in the world, with around 14,000 vessels crossing it every year, representing roughly 5 percent of world trade. It serves 144 maritime routes and connects 160 countries, according to the Panama Canal Authority (ACP).
The canal has a highly-controversial geopolitical history - its creation seen as the ultimate end product of the Monroe Doctrine (1823), wherein the US declared its intent to establish hegemony over the hemisphere. In 1903, Washington supported a rebellion that allowed Panama to gain independence from Columbia, which thereby allowed the United States to gain full possession of the canal zone via treaty.
Human rights lawyer, historian and Latin America analyst Dan Kovalik told Sputnik the US political machinations and orchestrated military coups to destabilise and maintain control of the region continue unabated to this day.
"As we know, the United States helped create and finance military forces in 1903 to rebel against the Colombian government and to sever Panama from Colombia in order to seize control of what would become the Panama Canal", Kovalik, who teaches International Human Rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, said.
In addition to stealing a potential source of major revenue for Colombia, this action of supporting the paramilitaries would haunt that nation for many years to come, Kovalik said.
"Colombia has suffered internal civil strife ever since, including from paramilitary forces which have continued to rear their ugly head, many times with the support of the US, until the present day. Colombia continues to suffer from horrific human rights abuses carried out by such forces which now dominate much of the countryside", he said.
The United States also continues to destabilise and foment regime change in countries throughout Latin America in the pursuit of its economic and geopolitical interests, Kovalik continued.
"We can see that now with the United States's open and aggressive regime-change operations in Venezuela", he said.
These activities have included the United States seizing the US-based oil company Citgo and cutting Venezuela off from life-sustaining supplies such as food and medicines, Kovalik pointed out.
"The Monroe Doctrine is alive and well, quite sadly for the people of Latin America", he said.
Independent Institute Centre on Peace and Liberty Director Ivan Eland agreed that the United States continued to ignore international law and still used the 1823 Monroe Doctrine to justify its repeated interventions in the internal affairs of Latin American nations.
The carving of Panama out of Colombia in order to build the canal "was an early case of the United States using the military to move toward hemispheric hegemony under the long-standing Monroe Doctrine. As US Senator [Samuel] Hayakawa said humorously but accurately much later, the United States 'stole it fair and square'", Eland said.
The US economic interest in Latin America continued to impact on countries' sovereignty in the region to this day, Eland cautioned.
"Yes, the 'colossus of the North' - still the most potent country on earth, economically, politically, and militarily - still has great effect on the Western Hemisphere. Economics gets politicised and so a free market doesn’t exist. Moreover, the economics of the drug war undermines the region’s sovereignty too", he said.
Beijing and Washington in recent years have vied for influence in Panama, with China investing in development projects and attempting to strike a free trade agreement.
However, Panamanian President Laurentino Cortizo, who took over as president a year ago, has stalled initiatives with Beijing while the trade agreement remains unsigned.
Moreover, apparently due to US pressure, in 2018 Panama abandoned plans to allow China to build a new embassy on the canal, the Guardian reported.
Analysts warned that the US-China trade dispute could present a new threat to the future of the canal.
Kovalik said that for a number of years now, China has been the major partner with Panama in terms of financial and infrastructure investment.
China has invested in modernizing the canal and its locks, in the railroad services to and from the canal, and in potentially building the first land route between Panama and Colombia, he added.
"Now, the US appears to want to cut off such influence of China in the region, and may act in aggressive ways to halt it", Kovalik said.
Eland said the US-China trade dispute could significantly impact on the volume of trade passing through the Canal.
"In that protectionism is contagious and reduces trade volumes and general world prosperity, the trade war between the two largest economies could lessen trade through the canal. There has also been talk of an alternative route", he said.
However, the canal would probably survive, although it has less strategic importance than it used to, Eland concluded.