Panama Canal facts

1. 14,000 ships go through the Canal each year; 2/3 of these are headed to or from the United States.

2. A crossing takes eight to ten hours.

3. The Canal is currently financed by tolls; one luxury cruise ship paid $226,194 for passage, an all-time record.

4. New ships are often forty feet wider than the current Panama locks. Within ten years most new container ships won’t fit through the locks.

5. Any rebuilding would involve considerable flooding of territory and the relocation of Panamanian citizens.

6. The Panamanian economy is relatively healthy, but heavily reliant on canal revenue.

7. Many Panamanians are reluctant to have their country take on the full cost of reconstruction.

Here is one account of how the Canal might be rebuilt.

The bottom line: We have a classic bargaining game here. Building a broader Canal is profitable, but who should pay? The longer the Panamanians hold out, the more likely the U.S. will sweeten the pot for improvements. Since the Canal is an object of national pride, they won’t just sell equity in the project. In the meantime they might give the Chinese a larger hand in the project, just to make us nervous. My prediction? The improvements will take at least five to ten years longer than they ought to.

By the way, if you’ve never seen the Canal, I recommend a trip to Panama. For me it is one of the world’s great wonders and the country is lovely.