In November 2003, Panama celebrated its centennial. The Central American nation seceded from Colombia to become a republic in 1903. Philippe Bunau-Varilla had stated Panama's constitution was initially drawn up "between breakfast and lunch". And on August 2014, the Panama Canal would turn 100. The Panama Canal had been described as one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century linking the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. One Panamanian pointed out, "The canal not only is our most valuable asset, but also it's an asset for all the countries in the hemisphere."
The construction of the canal across Panama started in 1881 but ended in 1889 - unfinished. The re-construction of the Panama Canal took between 1904 and 1914 to complete. Theodore Roosevelt had hailed the canal "one of the giant feats of the ages." Of the canal, David McCullough mentioned in his 1977 book, 'The Path Between The Seas', "The 50 miles between the oceans were among the hardest ever won by human effort and ingenuity, and no statistics on tonnage or tolls can begin to convey the grandeur of what was accomplished." Also in 1977, Jimmy Carter and Omar Torrijos signed treaties which would transfer control of the canal back to Panama in 2000. "At the end of 1999," it was reported, "there was a lot of worry at the local and international level about whether Panamanians could operate the canal or not." According to a report prepared by the Senate Foreign Relations committee, "It is difficult to fully appreciate the immense effort and cost that went into the construction of the Panama Canal. The cost in lives and in dollars far exceeded any other peacetime effort in American history to date."
In 2004, the U.S. educated Martin Torrijos, a centrist, won Panama's first elections since the United States handed over control of the Panama Canal to the Panamanians. One voter voiced, "Dictatorships are a thing of the past, and democracy has been synonymous with corruption. I voted for a man who cares about the needs of the people." And in December 2011, Manuel Noriega returned to Panama. "This is a totally different country than the one that Noriega left," one political adviser expressed. "Noriega managed to bring out the worst in people, using their needs, their fears, and their desperation. Panama is by no means way past this. Any scratch under the surface will bring memories out," one Panamanian made the comment. "Why would we want the worst of Panama back? Our judicial system is young still and this would be a difficult test to its integrity." Of Panama, another added, "Unfortunately, we are saddled with the image of 20 years of a dictatorship." "Panamanians," one reasoned, "should not forget those years...This dark chapter in our history needs to be known and remembered by all future generations so it's never repeated." A high school student admitted, "I know (Manuel Noriega) did a lot of bad things, but I just know him from history; I don't know much about him personally." However it was argued, "The country has evolved."