Who Runs The Panama Canal?

“In your many messages about life in Panama I do not recall you ever mentioning anything about relations with the Chinese who operate the canal or what influence they have on the rest of Panama, which must be something significant. What is the attitude of the Chinese toward the American re-expatriates? Do any Americans work in the canal zone? Just how much of the place is owned by China?”

— F. W. Maguire, United States

Nearly 10,000 people work for the Panama Canal Authority, the Panama government agency that manages and operates the canal. How many of them are Americans? I couldn’t say. Anecdotally, I can tell you that, when I visit the Miraflores locks, for example, the staff to me looks mostly Panamanian.

A Hong Kong-based company operates the ports of the canal, but, again, the Panamanians themselves operate the canal itself.

And, by all accounts, they’re doing a bang-up job. Under Panama’s management, traffic through the canal has grown year-on-year both in terms of number of transits and of vessel tonnage, and revenues have increased by as much as 17% to 18% a year.

How much of Panama is owned by China? Well, I can tell you that the Chinese operate a lot of vegetable stands and dry-cleaning operations, including the best place to buy fresh corn in Paitilla and the cheapest dry cleaners in San Francisco.