Emperors in the Jungle

The Hidden History of the U.S. in Panama

Emperors in the Jungle

American Encounters/Global Interactions

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Book Pages: 280 Illustrations: 17 illustrations Published: February 2003

Author: John Lindsay-Poland

Contributor: Guillermo Castro

Activism, History > U.S. History, Latin American Studies > Central America

Emperors in the Jungle is an exposé of key episodes in the military involvement of the United States in Panama. Investigative journalism at its best, this book reveals how U.S. ideas about taming tropical jungles and people, combined with commercial and military objectives, shaped more than a century of intervention and environmental engineering in a small, strategically located nation. Whether uncovering the U.S. Army’s decades-long program of chemical weapons tests in Panama or recounting the invasion in December 1989 which was the U.S. military’s twentieth intervention in Panama since 1856, John Lindsay-Poland vividly portrays the extent and costs of U.S. involvement.

Analyzing new evidence gathered through interviews, archival research, and Freedom of Information Act requests, Lindsay-Poland discloses the hidden history of U.S.–Panama relations, including the human and environmental toll of the massive canal building project from 1904 to 1914. In stunning detail he describes secret chemical weapons tests—of toxins including nerve agent and Agent Orange—as well as plans developed in the 1960s to use nuclear blasts to create a second canal in Panama.

He chronicles sustained efforts by Panamanians and international environmental groups to hold the United States responsible for the disposal of the tens of thousands of explosives it left undetonated on the land it turned over to Panama in 1999. In the context of a relationship increasingly driven by the U.S. antidrug campaigns, Lindsay-Poland reports on the myriad issues that surrounded Panama’s takeover of the canal in accordance with the 1977 Panama Canal Treaty, and he assesses the future prospects for the Panamanian people, land, and canal area. Bringing to light historical legacies unknown to most U.S. citizens or even to many Panamanians, Emperors in the Jungle is a major contribution toward a new, more open relationship between Panama and the United States.


“[A]dds a new dimension to the study of US-Panamanian relations. . . . [A]n invaluable look at how the American side saw things during various key episodes and a unique guide to recent bilateral diplomacy. . . . [A] scholarly masterpiece that will withstand fierce criticism and the test of time.” — Eric Jackson , The Panama News

“[A]n excellent account of the use that the US military made of its bases in Panama. . . . I have watched with admiration for ten years how Lindsay-Poland has struggled tenaciously to disclose secret documents, find experts on the issue, generate citizen interest, and pressure his own government. This book, then, is the culmination of a labor that I can only applaud.” — Betty Brannan Jaen , La Prensa (translated from the Spanish)

“An eye-opening history of the tangled, racially freighted dealings of the American government with its sometime client state of Panama over a hundred years. . . . [A] persuasive account. . . .” — Kirkus Reviews

"[A]n exemplary piece of investigative journalism, and makes for reading that is both fascinating and horrifying at the same time." — British Bulletin of Publications

"[A]n important addition to the field. . . . I would recommend the book for courses in environmental history and policy; science, health, and technology history and policy; foreign policy decision making, U.S. foreign policy; U.S. diplomatic history; and U.S.-Panamanian relations." — Margaret E. Scranton, Perspectives on Political Science

"[D]oggedly researched and richly illustrated. . . . [T]he book presents us with a compelling, saddening record of militaristic environmental racism." — Alan McPherson , The Americas

"[F]resh insights into the nature of US-Panamanian relations. . . . ." — Corinne Caumartin , Journal of Latin American Studies

"[R]eaders who know little of the behavior of the United States in Latin America might be shocked by this well-documented and convincing critique of the naked use of brute force in the region." — David Sowell , Environmental History

"[T]ightly packed . . . [and] well researched. . . . I encourage your careful study of John Lindsay-Poland's many revelations about how we have acted in our military imperialism. May it help us stop playing Emperor." — Bob Forsberg, Sequoia

"Anyone desiring a careful examination of the hubris of American empire could do no better than to read John Lindsay-Poland's Emperors in the Jungle. This fascinating work of history and investigative journalism traces how ideas about the technological and racial superiority of the United States generated more than a century of military experiments and intervention in Panama. . . . [T]his is a book brimming with revelations, and it will be of great interest to specialists and students alike." — Julie Greene , Journal of American History

"I got much more than I bargained for when I read this book. . . . [T]he author has written a text that deserves the widest possible readership." — Geoff Simons , Morning Star

"Lindsay-Poland presents a revealing, albeit disturbing, study. . . . Highly recommended. . . ." — Sylvia D. Hall-Ellis , Library Journal

"This is a skilled and inventive combination of history and investigative journalism." — David Sheinin, Left History

"Written in a clear and fluid style, the text is based primarily on government documents and interviews and provides some of the most innovative ideas regarding U.S.-Panamanian relations." — Peter Szok, Hispanic American Historical Review

“[John Lindsay-Poland] tells us of ill-known truths and badly understood realities and thus helps prevent useless hatreds between two peoples who share so much common history. Panamanians must aspire to be universal if we want to survive as a people and as a nation in a globalized world, but we can only achieve that if we are authentic. On that path toward ourselves, John Lindsay-Poland has been and will be a welcome friend.” — Guillermo Castro, Panamanian sociologist, from the afterword

“John Lindsay-Poland´s book Emperors in the Jungle should be read by all Americans who do not understand why the U.S. has a serious image problem overseas and how the Department of Defense weakens U.S. policy. My experience is that the U.S. military becomes arrogant, hypocritical and unwilling to comply with treaty commitments when there is a budgetary cost involved, even if it means like in Panama, leaving behind threats to human life, health and safety.” — Fernando Manfredo Jr., former Panama Canal Treaty negotiator and co-Chairman of the Panama-U.S. Working Group for the removal of the hazards in the U.S. military ranges in Panama.

Emperors in the Jungle stands out as a most valuable contribution to understandings of the complex relationship between the United States and a tiny neighbor. It is one of the best available examples of Thucydides’s dictum that large nations do what they want, and small nations accept what they must, yet at the same time a reminder that small nations are not without power—after all is said and done, Panama now owns its canal.” — Lars Schoultz, author of Beneath the United States: A History of U.S. Policy toward Latin America

”John Lindsay-Poland has dedicated himself to issues of human rights and justice for Panamanians. His tireless efforts continue to motivate people and shed needed light on the truths he discovers. Emperors in the Jungle is a timeless look at the real dimensions of U.S. foreign policy.” — Barbara Trent, director of the Academy Award®-winning documentary The Panama Deception


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

John Lindsay-Poland is Director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean. He is a coauthor of Inside Panama: The Essential Guide to its Politics, Economy, Society, and Environment. He was the editor of and staff writer for the quarterly Panamá Update and has written for the San Francisco Chronicle, NACLA Report on the Americas, The Progressive, Covert Action Quarterly, and Fellowship, among other publications.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1 A Platform for Control: Interventions and Army Doctors, 1856-1925 11

2 "Test Tube Island" 44

3 The Nuclear Canal 74

4 Playing the Drug Card 103

5 The Politics of Environmental Cover-Up 138

6 Market Mania 172

7 Continuity and Change in the Military's Vision 191

Afterword: Knowing Ourselves / Exhortation to Read a Friendly Text by Guillermo Castro H. 207

Notes 211

Index 253
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3098-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3100-1
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