Cover

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Title Page, Frontispiece, Series Page, Dedication

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Contents

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Preface

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pp. xi-xii

I arrived in Panama City in 2006 with an invitation to collaborate on an interdisciplinary environmental research project at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. At that time, I was a graduate student in anthropology considering a dissertation project in Panama. I knew little about the...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xiii-xvi

I have accrued many debts since I began this project. I want to start by thanking those in Panama who welcomed me and took the time to speak with me, particularly the families that opened their homes and gamely tolerated my questions. I also owe a debt of gratitude to two Panamanian...

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1. Introduction: The Machete and the Freighter

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pp. 1-24

If you travel to Panama and want to see its canal, you will likely end up at the Miraflores Locks Visitor Center on the outskirts of Panama City. The building’s interior—all cream adobe walls, towering plate glass windows, and marble floors—is a showcase for the history of the iconic trade route...

Part I: Headwaters

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2. Monte

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pp. 27-36

Luis invited me to come back to Boquerón to work with him on his monte (farm plot) after my research for this book was finished.¹ So, in June 2010, I drove from Panama City to his community of less than 150 people next to a river that shares its name. Boquerón is located in Panama’s Chagres...

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3. Making the Panama Canal Watershed

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pp. 37-58

Francisco Ramos is a forest guard with Panama’s national environmental agency, ANAM (Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente). When I met him at the agency’s regional office in the upper Chagres River basin,² Francisco—an athletic fifty-year-old in a khaki uniform with short black hair—was...

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4. Frank Robinson's Map

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pp. 59-68

The landscape changed rapidly as our small airplane approached Panama City. Past the forested mountains around the upper Chagres River, low-density urban sprawl gave way to older parts of the city and a wall of glass skyscrapers pushed up against the waterfront. Ships dotted the Bay of...

Part II: Floodplains

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5. Life along the River (Miocene-1903)

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pp. 71-92

The Panamanian historian Bonifacio Pereira Jiménez observed that the history of Panama is, to a certain extent, the biography of the Chagres River.¹ The existing lock canal is only the most recent chapter in that story. The land and water routes that grew up around the river carried fabulous...

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6. Canal Construction and the Politics of Water

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pp. 93-120

Before the canal, there was the river. The Chagres was the central artery of a region veined with roads and railroads funded by colonial and imperial powers and built and maintained by migrant laborers. The river also had a life of its own. It flooded in the rainy season and ran shallow during the...

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7. Pueblos Perdidos, or How the Lake Ate the River

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pp. 121-130

I first visited Limón in March 2008. That morning, I caught a bus at a busy shopping mall on the outskirts of Panama City. Not realizing that I had mistakenly boarded a “ regular ” bus that would crawl through miles of urban sprawl before reaching the highway (rather than a more direct...

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8. The Agricultural Possibilities of the Canal Zone

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pp. 131-156

In 1909, five years after canal construction began, the soil scientist Hugh H. Bennett and horticulturalist William A. Taylor arrived in Panama to study the agricultural possibilities of the Canal Zone. At the request of George Goethals, chief engineer of the canal the US Department of Agriculture...

Part III: The Interior

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9. Getting Across and Getting Around

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pp. 159-166

While conducting research, I often drove between Panama City and my field sites in the rural areas around the canal. To get to Limón or Boquerón, you drive north from the city on Avenida Omar Torrijos Herrera (figure 9.2). Formerly known as the Gaillard Highway, the road runs along the...

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10. The World United, Panama Divided

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pp. 167-184

The Panama Canal operates smoothly for the most part, but getting around the surrounding region takes an inordinate amount of residents’ time, money, and energy. From rural villages to urban centers, friction—not flow—is the dominant experience of movement: bouncing on bus seats...

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11. The Conquest of the Jungle

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pp. 185-204

By 2008, few residents of Boquerón remembered the details about Macario and the madereros (loggers), but most agreed that they cut the first camino de verano—a dirt road passable only during the dry season—opening the area around the river to settlement. We know that the road had been...

Part IV: Backwaters

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12. Weeds

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pp. 207-218

Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) has been called the world’s worst aquatic weed. The invasive floating plant, a native of South America capable of doubling in population and surface area in weeks, is now found in waterways on every continent except Antarctica. In tropical and sub-tropical...

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13. A Demanding Environment

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pp. 219-222

The road connecting Boquerón to the Trans ístmica never arrived for good, marking the final conquest of the jungle. Instead, the road was always unfinished, advancing and retreating in relation to the capital, labor, and machinery mobilized by various actors in search of manganese, lumber...

Notes

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pp. 223-260

Bibliography

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pp. 261-274

Index

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pp. 275-298