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Historical letter on the Panama Canal scandal (1893)

Historical letter on the Panama Canal scandal (1893)

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The only convict of the Panama Canal scandal expresses his feelings about jail and justice.

Historical letter from deputy Charles Baïhaut, imprisoned in Etampes jail, to a friend. Four pages. In French. 13 cm x 20 cm. Etampes, August 12, 1893. Excellent condition. Single piece.


(...) I had, I admit, in 1886, an hour of failure, when I broke the law. I didn't deceive anyone, I didn't sell false values, I didn't make any mistakes, I wasn't a blackmailer, I'm not guilty of a fraud, I concluded, without partiality, and without hypocrisy, a free contract: illegal contract, but not a shameful bargain , an agreement prohibited by the code, but what can explain conscience, if not for the absurdity. That's the fault.

(…) I will fully refund the amount received, the rest of my money will go to the Federal Revenue, I lose my rights, my condition, my career, I spent long months away from those I love, I suffered all the outrages and all the tortures, I suffered and wept.

(…) This is my opinion. Let us compare to others. Perhaps I could consider myself left out by human society, this society is very difficult to maintain respect, since it hits one without hitting all the guilty, since it is the alleged law enforcement that is a mockery of absolute justice.

The Panama scandal is a corruption case related to the construction of the Panama Canal in the late 19th century. The objective of the work was to facilitate the movement of goods and people between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, without the need for the boats to go around South America. In 1879, Frenchman Ferdinand de Lesseps, famous for creating the Suez Canal, is chosen by an international committee to start the 75 km project in Panama.

Started in 1881, the work was quickly delayed due to tropical diseases and many accidents. Lesseps then organized public subscriptions to finance his increasingly expensive project. Under pressure, he diverted part of those funds to bribe journalists and politicians who could hide the shipyard's difficulties and vote on new laws for issuing a loan. The strategy failed and the Company is put into liquidation on February 4, 1889, causing the bankruptcy of 85,000 shareholders. The United States of America ended the canal finally in 1914.

In 1892, a journalist denounced the case, placing dozens of deputies and ministers under suspicion of corruption; Charles Baïhaut (1843 - 1917) was the only one who admitted to the crime and was sentenced to five years in prison in Etampes, from where he wrote this moving letter.

The unpublished and extensive content of this letter by Charles Baïhaut is a historical witness to the first great scandal of public corruption, caused by the construction of a gigantic work, the Panama Canal, which would definitely change world trade.

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