Political map of South American nations 15 August 1914 (Opening of the Panama Canal): After ten years construction, the Panama Canal was opened in 1914 (History of the Panama Canal), connecting the Atlantic to the Pacific via the Caribbean and effectively changing the geography of the Americas. Central America and northern South America  gained a new strategic importance from their proximity to the canal, while the rich southern nations of Argentina and Chile faced economic downturn as maritime traffic around Cape Horn fell.