Panama Brief History

Rate this post

According to computerannals, Panama, strategically located between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, is a small convenient country to visit. The country’s major tourist attraction is the Panama Canal, through which large Atlantic ships can be viewed as they lock through the narrow canal. Other attractions are historical sites from the Spanish colonial period and the beautiful beaches along the coasts. Because the country is small, it does not take long to move through this. The bus connections are frequent and work well. The tourism industry is not as developed as in neighboring Costa Rica and therefore relatively few travelers visit Panama. The high crime rate also affects the flow of tourists.

I had the capital Panama City as a base for visits to various places on the Pacific and Caribbean Seas.

Panama history in brief

Panama, early history and colonial times

At the beginning of the 16th century, an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 Indians lived in what we now call Panama. In 1501, the Spaniard Rodrigo de Bastidas was the first European to land on the Panamanian headland. The gold objects worn by the Indians led the Spaniards to believe that they had found El Dorado, the city which, according to Spanish myth, was full of gold.

During the first decades of the 16th century, the Spaniards penetrated deeper and deeper into the country. In 1519, the Spanish governor relocated to a small fishing village on the Pacific coast, about four kilometers east of today’s capital. The Indians called the village Panama which means “Plenty of fish”.

The Indians of Panama were hard hit by colonization. They were killed, enslaved or died of the diseases the Spaniards brought with them for which they lacked immune systems. Many Indians fled the Spanish cruelty. To compensate for the shortage of Native American labor, the Spaniards replenished African slaves. Panama City became the center of the slave trade in Latin America.

To the great disappointment of the Spaniards, no gold treasures were found in Panama. Instead, the country became an important hub for the transportation of precious metals from South America to Europe. Trade eventually waned and Spain lost interest in the colony. In 1739, Panama was incorporated into the Spanish Viceroyalty of New Granada.

History of Panama, from the 19th century to the 1940s

Panama declared its independence at the same time as the other countries in Central America in 1821, but did not join the federation but became part of the Republic of Greater Colombia, which included the same area as New Granada. In 1830, Venezuela and Ecuador left the Union. Panama and Colombia then formed the Republic of New Granada. In 1866 the name was changed to Colombia.

To facilitate transportation across the Panama Canal, an American company built a railroad between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. An agreement between the United States and Colombia gave the United States the right to be responsible for the protection of the railways.

The increasing transport needs also updated old plans for a canal through the headland. The Spaniards had already hoped to be able to transport Peruvian silver on such a canal. In the late 19th century, US interest in building one increased. The Panama Canal came to dominate the country’s history.

Under the leadership of the Frenchman Ferdinand de Lesseps, creator of the Suez Canal, excavations began in 1879. But the problems became great, including tropical diseases that claimed the lives of tens of thousands of workers and eventually ruined the economy. de Lesseps was forced to give up the project in 1889 after completing two-fifths of the route. The United States negotiated with Colombia for a canal construction and agreed to establish a canal zone. However, the Colombian Congress objected to this and the negotiations broke down in 1903. This led to the Panamanians, with American support, rebelling against Colombia and the same year the independent Republic of Panama was proclaimed.

The United States immediately signed an agreement with the new Panamanian government, which gave the United States total control over the 16-kilometer-wide canal zone for “all the future”. In return, the United States would pay Panama an annual fee. The agreement made Panama a US protectorate. The United States guaranteed Panama’s sovereignty and in turn was given “sovereign rights” to intervene in the country’s internal affairs. This created a situation that for a long time caused many disputes between the two countries how the text of the agreement should be interpreted.

The canal construction was completed and the Panama Canal was opened to traffic in August 1914. It was just over 80 kilometers long with inlets and consisted of three locks at both ends, as well as dug canals and two artificial lakes in between. The canal is one of the world’s most important waterways and is considered a masterpiece of engineering.

Panama history, modern


Panama becomes independent

The first decades after independence were a politically unstable time with many regime changes. There was a liberal and a conservative party, but in practice political power was limited to a small circle of rich white families.

For many years, Panama consisted of two units. The Channel Zone was ruled by a governor who was solely responsible to the US President


The Panama Canal was opened to traffic in August


Changes were made to the Channel Treaty with the United States due to dissatisfaction in 1939 Repealed Panama’s status as a US protectorate

1940s, 1950s

During these decades, there was great political instability in Panama with constant shifts in the presidency. The Nationalists were strongly critical of the Channel Treaty, which gave the United States total control over the Channel Zone


Changes were again made to the Channel Treaty with the United States due to dissatisfaction


Unrest led to a two-month break in diplomatic relations between Panama and the United States


In the election, the nationalist Arnulfo Arias Madrid won, having twice before won the presidential election but was ousted shortly afterwards. This time, he was overthrown by a military coup by the National Guard just eleven days after taking office.

The National Guard’s strong man, Omar Torrijos Herrera, then became the country’s leader. Aria’s successor as president was reduced to a puppet. Torrijos, who later became general, dissolved the National Assembly and banned political parties


The so-called Torrijos-Carter Treaty was concluded, which meant that the United States would gradually hand over control of the canal


From this year, Panamanian law applied in the canal area, however, the United States retained the right of use until the turn of the millennium


Torrijos dies in a plane crash, which many suspected was an assassination attempt


Manuel Antonio Noriega Moreno won the power struggle that broke out after Torrijjo’s death and became leader of the National Guard


Through election fraud, the presidential candidate selected by Noriega in the election and under the president’s formal leadership, Noriega took a firm grip on all important institutions


The United States imposes sanctions on Panama after Noriega accused of involvement in drug smuggling and money laundering


A US-backed coup in October failed and as a result, Noriega declared that the country was at war with the United States

In December, the United States invaded Panama under the pretext that American lives were at stake. Noriega was arrested and taken to the United States, where he was sentenced to a long prison term for drug smuggling, money laundering and bribery. The invasion met with sharp criticism in the region and was condemned by the UN

After the invasion, democracy was restored. Guillermo Endara, who won an election in May but was prevented from running, now became the country’s president


When the first free election in over 25 years was held, the overthrown Noriega’s party, the Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD), surprisingly returned to power. The PRD’s presidential candidate, businessman Ernesto PĂ©rez Balladares, won a narrow election victory


In the presidential election, Mireya Moscoso, widow of former president Arnulfo Arias and candidate for the populist Arnulfo Party (PA), won. She ruled the country extensively through decrees (temporary laws). The economy deteriorated and dissatisfaction with the government resulted in violent demonstrations

Panama Brief History

You may also like...