history of Panama has always been influenced by its strategic
location. Before the arrival of the Spaniards in the region
, Panama was inhabited by tribes like Cuevas and Cocole.The
arrivals of Rodrigo de Bastidas from Seville, and later AVasco
Núñez de Balboa in 1513 were to change the history
of Panama.Balbao discovered that another ocean lay on the other
side of the isthumus.This meant that now Panama could be used
as centre for trade of contraband Spanish goods, for treasures
taken from Peru which had been conquered by Spain and for slave
trade.The indigenous tribes of the region were destroyed in
the process.Panama was a part of Spain for three hundred years.Its
geopolitical importance waned for many reasons-firstly, Spanish
power in Europe faded by the middle of the 18 th century. Secondly
,while the route was short ,it involved expensive labor .Thirdly,
the region was prone to attacks by pirates called Cimarrons
who were African slaves who had fled from their masters and
settled in the interior part of Panama.
In 1821Columbia became independent from Spain and Panama
became part of Columbia. During the later part of the 19 th
century Panama struggle for independence from Columbia had
begun .The construction of the Panama Canal with the help
of the U.S was the next land mark in the history of Panama
.When Panama declared independence from Columbia in 1903,
the U.S troops were ready to protect the new government.The
new Panamian Government granted the U.S rights in perpetuity
on either side of the Canal.The Panama Doctrine of U.S president
Theodore Roosevelt involved the eradication of the dreaded
Malaria causing- mosquitoes from Panama.The Canal was completed
in 1914 and continued to be an important shipping route.Before
the beginning of the Second World War,Columbia had revoked
all claims on Columbia and the U.S had given up legal rights
to use its troops outside the canal zone. During the War ,the
canal became strategically important for the U.S and was heavily
From 1903 to 1968 Panama was controlled by powerful commercial
oligarchy. But the army was gaining in influence meanwhile.
Brig. Gen. Omar Torrijos, seized power. He is regarded as
a hero for two reasons-Firstly ,though his rule was harsh,
his populist measures made him popular among the people. Secondly,he
negotiated with the U.S for the return of the Panama Canal
and Canal zone in Jan uary2000.In 1983 ,Torrijos died in a
plane crash and Gen. Manuel Noriegabecame head of the Panama
Defense Forces. Noriega remained in power with the help of
income from drug trafficking. In 1989, Noriega appointed himself
the dictator and declared war on U.S. U.S sent troops to Panama.
In the fighting that ensued thousands were killed and Noriega
himself was forced to seek asylum in Vatican Embassy. Eventually,
Noriega was arrested, tried and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Elections were held and Guillermo Endara took office in 1989.
His presidency was witness to much corruption and social unrest.
Those continued to be issues in 1994 when Ernesto Pérez
Balladares (El Toro) won the 1994 election.
Mireya Moscoso, the head of the head of the conservative Arnulfista
Party, and widow of a former president won the presidency
in 1999. Persistent demands for the return of the canal paid
off when it was transferred to Panama in 2000.Her presidency
was marked by emphasis on multi lateral free trade ,closer
ties with U. S and counter narcotic measures. In 2004 Martín
Torrijos won the elections.
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