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Native Americans and Spaniards

Panama was originally populated by various Indian tribes, who lived from fishing (The word Panama means: abundance of fish). With the arrival of the Spanish conqueror Balboa, after whom the national currency is named, the colonial era began in 1501. Panama's importance was soon confirmed when the Pacific coast was reached and the country became an important Spanish trading post.

From 1538 to 1821 Panama was part of the Spanish Empire. Afterwards, the area became part of the Republic of Gran Colombia (led by Simón Bolívar) and independent Colombia, respectively.

Panama Canal and independence

With the help of the US, Panama became independent in 1903, after which it granted the US certain "sovereign rights" with regard to the Panama Canal to be dug and the surrounding area in a treaty. In addition, the US acquired the right to intervene militarily in defence of this "canal zone". In 1914, the Panama Canal was completed, after the French had initially gnashed their teeth over its construction.

From 1903 to 1968 Panama was governed democratically, although the government acted very oligarchically. In 1968, the military took over and appointed commander Omar Torrijos, father of the current president, as political leader.

Until 1989, civilians were elected president, but real power remained with the military. In 1989, the army-backed presidential candidate lost the elections. However, the army, led by General Manuel Noriéga, declared the election results invalid.

Only after US intervention, during which Noriéga was captured and sentenced to 40 years in prison, was the election result recognised, after which the democratically elected President Guillermo Endara took office. In May 1999, the female presidential candidate Mireya Moscoso won the elections.

21th Century

It remained in power until 2004, when Martín Torrijos won the presidential elections. On 31 December 1999, the US relinquished its rights to the Panama Canal, after 86 years of control, and the canal was returned to Panamanian hands. In early 2000, the government launched a five-year modernisation programme for the Canal and in April 2006 the long-awaited Canal Expansion Master Plan was published. Work began in September 2007.

In May 2009, the conservative opposition leader Ricardo Martinelli won the presidential election. In June 2010, Noriega was put on trial in Paris. In October 2010, the millionth ship passed through the Panama Canal. In October 2011 Panama signed a free trade agreement with the United States. In October 2012, mass protests against land sales in the free trade zone in Colon on the Panama Canal. In March 2014, Venezuela breaks diplomatic relations with Panama, claiming Panama is a lackey of the US. In May 2014, Juan Carlos Varela is elected president. In 2014 and 2015, there are corruption investigations into former president Ricardo Martinelli, among others. In April 2016, the "Panama Papers" come to light. Panama is exposed as a major tax haven. The firm Mossack Foncseca ensured that the rich of the world could avoid paying taxes. President Varela asks an international panel of experts to help Panama improve transparency in the financial industry. In June 2016, a large Chinese container ship is the first to sail through the enlarged Panama Canal. In June 2017, Panama breaks off its long-standing relationship with Taiwan and recognises China, the country that uses the Panama Canal the most. Cortizo, former president of the National Assembly, won the 2019 presidential election for the centre-left Democratic Revolutionary Party, narrowly defeating Rómulo Roux of the conservative Democratic Change party.


Elmar Landeninformatie

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated June 2024
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