Abstract and Keywords
Since declaring independence from Spain in 1821, Panama struggled for nearly two centuries to forge a true sovereignty. Free from Madrid’s control, the province found itself subordinated first by Gran Colombia, later New Granada, and after gaining a measure of independence in a 1903 secessionist revolution, by the United States which built a canal and attached zone through which Washington dominated the nation. Domestically, Panama also wrestled with the complexities of a multiracial, class-divided society ruled by a European-descended elite and political infighting among populists and the military that impeded liberal democracy. Gradually, a nationalist movement that sought greater state formation and control over the canal coalesced around mid-century. But the importance of the waterway to Washington imposed constraints on this movement’s success until the 1978 ratification of the Carter-Torrijos treaties which ensured the transfer of the canal to Panama by century’s end. In 1989, concerns over political tyranny, drug trafficking, and the integrity of the upcoming canal transfer compelled the United States to invade Panama and end the military dictatorship (1968–1989) while restoring a form of elite-dominated democracy. After nearly a hundred years of resistance and diplomacy, Panama finally won full independence on December 31, 1999, taking possession of the canal and the remnants of the US-run enclave. Problems of how to reorganize the republic’s economy and political structure, as well as persistent corruption and poverty, complicated the post-US era. Still, with its unique geostrategic position in the world economy, opportunities as well as obstacles confront Panama today finally freed from a century of neocolonialism.
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