Panama, country, Central America: Independence, the United States, and the Canal
Independence, the United States, and the Canal
The new state, proclaimed in Nov., 1903, was under the aegis of the United States, and the canal and American interests in it became the determinants of Panama's history. The Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty with the United States established the Panama Canal Zone, controlled by the United States, and authorized U.S. intervention in Panamanian affairs if necessary to protect the zone. The internal politics of the republic have been stormy, with frequent changes of administration. U.S. forces were landed in 1908, 1912, and 1918. A controversial figure in Panamanian politics was Arnulfo Arias who was elected president in 1940 and ousted a year later for being pro-Fascist. He seized power in 1949 but was overthrown in 1951. José Antonio Remón, elected in 1952, was assassinated in 1955; Ernesto de la Guardia, Jr., inaugurated the following year, survived disturbances in 1958 and 1959.
In the meantime, a new canal treaty was concluded in 1955, as political unrest developed in Panama over the Canal Zone issue. In 1958 and again in 1960 further steps were taken to assuage Panamanian discontent by establishing uniform wages and employment opportunities in the Canal Zone and by reaffirming Panama's titular sovereignty over the zone. Roberto F. Chiari, a conservative landowner, was elected president in 1960. Marco A. Robles defeated Arias for the presidency in 1964. When U.S. high-school students illegally displayed an American flag in the Canal Zone (Jan., 1964), serious riots broke out. Diplomatic relations between Panama and the United States were briefly suspended. New treaties were negotiated (1967), providing for Panamanian sovereignty over the Canal Zone, joint operation of the canal, and possible construction of a new, sea-level canal, but Panama refused to ratify them (1970).
In early 1974 Panama and the United States agreed in principle for the first time to the eventual end of U.S. jurisdiction over the canal and the Canal Zone. Arias was again elected president in Oct., 1968, but was deposed 11 days later in a military coup. Gen. Omar Torrijos Herrera emerged as the dominant figure shortly thereafter. Torrijos conducted enormous public works projects that gained him considerable popularity while plunging the country into debt. In 1977, he concluded a treaty with the United States that provided for a gradual transfer of jurisdiction over the Canal Zone and the canal to Panama by the end of 1999. A second treaty guaranteed the permanent neutrality of the canal.
Sections in this article:
- The Noriega Years and Modern Panama
- Independence, the United States, and the Canal
- Early History and Spanish Control
- Land and People
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