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Panama's History

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Panama, because of its geography, has historically occupied a strategic position globally. Because of the narrow width

of the country, Panama is the ideal connection between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and as such, was key for all the countries to which it has belonged during its history.

From the Camino Real, the trail the Spaniards used to move pack trains of gold from the Pacific to the Caribbean ports to ship back to Spain, to the Panama Railway moving US miners across Panama to get to the gold rush, to the Panama Canal moving its huge container ships today, Panama has been a bridge between east and west.

This concentration of wealth attracted pirates and privateers such as Francis Drake, who attacked Portobelo in 1596 and Henry Morgan who burned and looted the first Panama City (Panama Viejo) in 1671. The city was then rebuilt in the current historic center of the capital, now known as Casco Viejo, becoming a hotbed of development for the future republic.

Motivated by the winds of freedom of neighboring countries, Panama became independent from Spain in November 1821. The matter was not surprising because its communication with Spain had deteriorated. However, the independence process was peaceful.

After independence from Spain, Panama joined voluntarily to the Great Colombia, the dream of Simon Bolivar. This new nation was formed by Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador.

Initially, the historic union greatly benefited the country, giving way to a new vision of Latin American leaders behind a large regional development. This period marked a milestone in the world, giving the United States permission to build the first trans-isthmian railroad.

On November 3, 1903, Panama, with the strong support and backing of the United States and then President Teddy Roosevelt, became a free and sovereign republic, totally separated from Colombia. Roosevelt’s motivation was his agreement with the Panamanians that in exchange for his support, both political and military, the United States would be granted permission to build the Panama Canal and to control what was to become known as the Canal Zone, a buffer zone extending the full length of the canal and five miles wide on either side of the canal. The US controlled this zone as sovereign territory until midnight on December 31, 1999, at which point the Panama Canal and the Canal Zone were turned over to the Republic of Panama, as per the treaty negotiated and signed in the 1970’s by then US President Jimmy Carter and Panamanian Dictator, Omar Torrijos.

In 1904 the construction of the Panama Canal was begun by the Americans, a work regarded as the eighth wonder of the world. The French had originally begun this gigantic project, but the weather, tropical diseases and misappropriation of funds prevented them from finishing the job. The Americans took note and decided to continue construction of the Canal and the development of the Panama Canal Zone. This period changed Panama forever, transforming it back into the bridge of the world and a home to a society of economic wealth.

Panama today is supposedly the most developed country in Central America and one of the countries with the highest continuous rates of economic growth and tourism throughout the Americas. Panama is considered a secure nation, peaceful and prosperous. This is a country at the forefront of change and movement, with an international banking center, successful law firms, insurance, call centers, and malls, along with a beautiful diversity of cultures, an enviable ecological wealth and a thriving tourism business.

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