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A Brief History of Panama

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The 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 protected.

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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