Several indigenous peoples inhabited what is now Panama before the Spanish conquered the country in the 16th century. First settlers came around 10,000 BC. In this area. Various indigenous peoples were formed, including the Chiriquí in the west of today’s country. They became extinct at the end of the 19th century. The largest peoples were the Chibcha and the Chocó. These ethnic groups also include the Guaymí, Kuna and Teribe (all three Chibcha peoples), who still live in Panama, and the Embera (a Chocó people).
In 1501 Rodrigo de Bastidas was the first Spaniard to sail Panama’s coasts. He discovered the isthmus. In 1502 Columbus explored the western side of the Atlantic on his fourth voyage. Vasco Núñez de Balboa came in 1513. Hoping for gold, he set off on the land route from the Atlantic to the Pacific – through the middle of the jungle. He was the first European to see the Pacific from the American continent. He initially called the ocean the “South Sea”. The Panamanian currency is named after Núñez de Balboa.
The area becomes a Spanish colony
In 1514 Pedrarias Dávila was appointed governor of Darién, the southeastern area of today’s state. The Spaniards took possession of more and more land. In 1519 Dávila founded Panama City, which became an important base and trading center.
From 1524 the Inca Empire was conquered by Francisco Pizarro from here. Gold and silver were then transported from Peru to Panama, transported overland to the Atlantic and shipped from there to Spain.
1542 part of the Viceroyalty of Peru
In 1542 the Spaniards founded the viceroyalty of Peru, which stretched over almost all of South America (only the east belonged to Portugal). In the north it reached as far as Panama. In the 17th century in particular, the Spanish were often attacked by British or Dutch pirates who stole the gold they had conquered.
1717 part of the viceroyalty of New Granada
In 1717 another viceroyalty was split off from Peru: the viceroyalty of New Granada. In 1776 the south was again separated from this. New Granada now comprised the northwest of South America to Panama and the Miskito coast. You can see it on the map. The native Indians were suppressed and partially exterminated. Already in the 16th century there was no more Cueva, a people in the Darién. Many also died from diseases brought in by Europeans.
Member of Greater Colombia (1821-1831)
The struggle for independence began in South America around 1800. From 1809 several states declared their independence, but were repeatedly recaptured from Spain. Gradually, however, the states reached their goal. Simón Bolívar (1783-1830) became the most famous freedom fighter in South America. In 1821 Panama declared itself independent from Spain. It was joined by Colombia, which is called Greater Colombia to distinguish it from today’s state. The present-day states of Ecuador, Venezuela and parts of Peru and Guyana also belonged to it. The country roughly corresponded to that of the viceroyalty of New Granada. The merger proved difficult and in 1831 Venezuela and Ecuador emerged as independent states.
Belonging to Colombia (1831-1903)
Panama belonged to Colombia from 1831. In 1840 conflicts arose which led to Panama’s independence as the “Free State of the Isthmus ” for several months. In 1855 the railway line across the country was completed. In 1899 the “War of the Thousand Days” began, a civil war between supporters of the Conservatives and the Liberal Party, which ended in 1902 with the signing of a peace treaty.
History of Panama from independence until today
The USA showed great interest in taking over the construction of a canal, which the French had begun in 1881 but had abandoned. Colombia refused to surrender. In 1903 US troops occupied the isthmus (bottleneck that forms Panama) and proclaimed Panama’s independence. Panama was thus independent from Colombia. The USA remained the protective power of Panama and exercised great influence in the country. A treaty guaranteed them sovereignty and the right to military intervention.
The Panama Canal
The construction of the Panama Canal by the US, which also financed the whole thing, began in 1904. In 1914 it was inaugurated. Not only was the canal owned by the United States, a five-mile (8.1 km) wide canal zone on either side of the waterway was also controlled by the United States. In 1962 the Puente de las Américas was completed, a bridge on which one could now cross the Panama Canal.
Rule of Oligarchies (1903-1968)
Several rich families, the oligarchies, ruled Panama for the next few decades. In the 1950s, the military began to fight the supremacy of the oligarchies. There have been several coups.
Omar Torrijos (1968-1981)
In 1968 the elected President Arnulfo Arias was deposed. General Omar Torrijos took power. In 1969 elections were held and Demetrio Lakas was elected President. He stayed in office until 1978. But the strong man and true power holder was Torrijos. Its declared aim was to reclaim the Panama Canal from the USA. A contract was signed in 1977 that said the canal would return to Panama in 1999. Although Torrijos ruled dictatorially, he had popular support, because he redistributed land, built schools and stood up for the poor. In 1981 Torrijos died under unknown circumstances in an airplane accident.
Manuel Noriega (1983-1989)
In 1983 General Manuel Noriega took power in Panama, a country located in Caribbean and Central America listed on homosociety. He controlled the military and set up paramilitary forces that suppressed any opposition. He was involved in drug trafficking and money laundering.
On December 15, 1989, he was appointed head of government with extensive powers by the National Assembly of Panama. On the same day, a US soldier died in Panama by Panamanian security forces.
US intervention (December 1989) and the 1990s
On December 20, 1989, the US entered Panama militarily. On January 3, 1990, Noriega gave up. Guillermo Endara became president. A liberal economic system was established in the 1990s. The economy grew. From 1994 to 1999 Ernesto Pérez was President. He handed over the office to Mireya Moscoso of the Partido Panameñista, widow of Arnulfo Arias. Under her presidency on December 31, 1999, as agreed, the Panama Canal was returned to Panama.
The 21st century
Mireya Moscoso ended her term in 2004 amid strong allegations of corruption. From 2004 to 2009 Martín Torrojos, son of General Omar Torrijos, was President. He belongs to the Partido Revolucionario Democrático, a party that his father founded and that is politically left- of-center.
In 2006 the widening of the Panama Canal was decided and implemented from 2007 onwards. The project was completed in 2016.
In 2009 Ricardo Martinelli won the election from the conservative party Cambio Democrático, which was founded in 1998. He was replaced by Juan Carlos Varela (Partido Panameñista) in 2014. In 2019, Laurentino Cortizo from the PRD succeeded him.