The History of Panama From pre colonial to present day

The History of Panama From pre colonial to present day

5/5 - (2 votes)

The History of Panama

Panama provides an ideal example of how political systems have developed over time, so here we will examine key events in its rich history.

Vasco Nunez de Balboa became the first European to step foot into the Pacific Ocean by crossing Panama isthmus in 1513; both his name is still preserved today in Panama city and currency bearing his name.


Panama was an essential seaport on an isthmus, serving as a key trading center in the entire Caribbean region. Its success during the first part of the seventeenth century depended heavily on silver mined in Peru for Europe’s western markets; Portobelo became well known as an annual silver feria; registered import of precious metals tripled between 1550 and 1600 despite pirate raids against ships carrying precious metals to European markets.

Nombre de Dios was administered by an Audiencia, an autonomous administrative body which managed local affairs but reported back to the Viceroyalty of Peru. Following repeated attacks by English pirate Sir Francis Drake, however, Nombre de Dios lost its significance and became less important; eventually Portobelo became its Atlantic terminus of transisthmian route.

Panama’s architecture showcases the combination of diverse Spanish cultural elements and technological traditions, representing only colonial settlement on the Isthmus with classic Hispanic grid pattern and townscape of churches and convents typical of important Spanish American cities (Tejeira). Furthermore, Panama Viejo stands as a testament to development and survival of architectural typologies, building technologies, urban planning techniques and social life during colonial era (Tejeira).

Panama experienced rapid political and economic expansion and gained greater independence; yet still needed to contend with regional and international events that were out of its control. For example, in 1717 the Viceroyalty of Peru split up into more manageable pieces with Panama being part of New Granada (Colombia Venezuela Ecuador).

Spanish Conquest

Omar Torrijos’ rule from 1971 until his death in 1977 brought about dramatic transformations to Panamanian politics and society that continue to influence it today. His policies drastically altered both political and social landscapes in Panama; their legacy remains significant today.

As Columbus approached Panama, its isthmus was already home to Kuna (Cuna), Guaymi and Choco Indians as well as those with mixed Spanish-Indian ancestry, known as mestizos. All these groups as well as indigenous populations throughout Americas were connected through an extensive trade route network which enabled communication and exchange among their regions.

Panama joined the Viceroyalty of New Granada when it was established to manage Spain’s expansion in Latin America in 1717; however, due to its geographical isolation and previous links with Peru’s Viceroyalty of Peru it managed to form its own sense of national identity before other Latin American nations could.

Panama enjoyed unparalleled prosperity during its early centuries of colonization, its position within an extensive trading system and having its own judicial authority known as a Real Audiencia all contributed to creating a unique sense of autonomy and cultural identity that persists to this day – seen through traditional woodcarvings, ceramics, dance and music performances.


In 1717, the Viceroyalty of Peru was divided up more easily; Panama found itself part of New Granada (which also encompassed Colombia and Venezuela under Simon Bolivar), although its independence would only come about later (1902).

Panama underwent dramatic political upheaval during the 20th century, as its population became dissatisfied with US presence on its isthmus and control of its canal. General Omar Torrijos Herrera came to power via military coup in 1968 and continued ruling until his death in 1981 – acting like an authoritarian dictator while hiding behind an official-looking civilian government facade while effectively running Panama through military force.

After independence, Panama’s population consisted largely of those with mixed Spanish and indigenous ancestry – known as mestizos. They predominated in savannas and central Panama and Colon provinces where they intermarried with West Indian slaves brought as forced labor as well as African migrants settling there as free citizens. Today mestizos remain the majority ethnic group in Panama but due to an influx of immigration from British West Indies, Latin America, and the US they now form just over half its total population; these groups live alongside indigenous Panamanians and people of African origin; Panama City offers its own vibrant culture all on its own!

The Panama Canal

Balboa was finally able to cross into the Pacific Ocean on September 25, 1513 after successfully conquest and friendship-building along the isthmus, and claim it for Spain, while also founding Panama City as a center of trade.

It became an essential port for gold from Peruvian empire of Incas and a collection point for Spanish conquest of Central America plunder. Pirate attacks were frequent, yet its inhabitants adjusted. Furthermore, this city provided one of few spaces in which many indigenous cultures could interact in harmony.

At the turn of the 20th century, the US government decided to build a canal through Panama. The massive undertaking employed thousands of Panamanian workers while creating massive wealth. But its construction was not without controversy.

One of the key problems at hand was race. A significant portion of workers were African American, which often caused tensions that persisted for months or even years. Meanwhile, corruption was another serious problem; to combat this, the American government attempted to give its chief engineer more powers within the Canal Zone while also enforcing an extremely strict code of conduct; any employee found breaking this rule was immediately deported from service.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *