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The Story of Panama’s Struggle for Independence

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The Story of Panama’s Struggle for Independence

By Tom on December 1, 2016 in News from Panama
Post Views: 167


The Panama Independence Day was first celebrated on November 28, 1821. It was the day the country set itself free from the clutches of Spain, but it was not the day that it truly became a sovereign nation.

Panama Independence Day: Not Just One, But Three Dates to Remember

Visit Panama, the country’s official tourism website, says that there are three important national holidays when it comes to the celebration of independence. First, there is the first cry of independence, celebrated on November 10. It was the day when the natives of the country announced that they would become a republic. This occurred at the town of La Villa de los Santos.

Second is the Panama Independence Day on November 28, 1821 to celebrate freedom from Spain. After many years of being under the thumb of Spain, Panama finally succeeded in attaining its independence.

And lastly, November 3, 1903 is the date when Panama, which became part of Gran Colombia, detached itself and became a republic on its own. It is not considered the Panama Independence Day, but the day of separation.

A Storied History

Panama is one of the many countries that was ruled with an iron fist by colonizers. Their path to independence was a long one, and the people had to struggle for a long time to finally free themselves from the colonist.

But how did  the country become ruled by the Crown of Spain?

The Indigenous People of Panama

According to International Work Group for International Affairs, Panama has more than 417,000 indigenous people. They makeup approximately 12% of the population and are divided into seven distinct groups. These are:

  1. Ngäbe
  2. Buglé
  3. Guna
  4. Emberá
  5. Wounaan
  6. Bribri
  7. Naso-Tjërdi

These people now live in what are called comarcas in different provinces, but they used to dot the entire Isthmus of Panama before the Spaniards came.

Exploration and Colonization

Vasco Núñez de Balboa, first head of the Panama colony.

Panama, also known as the bridge of Americas, was explored by Rodrigo de Bastidas, Juan de la Cosa, and Vasco Núñez de Balboa in 1501. They were the first Europeans to ever set foot in Panamanian soil.

Nine years later, they were followed by Diego de Nicuesa, who himself was another explorer. He established the Spanish settlement Nombre de Dios or “Name of God” by the Chagres River.

Alonso de Ojeda followed suit and founded the colony of San Sebastian de Uraba. De Ojeda’s colony was situated southwest from the Nombre de Dios settlement.

However, both encountered staunch resistance from the indigenous Panamanians. And so Balboa, who had become the head of the colony, convinced them to move elsewhere. The new location was in the northeast, just across the Atrato River. They named it Santa María de la Antigua del Darién.

According to Britannica.com, it was the first permanent settlement in the isthmus, and it was also the focus of much jealousy and rivalry between explorers.

But with Balboa at the helm, the colonizers brought the Indian population of Panama to heel.

Tim Lambert also added that most of the indigenous people got exposed to diseases brought to shore by the Europeans. These were diseases they did not develop immunity against, and they were quickly decimated by these.

Those who managed to survive being ravaged by foreign illnesses, however, did not have a bright future to look forward to. That is because they were enslaved by the colonizers, and were made to work in estates under a Spanish-implemented feudal system.

The Gold of Panama

Panama gold, that which helped the country declare Panama Independence Day..

When the Indians were subjugated, some of them told the Spaniards that there were deposits of gold in the isthmus.

Robert Harding said that was the beginning of Panama being one of the most important colonies of the Spanish Empire. It also became a significant marketplace, through which trade of gold and silver flourished.

By 1670, the capital of the country, Panama City was the wealthiest in that part of the globe. However, that distinction also opened it to threats, particularly from English raiders. One of the more famous raiders was Francis Drake. The Englishman received the support of Queen Elizabeth to take Panama.

Drake succeeded in taking the port of Nombre de Dios in 1572. Over the course of two decades, he continued to attack Spanish galleons eventually earning himself a knighthood.

Spain and England reached an agreement to put a stop to hostilities in 1670, but the latter did not honor its word. And so the fall of Panama from the grace of the Spanish crown began. The original capital was ransacked and burned to the ground, forcing the Spaniards to move it to a location eight kilometers away from the shore.

The end, though, came much later in 1739. The British destroyed the port of Porto Bello, which led Spain to detract Panama’s autonomy. Thereon, it became part of Nueva Granada composed of Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador and became forgotten.

The Declaration of Panama Independence Day: Secession from Spain

Aims McGuinness related that the ongoing wars for independence all around Latin America revived Panama’s ports for a while. The Spanish needed an alternative route, since they could not use the trade route out of war-torn Mexico.

But it soon ended when it became clear that Spain has lost its foothold in the continent. And so Panama’s elite, which included merchants and landowners, declared their independence from Spain.

The landmark moment happened first in Villa de los Santos and is remembered every November 10. The struggle reached its climax when it reached Panama City.

There, independence fighters urged Spanish soldiers to lay down their arms and duly succeeded. No blood was spilled in the fight for independence in the capital.

And so Panama Independence Day happened on November 28, 1821.

The Other Panama Independence Day

The Other Panama Independence Day or the day of separation from Colombia.

But it did not end with the secession from Spain. It took the country more than 80 years to gain its foothold as a true sovereign republic.Panama Q Online said that the country looked to a stronger neighbor after independence out of fear of a reinvasion from Spain. That decision cost them a lot, though, because they were neglected by the Colombian government.

What undid everything was Colombia’s refusal to sign the Herran-Hay treaty, which would allow the United States to build a canal through Panama. That canal would have bolstered the country’s economy.

The Panamanians were not happy with Colombia’s maneuver, and so decided that they would separate from Gran Colombia. Separatist movements began their march, and when news reached Colombia’s ears, they sent troops to staunch the unrest in the country.

But they were too late. History.com said that Panama had several backers behind it including the US government in their second declaration of independence. It was November 3, 1903.

The next day, the national Panama flag was sown and proudly paraded by its people in the streets.

Some people may confuse November 3 as the Panama Independence Day. The Panamanians themselves, however, consider November 28 as the Panama Independence Day, while November 3 is commemorated as the day of separation from Colombia.


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