In 1819 Panama was granted independence from
Spain, but the country was indecisive on their direction until newspapers
encouraged independence thoughts and soon the country decided to forgo opportunities
to join federations to their north and south and move forward as an independent
entity, officially creating such in 1921.
Almost immediately after independence, Panama joined then
rejoined countries to their south, including Venezuela and New Granada (modern day
Colombia) as one country. This union eventually failed though and in 1841 Panama
again joined Colombia to form New Granada.
In 1846 the United States joined forces
with New Granada (which included Panama), giving the U.S.
the rights to build a railroad across the isthmus, which was completed in 1855.
This treaty also gave the U.S. the right to intercede militarily to restore order
if needed. The U.S. enacted this clause multiple times as they regularly put down
riots in the region.
The late 1800s consisted of arguments between Panama and
Colombia as power shifted from regional to central as Panama was controlled locally
by a small number of wealthy families of almost entirely Spanish
descent. Also in the late 1800s the French were given the
rights to build a canal across Panama. This attempt was a colossal disaster due
to various diseases being spread among the workers and nearly impossible geological
formations that slowed progress.
In 1902 the United States took on the task
of building the canal, however their conditions of control over the canal fell upon
deaf ears in Colombia, leading to hostilities between Panama
and Colombia, eventually leading to Panamanian independence from Colombia-controlled
New Granada in 1903 (although Colombia didn't officially recognize this until
1921). With independence, Panama gave the United States the rights to build and
control the canal (on December 31, 1999 the canal was handed over to Panama).
The canal was built from 1904 to 1914 and during this time many improvements were
brought to the region, including healthcare improvements, fighting yellow fever
and malaria, plus improved roads, sewage projects, communication, and transportation,
all of which were needed to complete the building of the canal.
Throughout the early 1900s Panama was dominated on every
level by economic growth and prosperity as an enormous amount of trade moved through
the canal and Panama. However, from a political level freedoms were restricted as
a small group of the country's wealthy held power throughout this time. This
monopoly on power was protested numerous times, most notably in the 1960s. These
protests encouraged Panamanians to demand more control and profits from the canal
and in 1977 Panama and the United States
signed a treaty transferring the canal and all U.S. military bases in Panama over
to the Panamanian government by the end of 1999. However, this treaty also gave
the U.S. the right to militarily intervene in the country.
With political struggles in the 1980s though came worsening relations with the U.S. This was magnified by the U.S.'s
war on drugs, which involved U.S. interjection into the region and even the conviction
of some Panamanian citizens. These arguments escalated until 1989 when the U.S.
entered Panama and ended violence, but threatened Panama's
sovereignty in about a week.
Since the U.S. invasion,
Panama has altered political leadership as direction and priorities were
argued and regularly altered. However, relations with the U.S. have substantially
improved as the two countries are now great allies and the handover of the Panama
Canal to Panama was a success.