Panama History

History of Panama
History of Panama

The history of Panama has been very much influenced by the country's location. Found where Central America meets South America, Panama straddles both the Atlantic and Panama Oceans. Before the age of the airplane, Panama would figure as a major transportation link, and for hundreds of years, the infamous Panama Canal would live on as only a notion. All over Panama, vestiges of its past can be found. The town of Portobelo, which is found near Colon, maintains Spanish colonial relics that date back to the 1500"s. Panama's living history can be observed through its 7 surviving groups of indigenous peoples. The Kuna Indians have control over their own autonomous region, and they still live in traditional villages on the San Blas Islands. Though Panama's indigenous groups have adopted plenty of modern approaches to things, they still display traditional clothing and handicraft items. Panama is moving quite nicely into the world's mainstream arena, and more and more visitors are getting the chance to visit Panama to learn about Panama history and Panama's warm people.

Pre-Colombian populations are known to have inhabited Panama as far back as 11,000 years ago. Among the most dominant cultures to thrive in Panama before the coming of Europeans was the Cueva. The Cueva peoples lived mostly in eastern Panama in the region of the Darien Province. In the 1500"s, however, the Spanish would arrive seeking riches and land in the New World. The Cueva culture would be wiped out during Spanish colonization, and the Kuna would come to inhabit the lands that the Cueva formerly occupied. The Spanish would found their first settlement in Panama way back in 1510, which is among the more interesting facts about Panama. At north coast Panama posts like Portobelo, the Spanish would plan and prepare their invasions of Peru. These invasions would shove off from the country's southern Pacific coast. The Spanish founded Panama City in the year 1519, and the city served as an important docking station for treasure-laden Spanish ships. Panama Viejo (Old Panama) is where the city originally stood, and you can visit its ruins today on cultural tours. In the 1600"s, the Spanish would move Panama City to its present day location, just about 5 miles from Old Panama. The colonial-era buildings found in Panama's Casco Viejo district are among the city's best attractions.

In the 1600"s and 1700"s, the Spanish in Panama saw many pirate and buccaneer attacks compromise their safety and riches. By the 1700"s, the Spanish chose to bypass Panama, sending their homeland-bound ships around Cape Horn instead. After this decision, the history of Panama would see the country suffer a marked period of decline. Panama would become a province of neighboring Colombia in 1821. As the mid-1850"s neared, however, significant events would lead Panama to begin its journey towards independence. The United States was awarded the rights to build a railroad in Panama in 1846. This Panama Railway would help bring Panama out of the darkness and back into the light. When gold was discovered in California, gold miners from the east coast of the United States, would take a boat to Panama. There, they would board the Panama Railway train to cross the Panama Isthmus. Once on the southern side of the country, it was on to another boat in the Pacific Ocean. This route was favorable to crossing the United States by land, as dangerous Native American tribes were known to present quite a problem.

As far back as the 1500"s, the Spanish had considered the idea of building a canal in Panama to facilitate the crossing of ships from the Atlantic to the Pacific. In the 1880"s, the French would be the first to attempt construction of the Panama Canal. After some 22,000 worker deaths and plenty of struggles, the French would drop their canal bid. The U.S. quickly became interested in finishing the canal, and the French would send a delegate to Washington D.C. to sign a canal treaty awarding the U.S. the rights. Panamanian revolutionaries coupled their forces with the new U.S. investments to declare a revolution of sorts. On November 3, 1903, Panama declared its independence from Colombia, starting an era of U.S.-backed interests that continues to this day, really. The United States would finish the Panama Canal in 1914, and the new canal would again make Panama a primary transportation hub in the Americas. Panama Canal tours and cruises are exceptionally popular, and a visit to the Panama Canal Museum in Panama City is sure to be a welcome treat. The U.S. would suffer it's fair share of worker deaths while finishing the Panama Canal. Some 27,500 men died building the Panama Canal, which is another one of the more interesting facts about Panama.

The United States would maintain control of the Panama Canal until December 31, 1999, when it was officially turned over to Panama. Ten years before this, the history of Panama would see one of its defining moments. During the 1989 Panama elections, the winning candidate would be mercilessly beaten on television. The election was negated, and the notorious General Manuel Noriega would go on to announce that Panama and the U.S. were now at war. Noriega originally took control of Panama in 1984, and quickly he began to have his political opponents murdered. Drug trafficking and money laundering were just some of the crimes that Noriega perpetuated. A day after declaring that Panama was at war with the USA in 1989, Noriega's regime would make another critical blunder. Panamanian soldiers would shoot and kill a U.S. soldier who was not even in uniform. Some 26,000 U.S. troops would be called in for operation "Just Cause", and though Noriega would escape for a brief period, he would eventually be captured and punished. The following administration would begin to implement plans for the betterment of the country, and today, Panama continues to see a positive push towards the future. Panamanian culture is alive and well, and should you want to learn more facts about Panama once you get here, you can always make a trip to the Museum of Panamana History in Panama City. Learning all you can about Panama history before and during your trip can really help you to better appreciate this dynamic Latin American country.

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