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Panama, Its Politics, and the Canal Against Itself

Summary and Keywords

The successful negotiation of the 1977 Torrijos–Carter Treaty inaugurated a new historical era in the Republic of Panama. Politically, the implementation of the Treaty from 1979 to 1999 transformed what, since 1903, had been a protectorate of the United States into a fully sovereign republic. Economically, the integration of the canal into Panama´s internal economy, and that of the country in the global market, created new opportunities for the development of the country. The treaty also put an end to the dispute between Panama and the United States over the control of the rent and revenues produced by the canal, transferring it to the government of the Republic of Panama, and so creating an unprecedented source of resources for investment. More than forty years on, however, Panama faced a combination of sustained (but uncertain) economic growth, persistent social inequity, constant environmental degradation, obsolescence of its institutional system, and increasing internal political tensions, all expressions of the contradiction between the natural organization of the territory of Panama, and the spatial organization of its economy, society and government imposed and maintained since the European conquest of the 16th century. This contradiction is also aggravated by the dispute over control of the canal rent between different sectors of Panamanian society. In short, the country is in a transition stage in its development, which may lead it to overcome the contradiction in developing into a prosperous and equitable republic, or into increasing conflicts that may worsen the contradictions inherent to a centralist and authoritarian tradition of governance.

Keywords: Panama Canal, Torrijos–Carter Canal Treaty, transitism, historical transition, territory, territorial organization, sustained economic growth, sustainable development, crisis, Latin American politics

For a Start

Panama became the last nation-state of Latin America to assume full responsibility for the exercise of its sovereign condition at midday on December 31, 1999, when the decolonization program agreed to in the 1977 Torrijos–Carter Treaty reached culmination. This is a fact of particular interest, when we consider that the country had already experienced two national independences—from Spain in 1821, and from Colombia in 1903.

This fact is also of relevance for any analysis of the political circumstance of Panama in the early decades of the 21st century. Panamanian society, after having been able to face and resolve the problems associated with the exercise of its national sovereignty late in the 20th century now faces those associated with the consolidation and orientation of its internal political sovereignty. To this can be added that the problems associated with both levels of sovereign power are deeply rooted in the circumstances of colonial origin, the modes of development and the territorial organization of the government, the economy, and the population of the Isthmus of Panama from the 16th century to the present. Let´s start at the beginning, then.

On Time, Space, and People

For at least 12,000 years, the Isthmus of Panama has facilitated the transit of humans, both between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and between North and South America. Until the 16th century, the interoceanic transit took place along several natural corridors which cross the central mountains of the country by making use of the watershed of rivers that run to the North and the South, so linking populations in both sides of the Isthmus and providing a route of commerce between the civilizations of the Caribbean and the Pacific, such as the Maya in the Yucatan–Guatemala–Honduras area, and the Chibcha in Colombia.

However, the European conquest of the Isthmus in the early 16th century—and particularly the foundation of Panama City in 1519, and the conquest of Peru between 1532 and 1572—led to a radical reorganization of transit activity. The Spanish crown established a monopoly of interoceanic transit through a single corridor, running north–south between the cities of Portobelo in the Atlantic, and Panama in the Pacific.1

This single interoceanic corridor was complemented with one running east–west from Panama City’s hinterland to Nicaragua, in order to provide agricultural support for the transit activities so conceived. This territorial reorganization also included the creation of an internal frontier, which segregated the entire Atlantic side of the isthmus and the region of Darien, in order to impede any other interoceanic transit activities, and allow the Spanish Crown to concentrate its power in the control and protection of the Portobelo to Panama route. All this generated, immediately, a contradiction between the natural north–south organization of the territory and the economic, social and political territorial organization in the isthmus.2

This peculiar organization of the government, the economy, and the society in the isthmus was defined as transitista by leading Panamanian authors like Hernán Porras (1953) and Alfredo Castillero (1974). In its essentials, transitism brings about a multiple concentration structure: as it concentrates the interoceanic transit by a single route, it also concentrates the control of that route by a single foreign power; control of the rent produced by the transit so organized in the social sectors that control that power and—it must be said—control of all imaginable futures of Panamanian society around the idea of that organization of the transit as an ineluctable natural fate. For Porras, working in a Toynbean perspective, transitism was essentially a sociopolitical way of being, which concentrated in what he called the white capital leading group the capacity to provide internal equilibrium through the management of Panama’s external relations. For his part, Castillero—working under the influence of dependency theory—stressed the historical dimension of the concept.3

In the wider perspective of Panama´s function in the creation and development of the world market, transitism can be seen as a local mode of organization of global-scale capitalist development. This local mode expressed in the isthmus the fact that

In all forms of society there is one specific kind of production which predominates over the rest, whose relations thus assign rank and influence to the others. It is a general illumination which bathes all the other colors and modifies their particularity. It is a particular ether which determines the specific gravity of every being which has materialized within it.

(Marx, 1857)

In the case of Panama, that “specific kind of production which predominates over the rest, whose relations thus assign rank and influence to the others” has been—and is—the provision of services for the circulation of capital. This makes the country unique among its neighbors. The isthmus has never been an important producer of commodities of any kind—agriculture today generates less than 10 % of Panama’s GDP—but it plays a key role in regional commodity producers’ participation in the world market.4

This helps us understand that the socioeconomic structure of Panama is characterized by the weakness of its productive sectors—the agricultural and the industrial in particular—in contrast to the extraordinary concentration of economic and political power in its commercial and financial sectors. By contrast, the popular sectors are poorly organized and highly fragmented into pressure groups. Since the mid-20th century, a substantial part of popular political initiative has depended on a university-educated middle class, integrated mostly by mestizo and mulatto professionals. Lawyers and medical doctors, in particular, play an extremely important political role here. The presence of this middle class in the national life has been, and is, narrowly associated with the hope of moving up the social ladder, which explains why its members tend to be quite conservative (Jiménez de López, 1949).

In 1974, this sociopolitical structure was summed up by the Panamanian historian Ricaurte Soler in the following terms:

the oligarchic power is integrated by the commercial and real estate sectors of the bourgeoisie and is projected in the countryside by landowners and local political operators. At the same time, popular political mobilization expresses itself in mass political movements that, going beyond obsolete party organizations, face the oligarchical and imperialistic anti-national power from a social base where different classes with different and even contradictory interests convene.

(Soler, 1974, pp. 90, 94)

Under these circumstances, all through the 20th century the political process of the construction of the republic operated in two different, though linked, dimensions: the dispute between Panama and the United States over control of the transitist rent generated by the canal operation and other associated economic activities, and, still going on, the dispute between the main social groups over the orientation of the process of organization and development of the nation-state as the agent in charge of the administration of the canal rent now that it has passed to national control.5

The Dispute Over Transit Rent

At their most visible, these two dimensions of conflict operated through the 20th century over successive stages of confrontation between an oligarchic longue durée power with deep roots in society, and a succession of populist movements, each with a wide social base and, usually, a short duration, which opened way to negotiations between the United States and Panama for the modification, first, and the liquidation, later, of the 1903 Hay–Buneau Varilla treaty. That treaty conceded to the United States the right to build an interoceanic canal in Panama; granted a transisthmian corridor for the construction, administration, and defense of the canal—within which the North American party would act “as if sovereign”; allowed the United States to intervene militarily in Panama in order to guarantee the internal stability of the country; and established that these concessions would be perpetual.

Under these conditions, it was inevitable that in the negotiations between Panama and the United States key roles corresponded to both the interest of the dominant social sectors in Panama seeking to increase their participation in the transit rent, and that of the Panamanian popular and middle-class sectors in the liquidation of the 1903 Treaty, the eventual achievement of which finally resulted in the transference of the dispute over transit rent wholly into Panamanian society. In practice, that process took place during the negotiation, approval, and implementation of three new treaties.

In 1936, Presidents Harmodio Arias and Franklin Delano Roosevelt agreed on the cancellation of the right conceded to the United States in the 1903 treaty to intervene on its own initiative in the internal political life of Panama. They also agreed to allow the agricultural and industrial producers of Panama to export their products—mostly meat and beer at that time—to the Canal Zone. In the context generated by the 1929 world crisis, the Arias–Roosevelt treaty permitted an expansion of Panama’s internal market in a way that saved Panama’s ruling sectors from the social conflicts and political concessions that other oligarchies in the region had to face during that period. On the political side, the formal elimination of the American protectorate imposed on Panama in 1903 weakened the oligarchical power—which in 1925 had sought the military intervention of the United States during a social conflict in Panama City—and brought the contradiction between the national sovereignty of Panama and the colonial character of the Canal Zone to center stage.

In 1955, in the context of the economic and political crisis in Panama associated with the end of World War II, and the crises of the Cold War, a treaty negotiated between the governments of President José Antonio Remón Cantera and Dwight Eisenhower cancelled the right of Panamanian workers in the Canal Zone to shop in the American government’s stores in the enclave; widened the access of Panamanian business and workers to the Canal Zone market, and recognized the right of the government of Panama to fly the national flag alongside the Stars and Stripes at several points in the colonial enclave. This had a double effect: the capture of the salaries of the Panamanian Canal Zone workers drove a new expansion of Panama’s internal market without the need to resort to relevant social reforms; and the treaty increased the cooperation of both countries in the areas of security and defense, making use of President Remón’s 1953 decision to transform the former National Police into a militarized National Guard.6

Finally, in 1977 the Torrijos–Carter treaty was signed. This authorized Panama and the United States to liquidate the Canal Zone, put an end to American military presence in Panama, and to gradually transfer the administration of the canal from the government of the United States to the government of Panama between 1979 and 1999. All this taking place during the 1968–1973 revolutionary cycle in the world system and the American defeat in Southeast Asia. The Torrijos–Carter treaty opened the way to the conclusion of the dispute between Panama and the United States over the control of the transit rent, which had been ongoing since 1903. As has been remarked, the dispute thereafter became a key factor in Panama´s internal political conflicts, where it persists.

Looking at the process as a whole, it is important to note that that every moment of advance in the dispute over transit rent was associated, in one way or another, with the use of violence as a political resource. So, for instance, the 1936, 1955 and 1977 treaties were all signed on the Panamanian side by politicians linked to the overthrow of legitimate elected governments. All these coups d’état were preceded in Panama by moments of great political unrest, associated with worsening of living conditions of the popular class and the discontent of the middle class with the corrupt and abusive political practices of government controlled by the dominant sectors.7

The Transition

It is not to the shape of things that we must pay attention to, but to its spirit. It is the real that matters, not the apparent. In politics, what is real is what you don’t see. Politics is the art of combining, for the increasing internal betterment, the diverse or opposed factors of a country, in order to save the country from the open enmity or the greedy friendship of the other peoples.

(José Martí, 1891)

As with the previous treaties, the implementation of the Torrijos–Carter treaty was associated with the intended restoration of the preceding political order at a higher level of complexity. The process leading to restoration had been agreed between the military regime and the political parties of the country. It did not work in this case. The transition of the Panamanian government toward its full sovereign and democratic condition was obstructed by disagreements between the forces politically responsible for the process; a hard and painful experience for the country as a whole.

The violent death of General Omar Torrijos on July 31, 1981—less than two years after the treaty’s 20-year implementation process had begun—eliminated the essential leadership of the transition toward a democratic regime, which this time was intended include the presence of a party with a wide urban and rural social base, led by middle-class professionals, so altering the traditional liberal—conservative order characteristic of the political life of the country. In effect, the Revolutionary Democratic Party created in 1979 under the leadership of General Torrijos declared itself social democratic, became associated with the Socialist International in a close alliance with the Spanish Socialist Workers Party, and gave a voice to the nationalist Panamanian sectors that had promoted and supported the dismantling of the American military-industrial enclave in Panama, and the right of the Panamanian nation-state to be the only sovereign power in the isthmus.

In the absence of Torrijos, the transition towards a democratic regime was blocked, in the short term, by a conflict between power groups within the Panamanian government aspiring to control the benefits of the transit rent. These groups now included a new actor, the National Guard of Panama—transformed in the Defense Forces of Panama by General Manuel Antonio Noriega in 1983—which had played an important political role of mediation and control in national political life by guaranteeing the internal conditions necessary for the negotiation of the Torrijos–Carter Treaty, and which, after 1982, attempted to make permanent that function, originally conceived as temporary.

With that aim in mind, the military command, led successively by Generals Rubén Darío Paredes (1982–1983) and Manuel Antonio Noriega (1983–1989), attempted to create a social and political base of their own, forging an alliance with minor elements of the business sector and political operatives of the lumpenproletariat. The irruption of that new force into the national scenario disrupted the traditional political order and generated an increasingly active resistance of political parties and social movements seeking to restore that order, supported by the US government.

The American rejection of a consolidation of a militarized nation-state in Panama, closely linked to both the intelligence services of the United States and Colombian drug trafficking organizations, led the United States to implement a policy of distancing itself from the Panamanian military, which culminated in the US military aggression of December 19, 1989. This aggression led to a still-undetermined number of deaths in the lower-class population in Panama, and enabled the United States to capture General Noriega and take him to justice.8 Military in form, US aggression constituted an authentic coup d’état at the political level, since it resulted in the replacement of Noriega’s government by the individuals who had been elected in the May 1989 election, which the military regime had instantly suppressed. The new government took possession of power in an American military base, liquidated Panama’s defense forces, and started to implement an economic adjustment policy that had previously been obstructed by the populist policies of the military during the 1980s.9

The transition demonstrated the limited capacity of the traditional liberal–conservative order not only in its managing of the country’s political life, but in its ability to take responsibility for the public management of an economy and a society which had entered a process of intense transformation. The integration of the canal in the country´s internal economy had two main effects: an acceleration of economic growth, mostly due to the sale of public and private assets to transnational capital and massive public investment in infrastructure development, as in the canal expansion; and the linkage of that economic growth to the global economy, which was peaking as a result of the emergence of the People’s Republic of China as a massive trading power. By 2017 China was the second-largest client of the canal, after the United States.

At the political level, the political process came to be managed by two populist movements. One, conservative in nature, was led by the Panameñista Party, originally created by the three times overthrown leader, Arnulfo Arias; the other, social liberal in ideology, was led by the Democratic Revolutionary Party. The parties alternated in power through successive elections between 1994 and 2009. That year, a third party entered the political scene with the full support of the United States embassy: Cambio Democrático, created by former President Ricardo Martinelli as an alliance between emergent business groups linked to banking, commerce and real estate activities, and supported by impoverished sectors of the middle class and the urban lumpenproletariat.10

In this way, by itself and without a political transformation equivalent to those that were taking place in the economic and social life of the country, the Republic of Panama entered a cycle of sustained economic growth combined with persistent social inequality, increasing environmental degradation, and increasing institutional deterioration. Even so, the sovereign condition so painstakingly won has already demonstrated its decisive importance for the country’s development and the definition of its options for the future. This makes it imperative for Panamanians to understand what they have come to be, and what they may become in the near future.

Current Challenges and Possible Futures

The full integration of the canal in the internal economy since 1999 has not resulted in a national development aimed at the integral transformation of the country. Even so, it opened a transition process towards new and more complex forms of social and economic development, which still gain importance day by day, generating trends of their own.

Most visible is the acceleration and diversification of the development of capitalism in Panama, still confined within the restrictions imposed by transitism but in increasing contradiction with them. Panamá stands today, for instance, as a new global services platform, whose more modern elements interact in a synergistic way, stimulating innovative possibilities for the development of the more traditional ones.11 To this, must be added the development of capacities and initiatives arising within Panamanian society, aimed at diversifying the economy and making it more competitive. Such is the purpose, for instance, of the Competitiveness Center of Panama’s Western Region, where initiatives generated by business, civil society, and academic organizations in the provinces of Chiriquí and Bocas del Toro, and the Ngäbe-Buglé indigenous self-government comarca, are linked in a common development effort.12

The transition has also thrown the country into the global economy without any real previous development of capacities for such a complex innovation. Panama, for instance, has no Center for Asian Studies, nor has it the experience and capacity necessary to attend to the kind of human resources and governance demands that such a complex process demands. This explains how, and why, the incorporation of the country in the global economy has been transacted through national concentration on the Interoceanic Corridor, rather than with an effort to incorporate of the rest of the country into this process.

So, a third feature of the ongoing transformation process is the aggravation of the unsolved contradictions of the old transitist model, accompanied by the generation of contradictions of a new kind for the development of the country as a whole; problems which cannot be solved within the old model. This has led to the development of a trend toward the development of an increasingly weakened nation-state and an ever stronger national government, increasingly isolated from its own society. The nation-state is rapidly losing its capacity to assume and take care of the general interests of society, while the government commits its full capacity to the service of the interests and needs of the business groups closely linked to the Interoceanic Corridor.13

Hence, Panama has entered into a complex, unprecedented transition from the country it was during the 20th century to the one it may become in the 21st. The transition started with the liquidation of the Canal Zone in 1979; was degraded by the 1984–1989 military dictatorship, and now proceeds as an historical process of intense dynamism, whose consequences will be totally unpredictable if its orientation and control is not taken over by a democratic political force with a wide social base.

The challenges being faced during this transition process are many. Merely in the area of national culture and identity—factors of key importance in Latin American politics—these challenges range from the persistence of an attitude of learned hopelessness in popular and lower middle-class sectors, something that denies the capacity of their society to face its problems in its own terms, to the erosion of old forms of national identity in the face of the emerging cultures resulting from the process of integration into the global economy. Panama has not yet created alternative forms of identity able to express the society that is emerging from the transition process.

At the political level, the old and new sectors that concentrate the benefits of the transitist model face the erosion of their political influence in an increasingly diverse and complex society, while those who have traditionally been excluded from these benefits are putting up increasing resistance to any institutional change that does not led to the modification of that traditional order. Notably, in recent years the previously excluded popular sectors from the Interoceanic Corridor have been coordinating their resistance to the social consequences of the transitist model with their peers in other regions of the country.

In 1967, in a classic study of the development of Panamanian society in the 20th century, and on the eve of the coup d’état that would overthrow president Arnulfo Arias, opening way to the negotiation of the Torrijos–Carter Treaty, the sociologist Marco Gandásegui referred in the following terms to the political situation in Panama:

The forces that want to preserve the status quo, approving some superficial reforms, transforming liberty into debauchery – which is just another low and immoral form of slavery – in order to protect their interests and those of others associated with them, are sowing the seeds of their own destruction.

(Gandásegui, 2002, p. 178)

Today, Panama has arrived at a point where transitism conspires against the transit at all levels and places of its national life. The efficient and sustained operation of the canal and the Global Services Platform depends, and will depend more and more, on the sustainable development of the entire country. And that development will demand the entire potential of the geographic position and the capacities of Panamanians. Operating within the transitist order, and supporting it, the canal conspires against itself.

It is increasingly evident that Panama needs an integral, inclusive, and sustainable national development project, leading to a new nation-state in a renewed country. The transitist nation-state, however, cannot generate such a project, because it would led to agreeing to its own extinction as the United States agreed with General Torrijos the extinction of the Canal Zone. So, the ongoing transition has led the country into a situation where its economic transformation demands an institutional change to open the way to the social transformation of Panama.

Such is, in its tightest synthesis, the key challenge being faced by Panamanian society in its transition towards the fully sovereign, equitable, and prosperous Republic it deserves to become. It has been remarked that the solution to any important strategic problem will always generate new and more complex problems. The problems being faced by the Panamanians today emerge from those that they were able to face and solve the day before yesterday. The choice will be to arrive to the mid-21st century with a nation-state in course of implosion, or with a truly democratic republic, able to change with the world, in order to help it change.

Discussion of the Literature

The usual historical and political analysis of Panama tends to enclose itself in a descriptive approach of personalities and situations, framed in a colonial narrative centered on the conflicts and negotiations between a small Caribbean country and the United States, since its emergence as a regional and then a world power. Apart from its geographical location and its urban and, increasingly, aboriginal population, little attention is paid to the longue durée interactions between human habits and natural habitats in the isthmus, paraphrasing Carl Sauer’s definition of landscapes. This approach is frequently associated with a degree of ignorance about the internal cultural life of Panama and its intellectual community, particularly in the development of a national identity, and the role played by different versions of that identity in the country’s political life.14 The concept of transitism presented in this paper, for example, was created in the early 1950s in order to confront and oppose Marxism’s place in the national identity. Twenty years later, under the influence on dependency theory, it evolved from its mostly anthropologic original version into a predominantly historical. This opened the possibility of linking transitism with Marxism at a more complex level, without sacrificing the contributions provided by earlier stages of development. Recognizing this and making use of it for the analysis of Panama’s contemporary history is a contribution of this paper for the advancement of the political debate in the country.

Further Reading

A comprehensive vision of the complexity of the relations between the United States and Panama from an American perspective would benefit from three books of special interest. David McCullough’s The Path Between the Seas (1977) provides a panoramic vision of the construction of the Panama Canal as seen from the United States, with great attention being paid to the technical, political, cultural, and racial dimensions of the process. The People of Panama, by John and Mavis Biesanz (1955) presents a detailed vision of the Panamanian people as seen from the Canal Zone, allowing the reader to better understand both the conflictive and affective relations between the Zonians and their neighbors. And John Lindsay-Poland’s 2003 Emperors in the Jungle. The hidden history of the US in Panama will help the reader understand the depth, extension, and ubiquity of the American armed forces, both in the Canal Zone and in the country as a whole.

On the Panama side, three anthologies are of importance: Las Clases Sociales en Panamá (Social Classes in Panama), compiled by the sociologist Marco Gandásegui in 2002, includes three especially relevant works. Hernán Porras’s 1953 Papel histórico de los grupos humanos en Panamá (The historical role of the human groups in Panama), which introduced in the national debate the notion of transitism, is probably the most important cultural and political document of Panamanian liberalism in the 20th century. Ricaurte Soler’s 1974 Panamá, nación y oligarquía (Panama, nation and oligarchy) synthesizes in an admirably way the state of the debate within the Panamanian left on the early stage of General Torrijos populist government. And Marco Gandasegui’s 1967 La concentración del poder económico en Panamá (The concentration of economic power in Panama) was a pioneer work on the role played by the most important economic groups of the country in internal politics as well as in the relations between Panama and the United States. The other anthology, directed by Alfredo Castillero—the country’s most important living historian—is the 2004 Historia General de Panamá (A General History of Panama), published on the occasion of the centennial of the Republic. Its four volumes convened a select group of intellectuals from diverse ideological and political trends—with the notable exception of Torrijism—to provide a vision of the historical development of Panama from the eve of European conquest to the early 21st century. Many of the anthology’s authors and papers are mentioned in the references.

Finally, in order to have a really complete vision of all the forces—cultural as well as political—operating within the Panamanian society, it is essential to read the third anthology: Omar Torrijos de Panamá y de la Patria Grandes. The reader will find there a wide and detailed vision of the ideas of the most innovative political thinker in late 20th-century Panama, whose death deprived the country of the leadership it needed for an orderly transition into the 21st.


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                                                                                              (1.) This original route was eventually replaced by one to the west, following a pre-Hispanic line that made use of the Chagres and the Grande river valleys, separated at the narrowest point of the isthmus by the hills of Culebra, some 200 meters high. This would also become the route of the first transisthmian railroad, built between 1850 and 1855, and the Panama Canal, built between 1904 and 1914.

                                                                                              (2.) That territorial organization structured from and for the needs of the Interoceanic Corridor is still developing. The construction of a new bridge over the Atlantic mouth of the Canal will create a new access to the corridor from the South-Central region of the isthmus and will facilitate the construction of new dams to provide water for future expansion of the canal from outside its present watershed. On the other hand, several pre-European interoceanic trails are being transformed into interoceanic highways for local purposes, and there exist an increasing external pressure to recover the isthmus’s function as an inter-American corridor.

                                                                                              (3.) It is interesting to note that neither Marxist nor social democrat authors have paid real attention to this debate, both as it took place within the liberal–conservative intellectual community in the second half of the 20th century, and as it makes a slow come back in the early decades of the 21st.

                                                                                              (4.) It is interesting to note the role played by Panama—which is not mentioned at all—in some of the events to which Karl Marx refers in a letter to Friedrich Engels on October 8, 1858, about the development of the world market: “The proper task of bourgeois society is the creation of the world market, at least in outline, and of the production based on that market. Since the world is round, the colonisation of California and Australia and the opening up of China and Japan would seem to have completed this process” (Marx, 1858).

                                                                                              In fact, the conquest and colonization of California by the United States after the defeat of Mexico in 1848 led to the construction of a transisthmian railroad in Panama between 1850 and 1855 by an American private initiative. The railroad renewed the role of the Spanish transisthmian corridor—which had decayed since the 18th, mostly after the opening of the Cabo de Hornos route for commercial navigation between Europe and the American Pacific. This renovation, in its turn, facilitated the construction of an American canal in Panama between 1903 and 1914.

                                                                                              (5.) For instance, in the inner country of Panama it is a near-universal view that, under the current circumstances, nothing is good enough for the Interoceanic Corridor, but everything is excessive for the rest of the country. This perception is borne out by some facts: poverty affects some 25 % of the population in the Interoceanic Corridor, some 60 % in rural areas, and about 95 % in the areas of aboriginal population, even after a ten-year period of unprecedented economic growth.

                                                                                              (6.) President Remón had been the chief of the National Police, and had been involved in the second overthrow of President Arnulfo Arias in 1951. In 1953, his government published a law creating the National Guard of Panama, and a law declaring illicit “totalitarian activities such as communism,” considering “harmful to the homeland’s health and unconstitutional the creation of parties, organizations and totalitarian groups, such as communism,” and prohibiting the members of such organizations working in public institutions (República de Panamá, 1953).

                                                                                              (7.) It is important to note that between 1926 and 1968 parliament, acting under strong popular pressure, resisted all attempts to expand the American military presence in Panama, or to disguise its presence and its perpetuity through separate negotiation of the problems associated with the administration of the canal, the presence of military bases in the Canal Zone, and the existence of the Canal Zone itself.

                                                                                              (8.) Before the 1989 aggression, American military interventions had produced 40 or 50 deaths during the 20th century. Conservative estimates calculate around 300 deaths produced in the 1989 aggression, surpassing by a considerable margin the number of deaths associated with the 1968–1989 military dictatorship.

                                                                                              (9.) Although there is no doubt of the collaboration between the Panamanian military and foreign intelligence agencies and illegal organizations, the 1989 aggression did not put an end to those practices. Their continuation has led Panama’s political life into another circle of generalized corruption within the general governance crisis.

                                                                                              (10.) In many ways, Cambio Democrático is reminiscent of Napoleon III’s December 16 Society, described by Marx in The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte: an alliance between the lumpen bourgeoisie, the lumpenproletariat and the armed forces that took power and reinstated the Empire defeat of the bourgeois parties in 1848.

                                                                                              (11.) That platform includes today, for instance; a multimodal transportation complex (maritime, aerial and terrestrial), formed between 1850 and 2016, which reached its highest level of complexity with the 2016 expansion of the canal; a free trade zone, established in 1948, which is looking for a new niche in an economy based in free trade among transnational corporations; an international financial center in operation since 1970, which is expanding and diversifying; a knowledge management support center—known as the City of Knowledge—in development since the year 2000, which promotes services for technological innovation in fields such as information technologies, environmental management, biotechnologies and human development; a United Nations organizations regional center for Latin America and the Caribbean, operating within the City of Knowledge since 2002; an international logistic services center, operating since 2004 in the former Howard Air Force base, and offices of a regional center of transnational corporations for Latin America, operating since 2007.

                                                                                              (12.) The center, with support from organizations such as the Development Bank for Latin America (CAFSA) and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture, actively promotes integrated, inclusive, and sustainable development in areas not included in the Interoceanic Corridor, sustained in a detailed knowledge of the great potential of these regions for widening the country’s participation in the global economy.

                                                                                              (13.) In 1994, the Government of Panama submitted to the National Assembly a new Title (XIV) to be incorporated into the Constitution in order to prepare the country for the transfer of the canal from the government of the United States to that of Panama. Essentially, the reform isolated the canal from political changes in government, creating an effectively autonomous Panama Canal Authority (ACP). Power was vested in a General Administrator, designated by the President of the Republic for a seven-year period in the position. It also created an ACP board with ten members, in office for a period of three years each, of whom one is to be designated by the National Assembly and nine by the President of the Republic. The powers conceded to the ACP virtually transform it into a state within the nation-state. The Board consists largely of business persons and CEOs, the argument being that these people have the kind of experience the canal operation needs, which is not to be found among workers’ organizations. Control, or the lack of it, of the canal by the nation-state highlights the problem of the social and political control of the nation-state itself.

                                                                                              (14.) On the Panamanian side, there is an equivalent ignorance about the social, political, and cultural history of the United States. This mutual ignorance has influenced the relations between the two societies, be it in the development of workers’ organizations or in the development of colonial self-perceptions in Panama.