The United States and Panama: past and present

The United States and Panama have a very long history together. As a result panama has been greatly affected my many aspects of American culture. However people rarely know anything about this nation. Beyond Panama’s beautiful beaches and impenetrable jungles lays a rich and complete history.

In 1819, Panama separated from Spain with the rest of New Granada. Then in 1831, the republic of Panama would become independent from Colombia. Later in 1882, a French engineer named Ferdinand de Lesseps began construction of the Panama Canal which would connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans through Central America. However, due to frequent landslides and rampant disease, it had to be abandoned in 1894. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt convinced congress to take on the project. This would solidify a long standing alliance between Panama and the United least until the 1981 when the former dictator of panama was mysteriously killed in a plane crash. Then the CIA operative Noriega Came to power and ruled the country with an iron fist. The United States had to invade panama in order to remove Noriega from power. Panama City burned as looting and surgical strikes took place all over the city. Hundreds of people died in the fire fights between Panamanian defense forces and the US military. The city was left to burn after Noriega was captured by the United States. After the invasion, a democracy was formed. However, like many young democracies, it was extremely corrupt.

As a result of their rich history, Panamanian culture is quite unique and interesting, but there are still traces of the U.S. influence found in the culture. For example, there is a large disparity between the rich and the poor, which can be attributed to the American occupation of Panama. In general, the people of Panama have a fairly laid-back attitude and tend to just be ok with taking things slow and enjoying their time. Compared to the hustle and bustle attitude found in the United States, this is very different. However, Panama also has a very sexist culture known as ‘machismo’. Effectively, the men get to sit around while the women tend to their needs. This culture becomes more common the farther you get outside of Panama City. Seeing this kind of prominent behavior helped me realize that the United States has actually made a lot of social progress, even though it doesn’t seem like it sometimes.

While Panama’s culture has been slowly developing, their technology has been booming. On the exterior, it appears to be a third world country, but most homes have many of the same appliances and electronics that we have here in the United States. Almost everyone has a smartphone, and if they don’t, they have a regular cellphone. There are no landlines at all, however when I was there, there was one payphone still operating in the small village of La Ena.

Americans often forget the kind of impact the U.S. has on other countries. By studying the history of countries that aren’t in our history classes, we can learn the nature of American politics and its international wake. This can subsequently put our modern situations into better perspective. As Americans, we have to remember that our politics change the world. Panama is a story that shows us what happens when a foreign power occupies, controls, then dismantles a nation. The country highlights that a direct approach isn’t always the best option.