Bits & Pieces

February 1, 2011

Independence from Spain

As early as 1797, the Spanish colonies in the Americas were in turmoil over getting their independence. Panama, however, being cut off from the other colonies remained under tight Spanish control, who also controlled the seas, the only means of communication with the rest of the world.
In 1814, and again in 1819, Colombian troops attempted to take from Spain the important city of Porto Bello, on the Atlantic side of Panama, but failed both times. Then, in that same year of 1819, a Chilean naval force captured the island of Taboga on the Pacific side, just off the city of Panama. But Panama remained under harsh Spanish control until 1821 when the Spanish Viceroy died. Taking advantage of this opportunity, the city of Los Santos declared its independence from Spain on November 10, 1821. This date is still celebrated in Panama as "El Grito de la Independencia de Los Santos". This act was followed by a similar act in the city of Panama on November 28, which today is celebrated as the day of Independence from Spain.
Considerable discussion followed as to whether Panama should remain part of Colombia (then comprising both the present-day country and Venezuela) or unite with Peru. The Peruvian plan was rejected as was a plan to unite with Mexico.
Panama thus remained a part of Colombia and designated a department with two provinces, Panama and Veraguas. With the addition of Ecuador to the liberated area, the whole country became known as Gran Colombia. Panama then sent a force of 700 men to join Bolivar in Peru, where the war of liberation from Spain continued until 1824.
In 1826 Bolivar honored Panama when he chose it as the site for a congress of the recently liberated Spanish colonies. The Congress of Panama, which convened in June and adjourned in July of 1826, was attended by four American states -- Mexico, Central America, Colombia, and Peru with the British and the Dutch sending unofficial representatives. The United States was also invited, but rejected the invitation. The "Treaty of Union, League, and Perpetual Confederation" drawn up at that congress would have bound all parties to mutual defense and to the peaceful settlement of disputes.
However, the treaty was ratified only by Colombia and never became effective.
Meanwhile, Panama remained a part of Colombia for the remainder of the 19th Century. Although three abortive attempts to separate the isthmus from Colombia occurred between 1830 and 1840, Colombia remained in control and Panama began a decline to deplorable conditions, shown below in the photos from the 19th Century, which were to continue until 1903.  On November 3 of that year, Panama finally gained its Independence from Colombia, with the help of the United States, which planned to build a canal where the French had failed.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress
Left: Seawall with Ancon Hill in background.  Right: Looking towards Las Bobedas.  Note the
crumbling infrastructure at the time.
Left: Outside view of Santo Domingo Church housing the Flat Arch. Right: Inside view of same church.
Left: San Francisco Church before remodeling in the 20th Century, now faces Plaza Bolivar.
Right: The town below Fort San Lorenzo at the mouth of the Chagres River.
Suburbs of Panama City.  Starting at the bottom right of the photo, the RR tracks come
from Colon and head for the Calidonia Bridge just above the man seen standing by the tree.
The RR then would go to the Panama station.

- Luis R. Celerier
Longview, Texas