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
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
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
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