Elections and Events 1821-1930


Pearcy 1998: "In November of 1821, thirty-one of Panama’s leading landowners and merchants convened in Panama City and declared Panama’s independence from Spain. They then annexed the isthmus to Simón Bolívar’s Gran Colombia" (page 14).

Taplin 1972: On November 28, 1821 "the Isthmus was declared free and independent of Spain" (page 23).


McCain 1967: "The Panamanians united with the Republic of Colombia in 1822" (page 7).


McCain 1967: "In 1830 Great Colombia was separated into Venezuela, Ecuador, and the Republic of New Granada" (page 7).


McCain 1967: "The Isthmians planned [in 1830] to establish an independent nation, but were induced to remain in the ‘República de Nueva Granada’ under the constitution of 1832" (page 7).

Musicant 1990: "The Panamanian people, however, as a result of the region’s geography, never fully absorbed themselves into the Colombian polity, and Panamanian nationalism and separatist tendencies remained strong" (page 82).

Taplin 1972: In February 1832 "the Constitution for the Republic of Nueva Granada was adopted following the dissolution of the Republic of Gran Colombia, occasioned by the separation of Venezuela and Ecuador...The Department of the Isthmus was divided into the Province of Panama under Governor Juan José Argote and the Province of Veraguas under Governor José de Fábrega" (page 25).


ICSPS 1968: "Dissatisfaction with its backwater, provincial status led to secession from Colombia in 1841 [1840?] and for thirteen months the region was established as the independent state of the Isthmus of Panama" (page 8).

McCain 1967: "The continued anarchy of New Granada caused a revolt on the Isthmus in 1840 under the leadership of Colonel Tomás Herrera. His constitution provided that Panama and Veragua should become the sovereign State of the Isthmus" (page 7).


Taplin 1972: On December 31, 1841 "the Isthmus was re-incorporated into the Republic of Nueva Granada after peaceful negotiations" (page 26).

Zimbalist 1991: "During the Colombian civil war of 1840-1841 the merchants had declared the independence of Panama, but they had lacked the force of arms to maintain this status once the central government had consolidated its power" (page 9).


McCain 1967: "On December 12, 1846, the United States and New Granada signed a treaty that was to have a far-reaching influence in the Isthmus and which finally provided the legal excuse for the action of the Washington government in securing Panamanian independence in 1903" (page 8).

Ropp 1982: "Under [the Bidlack-Mallarino Treaty], Colombia agreed to guarantee unimpeded transit across the Isthmus if the United States would ensure Colombia’s continued control of her Panamanian province" (page 6).


McCain 1967: "On April 19, 1850, Secretary of State John M. Clayton and the British minister, Sir Henry Lytton Bulwer, signed a treaty by which their governments obligated themselves not to obtain exclusive control over any ship canal in any part of Central America...In other words, they agreed that any canal joining the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean should be controlled jointly by the United States and Great Britain" (page 8). "An event of great importance to the Isthmians was the beginning of the Panama Railroad in 1850 by Americans."


McCain 1967: "As the tropical rain fell in torrents, two construction gangs met at midnight on January 27, 1855, and the first railway to span a continent was completed...The gold rush to California not only considerably revived the prosperity of the Isthmus before the railroad was finished, but also brought much that was undesirable" (pages 8-9).

Taplin 1972: The constitution of the State of Panama is promulgated on September 17, 1855. It divides the state into seven departments, with a president to be elected for a two-year term (page 28).


McCain 1967: "Smouldering enmity between the natives and the Americans flared into an outburst on April 15, 1856. The refusal of a traveler to pay for a piece of fruit resulted in the famous Watermelon War and the first landing of American troops to keep open the way of transit across the Isthmus" (page 9).


McCain 1967: "The United States landed troops on the Isthmus in 1860 to preserve order. The Isthmians were preparing under the leadership of Governor José de Obaldía to set up an independent nation" (page 9).


McCain 1967: "In 1861 Panama became a sovereign state of the ‘Estados Unidos de Nueva Granada,’ but reserved the right to discard its agreement with the Bogotá government and to annul the constitution under certain conditions" (page 9).


McCain 1967: "The U.S. intervened again in 1873" (page 10).


McCain 1967: "Two years later [1875] Colombian troops invaded Panama and deposed Pablo Arosemena, the president of the state, and the Isthmus was thereafter at the mercy of the politicians at Bogotá" (page 10).


Taplin 1972: January 1, 1880 is the "official beginning of construction on the Panama Canal by the Compañía Francesa del Canal, directed by Ferdinand, Count de Lesseps. The work actually started two years later, continued to January 16, 1889" (page 31).


McCain 1967: "American forces were landed [in 1885] to protect the railroad and American property" (page 10).


McCain 1967: In 1886 "the government of the Republic of Colombia became highly centralized, and Panama was made the object of invidious discrimination by being transformed into the equivalent of a crown colony" (page 10).


McCain 1967: Operations on the canal were suspended in 1888 (page 10).


McCain 1967: "The canal company went into the hands of the receiver on February 4, 1889, and the New Panama Canal Company was active without appreciable success from 1894 until 1899" (page 10).

Zimbalist 1991: "In 1894, the de Lesseps venture had been reorganized as the New Panama Canal Company (NPCC)" (page 12).


Black 1989: "Panama was drawn into Colombia’s War of a Thousand Days (1899-1902) by rebellious radical Liberals" (page 21).


McCain 1967: "The Isthmus was the scene of considerable trouble in 1900, and in November, 1901, United States forces were landed for the preservation of order...The Hay-Pauncefote Treaty of November 18, 1901, gave the United States the right to construct a waterway across Central America without British interference" (page 11).


McCain 1967: "On June 29, 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Spooner Bill, which provided for a canal through Panama. The French offer to reduce the price of their concession from $109,000,000 to $40,000,000 had been accepted by the American government" (page 12). "American forces landed again in September [1902] to keep the railway open...Thus the state was well set for the events of 1903 that were to lead to the independence of Panama" (page 11).



McCain 1967: "The State Department...proceeded to secure the permission of Colombia for the canal with the result that the Hay-Herrán Treaty was signed on January 22, 1903...The Bogotá politicians were dissatisfied with the terms of the canal agreement...The Panamanian representatives to the special session of the Colombian congress for treaty consideration were not reticent in stating that Panama would unfurl its carefully preserved banners of rebellion if the treaty was not passed" (page 12).


Black 1989: "By July 1903, when the course of internal Colombian opposition to the Hay-Herrán Treaty became obvious, a revolutionary junta had been created in Panama" (page 22).


ICSPS 1968: "After disappointment over the French canal venture, which ended in bankruptcy in 1892, Panamanians reacted vigorously to the rejection of a canal treaty with the United States by the Colombian Senate in August 1903" (page 8).

McCain 1967: The Colombian congress rejects the treaty on August 12, 1903 and takes no further action before it adjourns on October 31 (page 13).

November 3: Panama declares independence from Colombia, Panamanian state created

LaFeber 1989: "Soon after independence, the nation’s politics divided into two parties, the Conservatives, led by Amador who controlled the government, and the Liberals, a group convinced that it represented a majority of the country. In certain respects that conviction was probably true. The Conservatives included the white minority of Panama, but the Liberals were closer to the mulattos and mestizos who comprised most of the population" (pages 37-38).

Langley 1983: "In November 1903 the prompt dispatch of American warships to the isthmus and their preventing the Colombian government from suppressing the Panamanian rebellion assured the creation of another Latin American nation" (page 22).

Zimbalist 1991: "Immediately after formal independence the personnel who assumed the high posts of government in Panama were intimately involved with the interests of the United States and the success of a canal venture...Manuel Amador Guerrero, head of the junta that declared Panama’s independence, served as the medical officer for the NPCC-owned railroad, and another junta member...was an attorney for the railroad. In Washington Philippe Bunau-Varilla, former engineer for the de Lesseps enterprise and financial backer in the NPCC, negotiated the new canal treaty for the insurrectionary junta" (pages 11-12).

November 6: United States recognizes the new republic

McCain 1967: "On November 6 the United States recognized the insurgent government as the ‘de facto’ government of Panama" (page 16).

November 13

McCain 1967: "On November 13 ‘de jure’ recognition was granted, and Bunau-Varilla was received officially in Washington as the minister of the Republic of Panama. He and John Hay then proceeded to draw up a treaty giving the United States the right to construct a canal across the Isthmus" (pages 16-17).

November 18: Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty signed by Panama and United States

Black 1989: "Isthmian patriots particularly resented the haste with which Bunau-Varilla concluded the treaty, an effort partially designed to preclude any objections an arriving Panamanian delegation might raise" (page 23).

Musicant 1990: "Its second article was the most significant: ‘The Republic of Panama grants to the United States in perpetuity the use, occupation and control of a zone of land...for the construction, maintenance, operation, sanitation and protection of said Canal of the width of ten miles’" (page 136).


Major 1993: U.S. Senatorial approval of the treaty is delayed because some members question the legality of the Panamanian junta and require that Panama have a constitutional government. On December 10 "Bunau-Varilla pressed the junta to arrange a speedy legitimation. On 27 December voting for a constitutional assembly of thirty-three members took place" (pages 53- 54).



Black 1989: "The constitution [called] for separation of powers and direct elections for the presidency and the legislature...The assembly...elected three persons to stand in the line of succession to the presidency...The new republic was unitary; municipalities were to elect their own officials, but provincial authorities were to be appointed by the central government. The most controversial provision of the constitution was that which gave the United States the right to intervene to guarantee Panamanian sovereignty and to preserve order" (page 24).

Major 1993: The constitutional assembly met on January 15, 1904 (page 54).

Villanueva 1994: "La Constitución de 1904 establece el sufragio universal masculino para todos los panameños mayores de 21 años de edad" (page 167).

February: presidential election (Amador Guerrero / Conservative)

Conte-Porras 1980: "En su sesión del día de Febrero de 1904, La Convención Nacional Constituyente escogió por unanimidad al Dr. Manuel Amador Guerrero como Presidente de la República por un período de cuatro años" (page 234).

Pearcy 1998: "Panama’s three-man revolutionary government ruled until February 16, 1904, when the National Assembly unanimously elected the archetypical conservative Manuel Amador Guerrero first president of the republic. Amador’s election, coming on the heels of the controversial Bunau-Varilla pact, placed the new administration directly at odds with the recently defeated nationalist faction led by Belisario Porras" (page 38).

Musicant 1990: "On February 20, 1904...Dr. Manuel Amador was inaugurated as the first President of the Republic of Panama" (page 136).


Taplin 1972: "The Canal Zone was formally acquired by the United States on May 4, 1904" (page 34).


Major 1993: "On 28 October the commander of Panama’s army, General Esteban Huertas, demanded the resignation of two members of President Manuel Amador’s Conservative cabinet, and a coup seemed on the near horizon. This Washington was determined to prevent" (page 117).


Major 1993: "On 18 November the general [Huertas] went into early retirement...and the next day the Panamanian army was disbanded" (page 118).


June: municipal elections

McCain 1967: June 24, 1906 is the day of the municipal elections (page 70). The Liberals complain that the "government [is] having its police vote repeatedly." A riot ensues when the victorious Conservatives begin to taunt the defeated Liberals.

Congressional elections

Major 1993: "In the summer of 1906 the country was to elect the National Assembly, and the Liberals were convinced that Amador would stop at nothing to get a Conservative majority...[They asked U.S. Secretary of War Taft] ‘Does the American government guarantee public order and constitutional succession in this Republic?’...The Liberals were asking whether Taft was prepared to step in and ensure a meaningful election throughout Panama or stand by and watch as the Conservatives fixed the results" (page 119). Gives Taft’s response and the details of movements of U.S. Marines to support the Conservative government. "Given this blatant display of American support, it was not surprising that the Conservatives swept in with a massive majority" (page 120).

McCain 1967: "The election passed quietly. Many Liberals refused to vote, and the Conservatives obtained twenty-five of the twenty-eight places in the national legislature" (page 71).

Ropp 1982: Gives total seats and seats won by Liberals (page 18).


Presidential election (Obaldía)

LaFeber 1989: "In 1908 a United States commission of fourteen members publicly cooperated with Panamanians to ensure that the election would be orderly (if not incorrupt). The Liberals won, but this time Taft and Roosevelt did not mind. The Conservative oligarchs had fought among themselves until the party split. Former Conservatives moved into the Liberal party and it also became factionalized" (page 54).

Major 1993: "(T)he leading item on Washington’s mind was the Panamanian presidential election of 1908. The likeliest successor to Amador was his foreign minister, Ricardo Arias...[Taft portrayed Arias to President Roosevelt] "as a corrupt and unscrupulous figure who would try to rig the election and so spark a Liberal revolt unless Washington stepped in" (page 122). Arias steps down under U.S. pressure and José Domingo de Obaldía, the candidate endorsed by the Liberal party, wins by default (pages 123-124).

McCain 1967: "An intense political campaign in 1908 led to the first American supervision of Panamanian elections" (page 71). Describes the charges of registration fraud and U.S. response (pages 71-72). "So bitterly did the administration resent the intervention that it refused to go to the polls" (page 72).

Schooley 1987: "The elections of 1908 and 1912 were held under U.S. supervision" (page 110).



Major 1993: President Obaldía dies suddenly in March 1910. "His successor was Carlos Mendoza, a Liberal and a mulatto" (page 125).


Major 1993: "The [U.S.] legation was...deeply unhappy about the result of the National Assembly election in July, when the Liberals romped home after an unsupervised contest with twenty of the twenty-eight Assembly seats. This guaranteed Mendoza’s confirmation as president until the presidential election in 1912" (page 125).


Major 1993: In August 1910 Mendoza submits his resignation in writing, under U.S. pressure (page 126).


Major 1993: "(O)n 14 September Pablo Arosemena [uncle of of Carlos Arosemena, minister to Washington] was chosen as fourth president of Panama for the remainder of Obaldía’s term. Porras replaced Carlos Arosemena as minister on the understanding that he would be the Liberal candidate in the 1912 election" (page 127).


Major 1993: "Having sampled the power of the ‘presidencia,’ [Arosemena] planned to take six months’ leave of absence in the first half of 1912 to make himself constitutionally eligible for election. Porras, enraged that Arosemena had gone back on their deal, returned to claim his promised nomination" (page 127).


June 30: municipal election

McCain 1967: The municipal elections are held June 30, 1912 (page 72). "In spite of all the efforts of the party in power, the Porras [Liberal] candidates were successful in the municipal election."

July 14: General election (Porras / Liberal)

LaFeber 1989: In 1912 "180 North American election supervisors ineffectively attempted to reduce vote fraud as another Liberal candidate, Belisario Porras, triumphed" (page 55).

Major 1993: "Arosemena disqualified himself by taking his leave a month too late, and when Ricardo Arias refused to fight, the relatively unknown Pedro Díaz was left to carry the Conservative banner against Porras as the Liberal nominee. Through all this confusion both sides besieged Taft with pleas for intervention...Díaz pulled out, and the election went to Porras unopposed" (page 127).

McCain 1967: In 1912, a "fierce presidential contest arose between the ‘Unión Patriótica,’ composed mostly of the Conservatives in power who backed Pedro A. Díaz, and the Liberal opposition which supported Belisario Porras. The Liberals appealed to the United States to supervise registration and the municipal and national elections of June 30 and July 14" (page 72). Describes U.S. involvement in the election (pages 72-73).


Conte-Porras 1980: "(E)l día 2 de Agosto de 1912 [Belisario Porras] fue elegido Presidente de la República por unanimidad por la Asamblea de Electores" (page 234).


Taplin 1972: August 15, 1914 is the official opening of the Panama Canal (page 35).


June: presidential election (Valdés / Liberal)

Conte-Porras 1980: "Se presentaron dos candidatos presidenciales a la campaña electoral, Rodolfo Chiari por el Partido Liberal Chiarista y Ramón M. Valdés por el Partido Liberal Porrista" (page 235).

Gandásegui 1989: Ramón Valdés (Liberal) is elected in 1916 (page 53).

LaFeber 1989: "In 1916...Porras asked Washington to stay out. The opposition pleaded for more United States supervisors to prevent the President from fixing the results. The Woodrow Wilson administration cooperated with Porras and his party easily won" (page 55).

Major 1993: "The presidential election was by now well established as a quadrennial pain for Washington, and the 1916 contest was no exception. The battle lines were drawn almost a year in advance, with Ramon Valdés running as Porras’s handpicked successor against the Liberal dissident Rodolfo Chiari" (page 133). Describes State Department support of Ricardo Arias. "But though the Arias solution was given official backing, it was doomed from the start. It depended on Valdés agreement to stand down, and that in turn hinged on a U.S. declaration that the poll would be supervised. When the decision was taken not to go through with supervision, Valdés knew he was home and dry. Chiari withdrew, and for the third election in a row the Panamanian presidency was filled by a walkover" (page 134).

McCain 1967: "In 1916 the factions of the Liberal and Conservative parties which supported Rodolfo Chiari, the opposition candidate for president, asked for electoral supervision similar to that of 1912...Despite the assurance of Porras that the election would be fair, the opposition refused to attend the polls. A riot marred the election of June 25, but the massing of American forces on the boundary line probably prevented further trouble. Ramón M. Valdés, the government candidate, was elected president without opposition" (page 73).



Major 1993: "On 4 June the sudden death of President Valdés triggered a political earthquake. Elections for the National Assembly were due on 7 July, and the Assembly would choose the man to see out the remainder of Valdés’s term. In panic the government deferred the poll indefinitely" (page 138).

McCain 1967: "President Valdés died on June 3, and Ciro L. Urriola, the first ‘designado,’ succeeded him. The new administration probably feared that it would be unable to gain a majority in the National Assembly, and issued a decree postponing the municipal and the national elections. The Washington government expressed doubt as to the constitutionality of the decree and, invoking Article 136 of the constitution, asked that it be withdrawn" (page 73).

June 30: municipal election

McCain 1967: "The municipal elections of June 30 were held without disorder" (page 74).

July: congressional election

Major 1993: "After an election held under American supervision, preliminary returns gave the opposition twenty seats in the Assembly to the government’s thirteen. The way thus seemed clear for an opposition candidate to be selected as president, most likely Ricardo Arias...With the State Department’s blessing, Porras became president of Panama for the second time" (page 139).

McCain 1967: "The opposition gained a majority in the National Assembly, but the government contested a number of decisions and requested that the American electoral commission decide the disputes. Toward the end of August the American chargé gave a partial report of the findings of the committee and urged the National Assembly to elect Ricardo Arias president. The final judgment was that the government had won a majority of the National Assembly" (page 74).

Porras 1987: Reprints letters from the author to various U.S. government officials in regard to the July 7, 1918 elections. Lists districts in different provinces where elections were annulled, largely those where the Liberal Party had a majority (pages 158-160).


August: presidential election (Porras / Liberal)

Conte-Porras 1980: "El Dr. Ciro Urriola solicitó la supervisión electoral por parte de los Estados Unidos aduciendo que las elecciones serían una farsa. Porras concurrió a las urnas practicamente sin oposición, Urriola casi no recibió votos a su favor. Las elecciones se llevaron a cabo el día 2 de Agosto de 1920" (page 235). "Belisario Porras obtuvo 17,266 votos a su favor, además de 702 votos en Bocas del Toro y 504 en la Provincia de Darién. Por primera vez en la historia política del país los sufragantes eligieron en forma directa al Presidente de la República" (page 236).

Major 1993: "In January 1920 President Porras resigned to stand for election in July. Convinced that the ballot would be rigged, supporters of his opponent, Ciro Urriola, repeatedly petitioned for U.S. supervision, only to be told the answer was no. Faced with this political death sentence, Urriola pulled out. Porras again entered office by a walkover" (page 141).

McCain 1967: "Porras was elected almost unanimously in one of the quietest elections in the history of the republic" (page 75). "Porras...obtained only twenty thousand votes."

Schooley 1987: "In 1920 and 1924 the opposition candidates requested US electoral supervision in an attempt to counter the influence of Porras, while in 1928 Porras himself requested US supervision; in each case such US assistance was refused, however" (pages 110-111).


Ropp 1984: On August 19, 1923, Community Action "was formed to wage the battle for political and economic participation and also to raise national consciousness concerning what was perceived as the denigration of national Hispanic culture" (page 234).


September: presidential election (Chiari / Liberal)

Conte-Porras 1980: "Las elecciones populares se levaron a cabo el día 2 de Septiembre de 1924...Tanto en las elecciones del año de 1920 como en las de 1924 se registró un alto ausentismo" (page 236). Gives the number of votes by department for each candidate.

McCain 1967: "The Washington government remained aloof and permitted the Panamanians to manage their own affairs. Rodolfo Chiari, the Liberal candidate, defeated General Manuel Quintero V., the commander of the Panamanian army at Coto and the leader of the opposition, for the presidency in an election of ‘orden perfecto’" (page 75).

Pearcy 1998: "One practice that grew out of [the struggle for control of the electoral board] was the ‘paquetazo,’ which amounted to stuffing the ballot boxes with ghost votes..., thereby giving the party that controlled the board a landslide victory in a particularly difficult to monitor, remote part of the country. One of the more blatant cases occurred in 1924...Chiari, the administration’s hand-picked candidate, easily won the 1924 election, including a landslide margin among the indigenous people of San Blas. There police intimidation resulted in a margin of 594 to 17 in favor of Chiari" (page 42).


August: presidential election (Arosemena / Liberal)

Conte-Porras 1980: "El Ing. Arosemena concurrió a las urnas el día de Agosto de 1928 sin adversario, el resultado de las elecciones le dió un márgen de más de 40.000 sufragantes a su favor" (page 237).

Linares 1990: Describes the issues involved in the campaign and election of 1928. "Para las elecciones de 1928 el liberalismo se hallaba profunda e irreconciliablemente dividido en chiaristas y porristas" (page 47).

Major 1993: In the August election the two candidates were "Florencio Arosemena, Chiari’s straw man, and Jorge Boyd, the stand-in for Porras" (page 153). "Boyd, in Washington to make a personal appeal for intervention, did not bother to return home for the contest, and Arosemena won hands down" (pages 153-154).

McCain 1967: "The election passed quietly on August 5. The Liberal candidate, Florencio H. Arosemena, supported by the Chiari administration, was elected almost unanimously with over forty thousand votes" (page 77).

Pearcy 1998: "In 1928 President Chiari...wrested control of the Liberal party apparatus from Belisario Porras. The president also controlled four of seven posts on the nation’s electoral board. The combination of these two factors gave Chiari nearly insurmountable powers, by severely curbing his opponents’ ability to compete effectively in elections" (page 55).


Zimbalist 1991: "By 1930 the Liberal and Conservative parties...had lost the ability to perpetuate their rule through elections...(T)he political facade of the commercial and business classes collapesd before the onslaught of middle-class nationalists, led by Harmodio and Arnulfo Arias. Elections were acutely problematical for the Panamanian ruling class because it lacked either the repressive force or sustaining ideology to manage them" (page 13).