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History, Colombian Rule

Latin American independence, Panamanians, rising power, Colombians, preferred route

In the early 1800s Spainís American empire broke apart as the movement for Latin American independence swept through the colonies. Panama declared independence from Spain in 1821 and decided to become part of the newly independent Republic of Colombia. For the next 82 years the Panamanians lived in uneasy isolation from the central government, often making their own laws, frequently staging revolts, and occasionally declaring their independence. They grew apart culturally and materially from the rest of Colombia, becoming less religious, more liberal in politics, and more open to outside influences than Colombians.

By the mid-1800s events from beyond the region began to affect Panama. The dominant maritime power of the age, Britain, and the rising power in the hemisphere, the United States, began to compete for the rights to control transit across Central America. The preferred route for a canal was in either Panama or Nicaragua. American businessmen took the lead in 1848 when they gained rights to build a railroad across Panama, which was completed in 1855. The discovery of gold in California brought a flood of prospectors seeking quick access, and for years the Panama Railroad was the most profitable in the world. Businesses to serve travelers flourished, providing a boom for Panamanian merchants.

With the railroad came U.S. intervention. Rebellions against Colombian rule and violence between local factions occurred frequently. In addition, an increase in the number of U.S. citizens and businesses created tensions with Panamanians. During this period the United States frequently sent its Marines to Panama to preserve law and order and to protect U.S. lives and property. Although still a province of Colombia, Panama was on its way to becoming a U.S. protectorate.

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