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History, Loss of Panama

Isthmus of Panama, worldwide depression, sickness benefits, Pacific oceans, constitutional amendments

In 1903 the Colombian Senate refused to ratify the Hay-Herran Treaty, which provided for the lease of a strip of territory across the Isthmus of Panama to the United States for the purpose of building a canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. A revolt broke out in Panama. Armed forces from the United States intervened to prevent Colombian troops from suppressing the uprising, and the United States recognized Panama as an independent state. The resulting strained relations between Colombia and the United States were not resolved until 1921, when the Thomson-Urrutia Treaty guaranteed a large U.S. cash reparation to Colombia.

The loss of Panama, coming right after the bitter civil war, helped change the political climate after 1903. Under Conservative general Rafael Reyes, president from 1904 to 1909, the country became more stable. In the course of his regime, Reyes improved the country’s finances, expanded roads and railroads, and encouraged increased coffee production. Large U.S. investments and purchases of coffee and minerals contributed to Colombia’s economic growth. However, Reyes ruled as a dictator. He dissolved the congress and replaced it with a handpicked legislature, jailed and exiled political opponents, and declared martial law.

Five Conservative presidents succeeded Reyes, holding the presidency for Conservatives until 1930. Political life became more responsible with more honest elections and a freer press. However, there was social unrest. Workers began agitating for better conditions. In 1928 banana plantation workers rebelled, and the government suppressed them by force. In 1929 the price of coffee fell sharply, and Colombia began to suffer from the worldwide depression.

The economic crisis weakened the Conservatives, and in 1930 power was peacefully transferred to the Liberals, who stressed economic and social reform. In 1936 constitutional amendments gave the government power to regulate privately owned property in the national interest; established the right of workers to strike, subject to legal regulation; removed Roman Catholicism from its position as the official state religion; and moved control of public education from the church to the government. A new labor code adopted in 1944 provided for minimum wage scales, paid vacations and holidays, accident and sickness benefits, and the right for workers to organize.



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