Mutterings of Separation

Talk of separation bobbed to the surface repeatedly during the interval of eighty or more years between Panama's independence from Spain, and the secession movement of 1903.   The tie that bound her to the Granadine Confederation, and later to Colombia had always been a galling one.  It was continually a game of give and take, with Panama in the charity role.

The people of the Isthmus were not long in sizing up the situation, and as early as 1827 started a separation movement, which had for its aim annexation with Great Britain.   The prime movers of this, set forth the fact that the commercial relations of Panama with the interior departments of Colombia amounted to but little; natural barriers preventing free intercourse, and complained that the inhabitants of the southern part of the republic treated the people of the Isthmus as foreigners and preyed on their commerce.   Before the movement had gained much headway however, the patriot, Bolivar stepped into the breach and pacified the secessionists.

The next attempt at separation occurred on November 18, 1840 when the people of the city of Panama, under the leadership of Colonel Tomas Herrera arose en masse and proclaimed their independence.  Inasmuch as the civil head of the isthmus, Dr. Carlos de Icaza, was himself in sympathy with the movement, not opposition was offered by the authorities.

Dr. Rufino Cuervo, at that time Minister of Colombia at Quito, hearing of what was going on in Panama sent Colonel Anselmo Pineda and Dr. Ricardo de la Parra there with the object of discouraging the movement, and to reincorporate the Isthmus into the Granadine Confederation.  The commissioners promised a much better administration of affairs in which Panama was concerned, and full amnesty for those connected with the separation plot.   In view of the fact that these promises were backed by guarantees from Dr. Cuervo, General Juan José Flores, and the President of Ecuador, the people of the Isthmus entered into a new treaty on December 31, 1841, by which Panama once more became a member of the New Granadian League.

In March 1842, Domingo Caicedo, then Vice-President of New Granada, repudiated this treaty, claiming that Dr. Cuervo and Dr. Parra had exceeded their powers, and in the same year the Granadian Congress repudiated the law granting amnesty to the Panameños.  Many of the latter to avoid persecution were forced to expatriate themselves.

Another agitation for independence was started in 1860, fostered by José de Obaldia, then Governor.  At this period New Granada was badly disorganized, having just been racked by civil war, which resulted in the proclaiming of Tomas Cipriano Mosquera, dictator.  Obaldia thought the time propitious and announced his intentions to the Bogota Government, advising that it was proposed to set up an establishment under the protectorate of either the United States, France or England.   At this juncture, Obaldia was succeeded by Santiago de la Guardia, as Governor, and the latter neglected to follow up the advantage.  Mosquera by this time had gotten his political affairs straightened out somewhat, and turned his attention to the Isthmus.   In 1861, he sent a deputy to Colon to meet the Isthmians and arrange a new treaty which provided for more promises and guarantees, but in less than a year Mosquera saw fit to repudiate the agreement.

On February 27, 1855, the Government of New Granada conferred on the Isthmus, the title of "State of Panama," and the rights and privileges of a sovereign state, a distinction not shared in by the other provinces of the Republic.  It is doubtful however, if this act ever resulted in any benefit, direct or indirect, to the people of Panama.

From: The Canal Zone Pilot
The Star & Herald Company, 1908

January 29, 2001