Christopher Columbus was the first to discover Panama, arriving in 1492. In 1513, Vasco Nunez de Balboa discovered the Pacific, or south Sea. Panama named its currency as well as one of the main avenues in the city after him.

In 1519 the first city on the Pacific side of the Americas was founded, Panama la Vieja. The founder was Spaniard Pedro Arias Davila. Panama was already a city of trade at that time. Due to its strategic position, Panama has always been a center for trade.

In 1671, pirate Henry Morgan sacked and burned Panama, forcing the city to be moved 10 kilometers from the original site to a more secure, rocky peninsula, now known as San Felipe or Casco Viejo.

From 1673 to 1821 Panama was a Colony of Spain. It broke with Spain in 1821 and joined a union of Nueva Granada, Ecuador, and Venezuela named the Republic of Gran Colombia. When Gran Colombia dissolved in 1831, Panama and Nueva Granada remained joined. Nueva Granada later became the Republic of Colombia. With the backing of the United States, Panama seceded from Colombia in 1903, allowing the Panama Canal to be built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers between 1904 and 1914. In 1977, an agreement was signed for the total transfer of the Canal from the United States to Panama by the end of the 20th century, which culminated on 31 December 1999.

Panama’s current politics take place in a framework of a presidential representative democratic republic, whereby the President of Panama is both head of state and head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the National Assembly. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.

Panama has successfully completed four peaceful transfers of power to opposing political factions. Panama’s most recent national elections occurred on May 4, 2014 with Incumbent Vice-President Juan Carlos Varela declared the victor.

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