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INDEPENDENCE

By JHON
Visit (4381 times)

In 1819 the liberation of New Granada was achieved, finally gaining its freedom from Spain. Panama and the other regions of former New Granada were therefore technically free. Panama weighed its options carefully as it considered union with Peru or with Central America in federations that were emerging in the region. Finally it was won over by Venezuela's Simon Bolivar, who's ambitious project of a Gran Colombia (1819-1830) was beginning to take shape. Then, timing the action with the rest of the Central American isthmus, Panama declared its independence in 1821 and joined the southern federation. As the isthmus' central interoceanic traffic zone, as well as the City of Panama had been of great historical importance to the Spanish Empire and subject of direct influence, so, the differences in social and economic status between the more liberal region of Azuero, and the much more royalist and conservative area of Veraguas displayed contrasting loyalties. When the Grito de la Villa de Los Santos independence motion occurred, Veraguas firmly opposed it.

Origin of the movement:
The Panamanian movement for independence can be indirectly attributed to the abolishment of the encomienda system in Azuero, set forth by the Spanish Crown, in 1558 due to repeated protests by locals against the mistreatment of the native population. In its stead, a system of medium and smaller-sized landownership was promoted, thus taking away the power from the large landowners and into the hands of medium and small sized proprietors.
The end of the encomienda system in Azuero, however, sparked the conquest of Veraguas in that same year. Under the leadership of Francisco Vázquez, the region of Veraguas passed into Castillan rule in 1558. In the newly conquered region, the old system of encomienda was imposed.

Arrival of the printing press:
After the region of Veraguas was conquered, the two regions settled for a mutual dislike of each other. To the inhabitants of Azuero, their region was symbolic of the power of the people, while Veraguas represented an old, oppressive order. Diametrically, to the inhabitants of Veraguas, their region was a bastion of loyalty and morality, while Azuero was a hotbed for vice and treason.
The tension between the two regions finally peaked when the first printing press arrived in Panama in 1820. Under the guidance of José María Goitía, the printing press was utilized to create a newspaper called La Miscelánea. Panamanians Mariano Arosemena, Manuel María Ayala, and Juan José Calvo, as well as Colombian Juan José Argote, formed the writing team of the new newspaper, whose stories would circulate throughout every town in the isthmus.
The newspaper was put to use in the service of the cause of independence. It circulated stories expounding the virtues of liberty, independence, and the teachings of the French Revolution, as well as stories of the great battles of BolĂ­var, the emancipation of the United States from their British masters, and the greatness of men such as Santander, Jose MartĂ­, and other such messengers of freedom.
Due to the narrow area of circulation, those in the capital were able to transmit these intoxicating ideals to other such separatists, such as those in Azuero. In Veraguas, however, there remained a strict sense of submission to the Spanish Crown.

José de Fábrega:
On November 10, 1821, the Grito de La Villa de Los Santos occurred. It was a unilateral decision by the residents of Azuero (without backing from Panama City) to declare their separation from the Spanish Empire. In both Veraguas and the capital this act was met with disdain, although on differing levels of said emotion. To Veraguas, it was the ultimate act of treason, while to the capital, it was seen as inefficient and irregular, and furthermore forced them to accelerate their plans.
The Grito was an event that shook the isthmus to the core. It was a sign, on the part of the residents of Azuero, of their antagonism towards the independence movement in the capital, who in turn regarded the Azueran movement with contempt, since they (the capital movement) believed that their counterparts were fighting their right to rule, once the peninsulares (peninsular-born) were long gone.
It was, as well, an incredibly brave move on the part of Azuero, which lived in fear of Colonel José de Fábrega, and with good reason: the Colonel was a staunch loyalist, and had the entirety of the isthmus' military supplies in his hands. They feared quick retaliation and swift retribution against the separatists.
What they had not counted on, however, was the influence of the separatists in the capital. Ever since October 1821, when the former Governor General, Juan de la Cruz Murgeón, left the isthmus on a campaign in Quito and left the Veraguan colonel in charge, the separatists had been slowly converting Fábrega to the separatist side. As such, by November 10, Fábrega was now a supporter of the independence movement. Soon after the separatist declaration of Los Santos, Fábrega convened every organization in the capital with separatist interests and formally declared the city's support for independence. No military repercussions occurred due to the skillful bribing of royalist troops.
Having sealed the fate of the Spanish Crown's rule in Panama with his defection, Jóse de Fábrega now collaborated with the separatists in the capital to bring about a national assembly, where the fate of the country would be decided. Every region in Panama attended the assembly, including the former loyalist region of Veraguas, which was eventually convinced to join the revolution, out of the sheer fact that nothing more could be done for the royalist presence in Panama. Thus, on November 28, 1821, the national assembly was convened and it was officially declared (through Fábrega, who was invested with the title of Head of State of Panama) that the isthmus of Panama had severed its ties with the Spanish Empire and its decision to join New Granada and Venezuela in Bolivar's recently founded Republic of Colombia.

Posterior to the act, Fábrega wrote to Bolívar of the event, saying:
"Exalted Sir, I have the pleasure to communicate to Your Excellency the praiseworthy news of the Isthmus' decision of independence from Spanish dominion. The town of Los Santos, to the comprehension of this Province, was the first town to pronounce with enthusiasm the sacred name of Liberty and immediately almost every other town imitated their glorious example... Inasmuch as I am concerned, Most Excellent Sir, the effusion of my gratitude is inexplicable, at having had the unique satisfaction capable of filling the human heart, as is to deserve the public confidence in circumstances so critical to govern the independent Isthmus; and I can only correspond to such high distinction with the sacrifices I am willing to make since I devoted myself, as it wished, to the mother country that has seen me be born and to who I owe all that I own..."

BĂłlivar, in turn, replied,
"It is not possible to me to express the feeling of joy and admiration that I have experimented to the knowledge that Panama, the center of the Universe, is segregated by itself and freed by its own virtue. The act of independence of Panama is the monument most glorious that any American province can give. Everything there is addressed; justice, generosity, policy and national interest. Transmit, then, you to those meritorious Colombians the tribute of my enthusiasm by their pure patriotism and true actions..."

Panama and Colombia:
Bolivar, well aware of geographical obstacles but also of the unique qualities and critical role in trade throughout history and under Spanish tutelage, had hesitated to include Panama in his Gran Colombia project. Besides the geographical argument, there was the fact that Simon Bolivar's actions had been the decisive military factor in the independence of Venezuela, New Granada and Ecuador, while his role in Panama's independence was none. Thus, while Bolivar knew that the nation of Panama was linked historically and culturally to South America, he was also conscious of the fact that the region was part of the Central American geography. This view is clearly seen in some of his famous documents and quotes such as his Carta de Jamaica (1815):

"The Isthmian States, from Panama to Guatemala, will perhaps form an association. This magnificent position between the two great oceans could with time become the emporium of the universe. Its canals will shorten the distances of the world: they will narrow commercial ties between Europe, America and Asia; and bring to such fortunate region the tributes of the four parts of the globe. Perhaps some day only there could the capital of the world be established!
New Granada will join Venezuela, if they convene to form a new republic, their capital will be Maracaibo..This great nation would be called Colombia in tribute to the justice and gratitude of the creator of our hemisphere."

Nevertheless in 1821, convinced that under Bolivar's leadership the nation's destiny would move in the most progressive direction, the Isthmus joined Venezuela, New Granada (present day Colombia) and latter Ecuador, in 1822. The Republic of Colombia (1819-1830) or 'Gran Colombia' as it began to be called only after 1886, more or less corresponded in territory to the old colonial administrative district called the Viceroyalty of New Granada (1717-1819). While Panama had also been included in the Viceroyalty during the colonial period, the Isthmus' economic and political ties had been much closer, for all practical purposes, to the Viceroyalty of Peru (1542-1821).
In September 1830, under the guidance of General José Domingo Espinar, the local military commander who rebelled against the nation's central government in response to his being transferred to another command, Panama separated from the Republic of Colombia and requested that general Simón Bolívar take direct command of the Isthmus Department. It made this a condition to its reunification with the rest of the country. Bolívar rejected Espinar's actions, and though he did not assume control of the isthmus as he desired, he called for Panama to rejoin the central state. Because of the overall political tension, Republic of Colombia's final days were approaching. Bolívar's vision for territorial unity disintegrated finally when General Juan Eligio Alzuru undertook a military coup against Espinar's authority. By early 1831, with order restored, Panama reincorporated itself to what was left of the republic -forming a territory now slightly larger than present day Panama and Colombia combined- which by then had adopted the name of Republic of New Granada. The alliance of the two nations would last seventy years and prove precarious.

 

Also see:

Independence of Mexico
History of Bolivia
Regions of Chile


 
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