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Impressions of Panama

For obvious reasons, Panama is usually associated with the Panama Canal, dug in 1904, an engineering masterpiece offering a massive shortcut on the maritime route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The Canal is also the basis on which Panama obtained independence: whereas in 1821 Panama had voluntarily joined the República de Gran Colombia in a union with present day Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and some other adjacent territories, and had later also stayed behind in a union with only Colombia, it finally seceded unilaterally from the latter in 1903, when concrete plans to dig an inter-oceanic canal with the help of the United States, met heavy opposition from Bogotá. By 1914, the Panama Canal was a fact, but it took until the year 2000 for Panama to recover full sovereignty over it. Until then, the US flag had been waving high on the Canal shores. This also explains why Panama has a distinct US flavour to its contemporary society, atmosphere and urban skyscraper architecture, in spite of a long historical background of Spanish colonisation. The symbiosis of Spanish colonial traces and American modernity is nowhere in Latin America more visible, nowhere more marked than in Panama. That Panama does not have its own national currency and, instead, entirely relies on US dollar circulation, merely symbolises the country’s deeper nature of a rather strongly Americanised society. It is in these conditions all the more fascinating to discover Panama, both in its present day dimension and in the depths of its Hispanic past. It’s just too bad that this Hispanic past hardly spared anything of earlier Isthmian civilisation. And it’s also too bad that I owe you a proper heading in this report on the magnificent nature of rainforests and seascapes, which Panama has on offer and for which I simply had no time during my visit. As I write, I am adding it to my hopelessly growing bucket list of future destinations and travel plans...

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