Historians generally understand that during the colonial period Panama served as the principal crossroads for trade, both legal and illegal, between the Spanish Atlantic world and the Pacific coast of South America. After 1597, Portobelo was Spain's terminus on the Caribbean side of the commercial system, supplied until 1717 by the Galeones emanating from Seville and after 1717 from Cádiz. It connected overland to Panama City on the Pacific Ocean. Over the years, massive amounts of Peruvian silver crossed the isthmus to finance the fairs celebrated in Portobelo or for remission directly to the royal treasury in Spain. However, the historiography on this vital Panamanian seaport has been scant, despite its importance to the Spanish empire and world economic system. Alfredo Castillero Calvo's admirable, exhaustive two-volume work fills the void.

Castillero Calvo is the ideal person for the task. Dean of Panamanian...

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