After the insulting flag incident of January 1964, all Panamanians angrily demanded the end of a humiliating dependency upon the United States—an objective that has been dramatized in the recent Canal treaties. Determined to fashion their own future as a modern nation, Panamanians have insisted upon real independence.
In a context of overwhelming nationalism, Panama’s leaders have nurtured a strong alliance with urban and rural workers. The author, a French political scientist who has studied agrarian reform in Colombia, believes that the alliance in question constitutes the most significant political development since 1968 when the National Guard denied Arnulfo Arias the presidency. General Omar Torrijos, in particular, has fostered the guard’s identification with the peasantry, and rural workers in turn have collaborated actively in the agrarian reform program.
The enormous amount of statistical information in this study is augmented by many charts and analyses concerning the varied existence of Panama since 1903. The historical references are sound, the recent literature of social scientists is cited, and the conclusions are challenging. Given the nature of the documentation—most of it is official—they are perhaps overstated. More interviews would have been useful. Gilhodes has nonetheless written an informative monograph about a complex little nation in a strategic part of the world.
An enigma of sorts, at least in this treatment, Torrijos had personal motives for stopping the volatile Arias. Since the failure of the coup to unseat Torrijos in 1969, the strongman has consciously worked to change the guard’s national image. He moved its headquarters to Río Hato and he associated the guardsmen with the reform program in the countryside, thus hoping to blot out the inconsistencies of the past. Powerful foreign and local interests have not been quiescent, however, and Torrijos, on occasion, has had to backtrack in the face of realities. The advances of the “revolution” therefore are not irreversible, Gilhodes concludes. In addition, the author provides us with meaningful insights into the psychology of the National Guard and of the peasantry, claiming that both bodies differ from similar institutions in Latin America. Future investigators will have to deal with this contention. Convenient appendixes bring the story up to 1978. The second piece on “The Banana War” (1974-1975) describes Panama’s fierce resistance to pressures from the U.S. government and from the multinational banana interests, compelling her to assume a leading role among banana-exporting countries.