Alternative routes were developed on the isthmus to transport gold and silver from Peruvian mines to the Motherland (Spain) during the colonial years of 1501-1821. The Trail of Crosses was used during this colonial period, and fairs were held in what is now the city of Portobelo, a truly global marketplace of the era.
While Panama was in a union with Colombia, the California gold rush called for the construction of the pan-isthmus railroad, thus opening a new route for the transportation of merchandise and passengers.
During this period of world history, the only way to cross from the Atlantic to the Pacific was past the dangerous Cape Horn in southern Chile. In search of a new route, as demanded by the same logic that led to mass manufacturing and upon the modernization of cross-oceanic shipping, it was nearly obligatory to construct a canal across the isthmus.
The French were the first to attempt to build a canal, in the late 19th century. Their failure to do so, far from being a tragedy for Panama, forced the French to sell and negotiate the canal construction with the Americans. This is turn led to Panama's separation from Colombia, due to three factors: the Colombian veto on the Herrán-Hay treaty, the diplomatic cunning of Philippe Jean Bunau -Varilla, and the opportunism of an oligarchic and commercial elite class who wanted to increase their social and political sway.
By the time the Ancón steamship went on its inaugural crossing of the interoceanic Canal in 1914, not only had the Canal Zone changed the geopolitical face of the isthmus, but also its society and, above all, its nature of dependency on the northern giant. Although I would be hesitant to state that Panama became a U.S. colony, it must be recognized that national history irrefutably demonstrates, through its innumerable treaties with this country, a social, economic, political, and geographic dependency.
Now, this uncomfortable relationship with the United States sparked what the country refers to as its 'struggle for sovereignty', the true motor of what it means to be Panamanian. Indeed, it created a certain collective consciousness among Panamanians, forged bonds between citizens, and constructed a significant national imagination, as evidenced historically through the patriotic, political, and civic movements predominant in the 1960s and '70s that sociologically agglutinated the patriotic sentiments of all social classes.
Moreover, this bond added four elements that were philosophically important to our Panamanian identity and key factors in the country's progress: Anglo-Saxon pragmatism, the idea of utilitarianism, the notion of freedom, and a concept of citizenship.
Upon such reflection, I can conclude that Panama has been the product of its colonial heritage. This was the basis for not only its international relations in the global system, but also constituted its commercial nature on socio- philosophical premises that placed it, since its colonial and postcolonial inception, firmly in modernity.
Therefore, the argument that this colonial and postcolonial legacy has created structural dependence in our country not only implies an awareness of the negative aspects, but also recognition that this heritage formed us into who we are: a modern, enterprising, and dynamic nation at the dawn of the 21st century.