Son of popular leader elected president of Panama

Martin Torrijos, son of Gen. Omar who ruled the Central American nation from 1968 to 1981 and recovered the Canal from US hands, won the presidential race leading a center-left coalition.

Torrijos is the new President of Panama. What could have been the dream of hundreds of thousands of poor Panamanians, became true last weekend, but a generation after. Martin Torrijos, the son of the popular Army General that ruled this Central American nation from 1968 until his death in a strange plane crash in 1981, has been elected president after obtaining almost 50% of the votes.

Martin Torrijos, 40, not only is the heir of his father’s surname, but also of the political party he created by the time he smartly negotiated a treaty by which the United States, under Jimmy Carter’s administration, returned to Panama the control over the transoceanic canal. That happened in 1977; four years later, by the time the White House was ruled by the bellicose Space Cowboy, Ronald Reagan, Torrijos dies in a plane crash, which has been attributed to an undercover operation masterminded by the CIA.

The victory of Torrijos could mean the end of 23 years of US control over the politics and the public life of the Panamian state, which included the butchery of 1989. That year, while the foreign media was busy making up stories about supposed massacres in Rumania, US marines invaded Panama to overthrow the government of General Manuel Noriega, a CIA agent with links to the drug trafficking that replaced Torrijos after his death and turned into a nationalistic leader.

After the invasion that left 4,000 Panamanians killed, the lack of restrictions to cash flow made of Panama a paradise for investors and speculators, while most of the people still lives in poverty.

Martin Torrijos, who was educated in the United States, campaigned skilfully as both a reverent son and the leader of a new generation of Panamanian politicians. In ghettos and among rural peasants, he embraced the memories of his father as a champion of the poor and the visionary who negotiated the Canal treaty. Torrijos pledged to keep up the fight against the corruption and unequal distribution of wealth that has plagued Panama through most of its 100-year history.  

Panama obtained its independence from Colombia on November 3rd 1903, with the help of the United States of America. Before that date Panamanians did not take very seriously their will for independence. However, Colombian opposition to the US construction of a Canal on the thin piece of land where today Panama is, surprisingly revived their "National Spirit". When Panama declared independence, Washington was the first country in recognizing it and the new Panamanian authorities thanked this attitude by handing over the territory where the Canal was finally constructed, only fifteen days later. By that time, Panama did not even had a Constitution to state how this new country was supposed to be named.

Since then, Panama's internal affairs started being handled from Washington and controlled by its tiny European elite, less than 10% of the population. Things changed in 1968, when Omar Torrijos, a populist general, led a coup that allowed the black and mestizo [mixed-race] poor to obtain at least a share of the power under his military dictatorship.