Panama, like the rest of Latin America, has had a conflicted and often
violent relationship with the United States since the early nineteenth
century. As close as it has been, the relationship has also left a legacy—
surprising only in appearance—of mutual ignorance on both sides.
From that perspective, the need should be evident to know and make
known the ways that the United States has seen Panama in the past in
order to understand better both the function that vision has had in U.S.
behavior in Panama, as well as the role it has played in forming and
developing some of our own perceptions about Panama’s past and
A substantial part of the U.S. vision is found in the interpretations
articulated by U.S. authors of Panamanian reality and of the relation-
ship between the two countries. Even if such writing—of good, bad, or
weak quality—is very abundant, only a few works are available in
Spanish and in Panama. These include The Land Divided by Gerstle
Mack; The Path between the Seas by David McCullough; and The
People of Panama by John and Mavis Biesanz. Even this limited num-
ber of books is characteristic in more than one sense. The first two
works have the Panama Canal as their true protagonist and treat Pan-
ama only as a physical setting and part of the circumstance of that
engineering project. The third was conceived as a manual for soldiers
and officials stationed in the so-called Canal Zone in the early 1950s to
know and deal with that external circumstance.
Only recently have we found a new current in this field, beginning
with authors such as John Lindsay-Poland and the environmental his-
torian Paul Sutter, whose essay on U.S. sanitation policy during the
construction of the Panama Canal was published in Spanish in Pan-
ama by the journal Tareas. These writers seem to be characterized by a
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