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  • Colombia and Panamá: La metamorfosis de la nación en el siglo XX
  • Mary Roldán
Colombia and Panamá: La metamorfosis de la nación en el siglo XX. Edited by Heraclio Bonilla and Gustavo Montañez. Bogotá: Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 2004. Pp. 463. Illustrations. Tables. Figures. Notes. Bibliographies. Appendix. No price.

The loss of Panama is often figured as a watershed in Colombian national history, a humiliating and sobering turning point that some scholars have contended had consequences so far-reaching as to have prompted Colombia's leaders to initiate reforms during the first three decades of the twentieth century to preempt future devastating dismemberments of the nation's geo-body. Yet, as the editors of this collection [End Page 289] point out, despite the arguably crucial significance of Panama's separation and its consequences, surprisingly little published work exists examining the relationship between Colombia and its former region during the nineteenth century or the impact of Panamanian independence on the two countries. The present volume represents a long overdue attempt to correct this gap in the historical literature.

The book is divided into five parts with essays exploring different aspects of the Panama/Colombia relationship written by scholars of both Panama and Colombia. The first part examines the geographic, political and social antecedents to Panamanian independence; the second, the immediate consequences of Panama's break away from Colombia; Part III examines Panama within a broader international context; Part IV the way the issue of Panamanian separation has been analyzed in the extant historiography; and finally, Part V grapples with the "imaginaries" constructed around Panama's separation from Colombia.

Heraclio Bonilla introduces this collection with a brief, but useful discussion of the ethnic, economic and political differences that helped shape Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador's distinct national trajectories and the internal dynamic of national/regional conflict during the crucial "long nineteenth century" that is the book's temporal focus. The exaggerated strength of regional identities coupled with the weakness of the national state and its variable ability to exert effectively its authority throughout the Colombian territory, made the eventual loss of Panama, if not inevitable, unsurprising. Panama—as several of the essays in the collection effectively demonstrate—was always Colombia's most geographically distant, difficult to administer, and expensive to maintain region.

Like many collections that grow out of a conference, the quality and cohesiveness across chapters varies. Marta Herrera's overview of pre-hispanic and colonial Panama, for instance, employs deconstructionist readings of colonial texts and the analytical concepts of historical geography to effectively challenge certain beliefs used to explain Panama and the Portobello Fair's decline. Herrera persuasively argues that the negative conditions attributed to Panama such as an insalubrious climate, a depleted environment and endemic disease were not inherent, but in large measure the result of invasion and colonial policies. A rather large historical gap occurs between the time period of Herrera's essay and the essays that follow, whose focus is on the second half of the nineteenth century. One wonders what the impact of revolutionary ideas during the struggle for independence might have been on Panama and how Atlantic connections may have helped shape local attitudes, identities and loyalties. Armando Martinez Garnica's examination of the role Panamanian Liberals played in shaping Colombian government policies in the mid-nineteenth century suggests that participation in the wars of independence as well as Panamanians' role in suppressing uprisings in other Colombian regions over the course of the nineteenth century created important bonds of party loyalty and cross-regional alliances with wide-ranging effects on Panamanian political influence in Bogotá. [End Page 290]

The last two parts of the book include suggestive and novel essays covering issues as diverse as Charles Bergquist's brief, but provocative exploration of the social origins of North American imperialism implicit in the separation of Panama, Carlos Miguel Ortiz's essay on the legacy of Panamanian independence on the colonization of frontier regions such as Urabá and the Darien between 1950 and 1990, and Luz Angela Nuñez's exploration of the perception of Panama's separation through Colombian political cartoons between 1903 and 1930. This collection confirms...


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