A Guide to the United States’ History of Recognition, Diplomatic, and Consular Relations, by Country, since 1776: Panama


The area that became Panama was part of Colombia until the Panamanians revolted, with U.S. support, in 1903. In 1904, the United States and Panama signed a treaty that allowed the United States to build and operate a canal that traversed Panama. The treaty also gave the United States the right to govern a ten-mile wide Canal Zone that encompassed the waterway, which was completed in 1914. In 1979, the United States transferred control of the Canal Zone to Panama, and in 1999 transferred control and responsibility for the Canal to Panama.

Modern Flag of Panama


United States Recognition of Panama, 1903.

The United States recognized Panama on November 6, 1903, after Panama declared its independence from Colombia. On November 3, 1903, Panamanians had revolted against the Colombian government, declared an independent Republic of Panama, and established a provisional government junta. On November 6, Secretary of State John Hay instructed U.S. Vice-Consul-General at Panama City Felix Ehrman to “enter into relations” with the Government of the Republic of Panama when it appeared to meet conditions of a de facto government having the support of its own people. On the same day, Hay sent Colombian Charge d’Affaires Tomas Herran a copy of a cable dated November 6 in which Hay explained to the U.S. minister at Bogota, Colombia, that the people of Panama had created an independent republican government “with which the…United States…has entered into relations.”

Consular Presence

Establishment of Consular Relations, 1823.

Consular relations in the part of Colombia that later became Panama were established in 1823 with the appointment of David Craig as Consular Commercial Agent at Panama.

Diplomatic Relations

Establishment of Diplomatic Relations, 1903.

Diplomatic relations were established on November 13, 1903, when President Theodore Roosevelt accepted the credentials of Philippe Bunau-Varilla as Panama’s Minister to the United States.

Establishment of U.S. Diplomatic Mission, 1903.

The U.S. diplomatic mission in Panama was established on December 25, 1903, when William Buchanan presented his credentials as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary on special mission to Panamanian authorities.

Diplomatic Relations Interrupted, 1931.

On January 2, 1931, a coup d’état was carried out against the Panamanian government and forced the resignation of President Florencio Arosemena. Secretary of State Henry Stimson on January 5 instructed Minister at Panama Roy Davis not to reply at that time to a representative of the new government who had written seeking continuity in relations with the United States. Stimson informed Davis that he would not receive instructions concerning recognition of the new government until the Department of State was satisfied it could survive and maintain control of the country.

Diplomatic Relations Resumed, 1931.

Secretary Stimson wrote to Minister Davis on January 15, 1931, that the Department was satisfied with the legitimacy and viability of the new Panamanian government. Accordingly, Stimson instructed Davis to attend the inauguration of President Ricardo Alfaro “and carry on normal diplomatic relations thereafter with his government.” Davis attended the inauguration on January 16, 1931.

Legation Raised to Embassy, 1939.

The Legation in Panama was raised to Embassy status on July 14, 1939, when AmbassadorWilliam Dawson presented his credentials to Panamanian authorities.

Diplomatic Relations Interrupted, 1949.

The Panamanian National Police on November 24, 1949, forced the resignation of President Chanis who was succeeded by Arnulfo Aria. On November 25, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Edward Miller announced that, in view of the circumstances surrounding the change of government, “diplomatic relations between the United States and the Arias regime in Panama do not exist.”

Diplomatic Relations Resumed, 1949.

Secretary of State Dean Acheson announced on December 14, 1949, that “the United States today is renewing diplomatic relations with Panama,” and U.S. Ambassador Monnett Davis delivered a formal notification to the Government of Panama. Acheson explained that this decision was made after consultation with other American Republics and upon receipt of assurances that the new government would fulfill its international obligations.

Diplomatic Relations Severed by Panama, 1964.

Panamanian President Roberto Chiari broke off diplomatic relations with the United States on January 10, 1964. Chiari accused the United States of “unprovoked aggression” during clashes between Panamanians and U.S. troops in the Canal Zone that followed violence sparked by a flag-raising incident between Panamanian and American students.

Diplomatic Relations Reestablished, 1964.

Panama wanted to renegotiate the 1903 Bunau-Varilla Treaty before resuming diplomatic relations, while the United States promised to discuss all issues after relations were restored. On April 3, 1964, the two states signed a Joint Declaration in which they agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations and to immediately designate “Special Ambassadors with sufficient powers to seek the prompt elimination of the causes of conflict between the two countries, without limitations or preconditions of any kind.”

Diplomatic Relations Interrupted, 1968.

On October 11, 1968, President Arias was deposed in a National Guard coup and a “Provisional Junta of Government” was established on October 13. On October 15, the Department of State spokesman announced that diplomatic relations were suspended as a result of events in Panama.

Diplomatic Relations Resumed, 1968.

On November 13, 1968, the Embassy at Panama City informed the Panamanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs that the United States was resuming diplomatic relations. The Department of State announced that the decision was made after consulting with OAS member states and receiving assurances from the new Panamanian government as to its future conduct.

U.S. Ambassador Recalled, 1989.

On May 11, 1989, President George Bush recalled Ambassador Arthur Davis and reduced the Embassy staff to essential personnel only. Bush explained that he was acting because the people of Panama had “voted to replace the dictatorship of General Manuel Noreiga,” but Noreiga refused to give up power. On December 20, Bush announced the beginning of U.S. military operations against Noriega’s regime and the return of the U.S. Ambassador to inaugurate relations with a new Panamanian government. U.S. forces eventually captured Noriega and took him to stand trial in the United States on narcotics charges.


  • Department of State Country Fact Sheet: Panama
  • Department of State Country Information: Panama
  • Library of Congress Country Study: Panama