The Panamanian Public Forces are the national defense forces of Panama. Panama is the second country in Latin America (the other being Costa Rica) to permanently abolish standing armies, leaving it with only small military-like forces. This came as a result of a US invasion that overthrew a military dictatorship which ruled the country from 1968 to 1989. The final military dictator, Manuel Noriega, had been belligerent toward the USA culminating in the killing of a US Marine Lieutenant and US invasion ordered by President, George H. W. Bush. Panama maintains forces, consisting of armed Police and Security forces, and small air and maritime forces. They are tasked with law enforcement, and can perform limited military actions. Panama can create a temporary military force to counter any attack.
The National Police
Panama's first army was formed in 1903, when the commander of a brigade of the Colombian army defected to the pro-independence side during Panama's fight for independence. His brigade became the Panamanian army.
In 1904, the army tried to overthrow the government, but failed. The United States persuaded Panama that a standing army could threaten the security of the Panama Canal Zone. Instead, the country set up a "National Police." For 48 years, this was the only armed force in Panama.
However, starting in the late 1930s, the National Police attracted several new recruits who had attended military academies in other Latin American countries. Combined with increased spending on the police, this began a process of militarization. The process sped up under José Remón, who became the Police's commandant (commanding officer) in 1947. He himself had graduated from Mexico's military academy. He began promoting fewer enlisted men to officer rank, giving the police a more military character.
The National Guard
After playing a role in overthrowing two presidents, Remón resigned his commission and became president himself in 1952. His first act was to reorganize the National Police along military lines with a new name, the National Guard. The new grouping retained police functions as well. With a new name came increased American funding.
In 1968, the Guard overthrew President Arnulfo Arias in a coup led by Lieutenant Colonel Omar Torrijos and Major Boris Martínez. They completed the process of converting the Guard into a full-fledged army. In the process, they promoted themselves to full colonel. Torrijos thrust Martínez aside in 1969, promoted himself to brigadier general, and was de facto ruler of the country until his death in a 1981 plane crash.
Full article ▸