US Invades Panama, 1903 to 1914

What would a revolution in South America be without the arrival of undocumented and uninvited US Marines from North America?  With keen geopolitical interest in the Panama Canal, the US and President Theodore Roosevelt were determined to protect the Panamanian Revolution that started the previous day. Undocumented US Marines landed on November 4, and were stationed on the Isthmus from November 4, 1903, to January 21, 1914 to “guard American interests”. After the Panama Canal opened in August 1914, the US continued a heavy military presence in the Canal Zone until Panamanian General Omar Torrijos renegotiated the Treaty in 1977. Illustration by Udo Keppler, shows Uncle Sam with a bundle of papers labeled “Canal Plans” patting a diminutive brown man, wearing a hat labeled “Panama”. The man smiles broadly and is leaning on a large sword. Canal construction equipment is in the background. Library of Congress Collection.

Independence Day in Panama 1903

On November 3, 1903, the newly formed nation of Panama declared its independence from Colombia, to which it belonged in the period after independence from Spain. The Panamanian revolution was heavily aided by US interests, which were determined to seize the territory from the Colombian government to build the Panamanian Canal. Shortly after Panama declared independence, the nation’s founders signed the Hay/Bunau-Varilla Treaty with the United States. The treaty granted sovereign rights to the US for the strategic canal zone in perpetuity (meaning no expiration date).  The Panamanian Revolution of 1903 occurred during a period of rapid US expansion, after Spain’s defeat and the loss of territory in the Spanish American War (1898).  The North Americans quickly moved in with builders and bulldozers, and continued construction of the valuable canal in 1904. The event is now celebrated as Independence Day in Panama. (Image from