What Is the Meaning and History of the Panama Flag?

Flags are important symbols of countries. They signify the identity, independence, and sovereignty of a nation. In many cases, the design elements of a flag also represent the important values, history, and government of a nation. In the same way, the flag of Panama holds all these attributes of a typical flag.

However, more than just figurative emblem of nationhood, the Flag of Panama is extra special because of its central role in actually sparking and triggering the crusade for the independence of Panama from colonial powers.

The desecration of its flag has incited the anger and driven the people’s upheaval to fight for freedom and independence, which demonstrates how much Panamanians revere and respect their flag. 

Adoption of the Panama Flag

The present national flag of Panama was officially adopted on November 4, 1925, a day after Panama declared independence from Columbia. Subsequently, this date is now annually celebrated as Panama’s Flag Day. Flag Day is one of the strings of holidays in Panama that is celebrated every November known as the Fiestas Patrias, which included the Separation Day (from Columbia), Colon Day, Primer Grito de Independencia de la Villa de Los Santos” and Independence Day from Spain.

While the flag Panama was officially adopted in 1925, its design has already been made in as early 1903, when Panama separated from Colombia. The declaration of separation from Colombia was prompted by Columbia’s rejection of the Hay-Herrán treaty, which would allow the US government to complete the construction of the Panama Canal. 

Description of the Panama Flag

While the Panama flag has since been used by the nascent republic, its official description came later in December 1949 in Law 15. The Panama flag is rectangular with a ratio of 2:3. The rectangular shape is divided into equal quarters. The top-left quarter is white, with a single five-pointed blue star in the middle. The bottom-left quadrant follows the blue color of the star. The top-right quarter is red. The bottom-right one is white with a single five-pointed red star in between.

Symbols of the Panama Flag

Every color and image in the Panama flag represents an important element to Panamanian life.

The red, white, and blue colors represented the political atmosphere of Panama during the flag’s adoption. The red color represents the Liberal Party while the blue color represents the Conservative Party.

The inclusion of the two-party system in the flag’s symbolism, in turn, is representative of the balance and democracy upon which the nation was built.

The white color, on the other hand, represents purity and peace. The white color tends to strike the balance between opposing ideas and principles, that all boils down with the purest intention towards Panama. 

The blue star in the upper left quadrant signifies purity and honesty, which are considered as the foundation for other core values such as integrity, trustworthiness, responsibility, and dependability. The red star in the bottom right corner symbolizes authority and respect for laws.

While Panama as a nation puts high regard to individual freedom, it also recognizes the importance of the law to keep things in order to maintain peace and unity in society and the nation as a whole.

Who Designed the Panama Flag?

The Panama Flag was designed by Manuel Encarnacion Guerrero, the son of Manuel Amador Guerrero, the first president of Panama. Manuel Encarnacion is the president’s son from his previous marriage to María de Jesús Terreros. 

Manuel Encarnacion presented his design to María de la Ossa de Amador, the wife of President Manuel Amador Guerrero and thus, the inaugural First Lady of Panama. She is also referred to as the “Mother of the Nation.”

Maria Dela Ossa secretly produced three copies of the newly designed flag, with the assistance of her sister-in-law Angélica Bergamonta de la Ossa and niece, María Emilia de la Ossa Bergamonta. The flag was later distributed all over Panama after the declaration of separation in 1903.

The original flag designed by Manuel Encarnacion differs from the present-day flag of Panama in that the upper left quadrant was blue. The current design places the blue color at the lower left quadrant. After independence, blue was chosen as the color of the Conservative Party, which is the party affiliation of the first president of Panama.

History of the Panama Flag

The Colonial Years: Before Panama became a republic, the country was under Spain until the early 19th century. During its colonial years, Panama carried the Spanish flag until 1820. It then became a province/ state of Colombia during which it was called the province of Istmo (Isthmus).

Subsequently, it was then represented by the Columbian Flag. However, as an entity with a certain degree of independence, it carried its own flag as Province of Istmo in the Republic of Colombia. The provincial flag was modified around four times with very minimal changes as Colombia evolved from Gran Columbia to the Republic of New Granada, the Granadine Confederation and finally, the Republic of Colombia in 1886. 

Separation from Colombia. In 1903, when Panama declared separation from Colombia, it adopted the newly designed flag that was made by María de la Ossa de Amador, the first lady of the new country. The separation of Panama from Colombia was backed by the US. The US supported Panama’s autonomy from Columbia so that they can directly negotiate with Panama with regards to their take- over of the construction of the Panama Canal. 

Panama’s first flag of independence from Colombia was almost identical to its present-day flag. The only difference is the blue quadrant is located at the top left corner of the flag beside the red quadrant. Thus, the bottom half of the original flag was all white. When the post-independent Conservative political party chose blue to represent their organization, the blue color was relocated to the bottom left corner of the flag. The red color located at the top right corner quadrant represented the Liberal party. Together, they represent the unity that stands for the new republic.

Philippe-Jean Bunau-Varilla. Before the flag made by María de la Ossa de Amador was actually used, a Frenchman by the name of Philippe-Jean Bunau-Varilla was the first to propose a new flag for Panama. Philippe Bunau-Varilla was a French engineer and soldier. He worked diligently with President Theodore Roosevelt to orchestrate the Panamanian Revolution, to safeguard his multi-million dollar investment in the construction of the Panama Canal.

The first proposed design of the Panama flag was made by the wife of Philippe-Jean Bunau-Varilla, who took inspirations from the flags of the United States and the former colonizers of Panama, namely Columbia and Spain. The designed featured thirteen stripes for the fly, which was based on the stripes of the US flag.

However, instead of red and white, the stripes were red and yellow, which are the prominent colors of the flags of Spain and Columbia. The designed also featured a blue canton in the upper hoist quarter. The canton contains the emblem of two interconnected yellow suns. The two suns are supposed to symbolize North and South America. They are connected by a line to emphasized Panama’s strategic position that links the two continents.

The proposed flag design was rejected by Manuel Amador Guerrero along with his fellow revolutionaries because of its obvious reference to the flags of the US, Columbia, and Spain. Guerrero wanted a design that is original and that genuinely represents Panama as a truly sovereign republic independent from any colonial influence. Thus, the flag made by María de la Ossa de Amador was later adopted.

The Role of the Panama Flag in Panama’s Sovereignty

The Panama flag played a central role in the genuine sovereignty of the country from colonial powers or influence. The desecration of the Panama flag by Zonians (Americans living in Panama), served as the catalyst for the ensuing U.S. relinquishment of its perpetual control of the Canal Zone and the gradual transfer of the Panama Canal to the Panamanian Government, which culminated on December 31, 1999.

The Cessation of the Panama Canal. After Panama declared separation from Columbia in 1903 with the assistance of the US, Panamanians detested the Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty, which relinquished their control of the Panama Canal Zone in favor of the U.S. who shall have its permanent control. The US compensated Panama for $10 million, an annual rent of $250 thousand and guaranteed the freedom of the new Republic. In brief, the Canal Zone became a de facto US territory.

The Flagpole Incident. U.S. President John F. Kennedy allowed raising the Panama flag alongside the U.S. flag in non-military sites within the Canal Zone. After Kennedy’s assassination, the Panama Canal Zone Governor Robert J. Fleming issued an order that proscribes both the US or Panama flag to be flown in all civilian sites in the Canal Zone, which angered Zonians who deemed the decree as a renunciation of US sovereignty over the Canal Zone.

The enraged Zonians began raising the U.S. flag everywhere within the Canal Zone. When a U.S. flag was raised at Balboa High School inside the Canal Zone, a protest ensued. School officials and students walked out, took down the US flag, raised the Panama flag and guarded it to prevent its removal.

The Balboa highschool incident triggered more student protests. One such movement involved students from Instituto Nacional, Panama’s top public high school. Over a hundred students marched inside the Canal Zone carrying the Panamanian flag and placards declaring Panama’s sovereignty over the U.S. Canal Zone. They headed to Balboa High School to raise the Panama flag alongside the US flag, where they met by US police forces.

While a few students were allowed by the police to carry their flag near the flagpole, Zonians began besieging the flagpole while singing the Star Spangled Banner to prevent the students to approach the pole. A fracas ensued between the students, Zonians and the police that resulted in the Panama flag getting trampled and torn.

Ensuing Riots. While who or what actually caused the Panama flag to get torn during the incident remained unsettled, violence broke out when news about the desecration of the Panama flag spread. Thousands of angry Panamanian crowds stormed the Canal Zone to protest and hold series of anti-American riots. The aftermath of the riots resulted in the death of 28 people and injuries of thousands more.

Torrijos–Carter Treaties. The conflict between Americans and Panamanians reached the international level. UK, France, the Soviet Union, and other countries joined in criticizing US imperialism. Diplomatic relations between Panama and the US broke down. Talks between the two countries started to re-establish diplomacy. The talks concluded with the Torrijos–Carter Treaties that ended the US perpetual control of the Canal Zone and guaranteed Panama to regain control of the Panama Canal after 1999.

The Flag of the Martyrs of the Federation of the Students of Panamá

The torn Panama flag that was used by the students of Instituto Nacional today represents a strong symbol for Panamanian national identity and sovereignty. It was restored by Antón Rajer. The restored flag is kept on display at the “Museo del Canal Interoceanico” to preserve its heritage for future generations.

Matt Romero

I’m Matthew Romero, one of the guys behind PanamaLifeInsider.com I am incredibly passionate about Panama, its beautiful territory, and all the incredible opportunities which offer to people coming here from all over the world both either visiting and settling. In this blog, I decided to share my passion with you!

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