August 20, 2010
The Constitution of Panama
Panama has had four Constitutions since declaring its
independence from Colombia November 3, 1903. The first one was adopted in
1904 and was followed by new ones in 1941, 1946 and 1972.
As to the 1904 Constitution, on January 15, 1904, the
first National Constitutional Convention was convened consisting of 32
delegates: 16 Conservatives and 16 Liberals. There were 4
delegates for each Province of the country except for the Province of
Panama which had 8 delegates.
Interestingly, the first de facto President of Panama
was Demetrio H. Brid who was President of the Municipal Council of Panama from
November 3 to November 4, 1903. He was followed by a Provisional Junta
consisting of Jose Agustin Arango, Tomas Arias and Federico Boyd who ruled from
November 4, 1903 until February 20, 1904 when the first elected President,
Manuel Amador took over until October 1, 1908.
But, back to the Constitution. The delegates to the
Constitutional Convention elected Dr. Pablo Arosemena as its president with Dr.
Luis de Roux as 1st vice-president, Don Eliodoro Patino as 2nd vice-president
and D. Juan Brin as secretary. By February 13, the final document was
ready for signatures and was presented to the whole Constitutional
Convention. On February 15, 1904, the delegates approved and signed the
document which would govern the new Republic for the next 37 years.
Unfortunately, this constitution contained an Article which
rankled Panamanian nationalists for those three decades. This was Article
136 which gave the United States the right to "intervene in any part of Panama,
to reestablish public peace and constitutional order." This reflected the
provisions of the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty and confirmed the status of
Panama as a protectorate of the United States. It also gave the
United States the right to add additional territory to the Canal Zone any time
they considered it necessary for the defense of the Canal. Finally, in
1939, the new Hull-Alfaro Treaty did away with the right of the United States to
intervene in the internal affairs of Panama.
The 1941 Constitution, enacted during Arnulfo Arias first, and
brief, presidential term, not only ended Panama's constitutionally mandated
protectorate status, but also concentrated more power in the hands of the
president and extended the term of the president and legislators from 4 to 6
years. Additionally, Panamanian citizenship was required in order to own
and operate many business in the country and women, for the first time, gained
the right to vote.
In 1946, President Ricardo Adolfo de la Guardia proposed a new
Constitution, which was basically a return to the 1904 document without the
offensive Article 136. The new Constitution was adopted and was in effect
for 26 years until the 1968 military coup when eleven Constitutional Guarantees,
including freedom of speech, press and travel, were suspended for several months
and some were not restored fully until after the adoption of the 1972
Constitution by the military government. This last constitution proclaimed
general Torrijos as "Maximum Leader of the Panamanian Revolution".
Since then, the 1972 Constitution has been amended in 1978,
1983, 1993, 1994 and 2004. While the changes dealt with "demilitarizing" the
constitution, one of the last changes was to abolish the position of "Second
Vice-President" which had existed from the very first day of Panama's
independence. The National Assembly, a unicameral legislative branch, is
now composed of 71 members, down from 78. Citizens of Panama have a right
to vote at age 18.
Correction To Constitution Article(From Sept 9 letter)
Last month, I included an article
pertaining to the Constitution of Panama. Some of the information was not
entirely correct. For example, I stated that the Constitution of 1941 gave
the vote to women. This was not the case. The only women who got
the right to vote were those who had at least a high school degree. This was in
contrast to the right to vote by all males without regard to their level of
education. It was not until the Constitution of 1946 that every citizen of
Panama, male or female, age 21 or over, was allowed to vote.
I thank Briseida de Lopez for forwarding the correct information.
- Luis R. Celerier