Jackson, Another 4th of July in Plague Times Panama

July 4, 1776 — an 1817 painting by John Trumbull, which now is displayed in the US Capitol. Photo by Peter Roan. The “Guess who the majority of Americans who weren’t there?” question is an important one for anyone learning US history, but to dwell on that to the exclusion of great things that some of these flawed men did in their lifetimes would be to fundamentally misunderstand the ebbs and flows of historical forces. This happened for a variety of reasons. These were leaders of a nation defending its interests, not saints chiseling principles for all nations into immutable stone for all time. That said, some of their reasons gained widespread recognition that lives on in many people of many nations to this day.

Post-colonial — if only we can
get past the old mentalities

by Eric Jackson

I was in the city yesterday and on the way back had occasion to ride a bus through a traffic jam on part of Avenida de los Martires. Awful as it was, better to ride past the scene of an even worse horror for Panama, that part of El Chorrillo where so many innocents died in the 1989 bombardment, than if the street were still known by its old Canal Zone name, Fourth of July Avenue. Panama is formally decolonized now and that’s a good thing. Which is not to say that all developments since then are good, or that all attitudes, tastes, public works and cultural understandings acquired from the Americans are bad.

People need to discern the positive from the negative, and consider that there are things that are mixed. Perhaps the hardest of all things to sort out are those embedded in people’s minds. It’s homework that everybody of every nation and ethnicity needs to do, maybe with guidance but something that people of worth must do for themselves. Gringos must think long and hard about projections of US power. Panameños must think long and hard about the heavy prices paid for letting the United States solve Panama’s issues.

          Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery.
          None but ourselves can free our minds.

Bob Marley                 

Panama freed the slaves in 1851, effective 1853. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, with the last slaves formally freed on Juneteenth, 1865 and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments following shortly thereafter. The founders of the United States, and of the Gran Colombia of which Panama was a part, were mostly aware of the evils of slavery. Jefferson et al and Bolívar et al met resistance, figured that slavery was unsustainable in light of economic forces then at play anyway, and avoided pressing the point and risking splits in the movements for independence from European powers. They left terrible reckonings for later generations. The badges and mentalities of slavery survive in many forms to this day.

This old history major looks at the Fourth of July as major milestone, for all of its ambiguities a great act of courage that transformed the world.

Also, stripping away the slogans they teach in US grade schools in order to see more clearly, it was an act of economic defiance. Great Britain treated its American colonies as a dumping ground for petty criminals and that rebellious element whom they didn’t care to hang. They wanted timber and pitch for British commercial and sea power.  The Americans wanted to use those resources for an American shipbuilding industry and American commerce that could trade independently of dibs called in London. The British wanted Americans to drink expensive tea brought on British ships from British colonies in Asia, but the Americans developed a habit of drinking coffee from Latin America, smuggled in without any British intermediaries. Moreover, the Americans rebelled because they wanted their own business deals with China, for tea and many other things.

The Americans wanted to move the pale of settlement westward, but the British didn’t want to pay for that. Of course, the indigenous nations to the west rightfully feared that prospect for their own reasons. 

I have all these dogs and cats in my life, so of course I’m not into the fireworks that hurt their ears, not on Gringo holidays, nor on Pana holidays. Born in Colon to American parents, I am a dual citizen by birth, with high regards and terrible concerns for each of my countries.

Fourth of July is a US holiday, one that should not be waved in the faces of Panamanian neighbors. The only flag flying at my house — inside — is a little Panamanian one. This is Panama. But in my low-key way, it’s a day to rejoice in the triumph of Jefferson, Franklin and the rest. Not an act of God, not the issuance of holy scripture from on high, but a mighty act of flawed men who rose to the occasion. The US Declaration of Independence reverberates down through the centuries, as well it should. 

Take pride, all Americans in the narrow sense of the term, but without conceit. Also, taking an honest look around us, be concerned, but without the hysteria. And if someone of neither the nationality nor the ethnicity wants to know what’s special about this day, impart but do not impose your narrative. There is no need for bluster. It speaks for itself.


The editor is an old hippie antiwar protester whose father is buried at Arlington, who as a public official has taken and honored oaths to uphold the US Constitution and stands ready with neighbors and friends to defend Panama. If that sounds too contradictory use this day to reflect upon life’s complexities.


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