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Panama: Foreign Policy Decision Making
Country Study > Chapter 4 > Government and Politics > Foreign Relations > Foreign Policy Decision Making


Article 179 of Panama's Constitution gives the president, with the participation of the minister of foreign relations, the power to "direct foreign relations, to negotiate treaties and public conventions, which will then be submitted to the consideration of the Legislative Organ, and to accredit and receive diplomatic and consular agents."

In practice, however, the president's role in foreign policy was circumscribed by several factors. The most significant was the dominant influence of the FDP and its commander. No major foreign policy initiatives were possible without FDP approval. Torrijos began the practice, continued by Noriega, of direct military involvement in foreign policy matters without going through, or even necessarily consulting, the civilian political structure. The official party, the PRD, also played a role, both in selecting the foreign minister and in the Legislative Assembly, where it held an absolute majority. There, resolutions frequently were passed on matters of foreign policy. Although such resolutions lacked the force of law, their passage complicated the policy process.

The foreign ministry had a core of professional, career employees, but the post of foreign minister and most of the key ambassadorial appointments were filled by political appointees. The ministry itself played largely an administrative, rather than a decision-making, role in the policy process. Its authority was somewhat greater in commercial matters than in political matters. Internally, it was organized into a number of directorates for various world regions plus one for international organizations. In the past, various interests groups such as CONEP and university students were able to exercise some influence over foreign policy, but growing internal political polarization largely negated their influence.

The debate over the Panama Canal treaties generated a large body of literature on the canal and on United States-Panamanian relations, but little of this deals with internal Panamanian affairs. Panama's national politics remain among the least studied of any Latin American nation. Basic documents include the Constitución Política de la República de Panamá de 1972: Reformada por los Actos Reformatorios de 1978 y por el Acto Constitucional de 1983 and the Codigo Electoral de la República de Panamá y Normas Complementarias as well as the 1977 Panama Canal Treaty and the associated Treaty Concerning the Permanent Neutrality and Operation of the Panama Canal (for text of treaties, see Appendix B). A first-person account of the negotiation and ratification of the treaties is William J. Jorden's Panama Odyssey, while a more analytical study is provided by William L. Furlong and Margaret E. Scranton in The Dynamics of Foreign Policymaking. The best studies of internal Panamanian politics are those of Steve Ropp. Rapidly changing events have made his 1982 book Panamanian Politics: From Guarded Nation to National Guard somewhat dated, but his subsequent articles in Current History fill in some of the gaps. Also useful are Thomas John Bossert's "Panama" in Confronting Revolution edited by Morris J. Blachman, William M. Leogrande, and Kenneth Sharpe, and the 1987 Report on Panama: Findings of the Study Group on United States-Panamanian Relations published by the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Opposition views of recent events are available in articles by Guillermo Sanchez Borbón and Ricardo Arias Calderón. The United States Congressional hearings on Panama held in 1986 and 1987 also provide valuable information, as does the annual "Political Risk Report: Panama," produced by Frost and Sullivan of New York. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.

Data as of December 1987

Last Updated: December 1987

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Panama was first published in 1987. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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