Panama became independent from Colombia in 1903 and acquired, almost immediately, the status of protectorate of the United States (1903-1931). During the thirties, the Great Depression and a military coup led to several years of political and economic instability. Thus, in 1968 a military regime took power and held it for over a decade. This period was followed by political turmoil during which crucial institutions such as elections and even the Constitution were suspended. Meanwhile, diplomatic relations with the United States turned tense, leading to the US military invasion of 1989. After so much turbulence, Panama held its first truly democratic elections in 1994.
The first spaces for citizen participation were implemented in 1993, when the government and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) organized a series of social dialogues aimed at achieving national and sectorial consensus and to create coherent and long-term public policies. Since then, Panama has carried out at least fifteen National Dialogues in the form of Meetings, Dialogues and Consultations. Panama has also held two important national plebiscites, one in 1991 and the other in 1998, to take people’s preferences into account during constitutional reform processes.
As a consequence of its conflictive political history, civil society in Panama is still incipient, but it has become strongly active in oversight activities, bodies and processes. Relevant democratic innovations have been organized to establish a national agenda around social development issues. However, the most frequent cases are those related to participatory planning and deliberative councils. International Organizations have organized or supported several of the National Dialogues, but their presence appears to not be as strong as it is in other Central American countries.
Moreover, one of the most relevant topics for the country is the Panama Canal, especially since it has prompted several conflicts between elites and the wider public regarding the distribution of the canal’s revenues. Accordingly, several democratic innovations developed around the topic, including the National Concertation for Development, which determined that one-third of the Panama Canal's revenues should be used exclusively for public investment; and the Referendum of 2006, carried out for the construction of a third set of locks on the Panama Canal.
This graph indicates the percentage of each means of innovation adopted by all cases in the country. Each case draws on one (primary) or two (secondary) means of innovation; this graph reflects both. See our concepts page for a description of all four means of innovation.
This graph indicates the percentage of each end of innovation adopted by all cases in the country. Each case draws on one or more ends of innovation (up to five); this graph reflects all of them. See our concepts page for a description of all five ends of innovation.
Urban Lab Panama
Urban Lab Panama is an initiative that calls for teams of university students or young professionals whose members are involved in different disciplines (urbanism, sociology, and architecture, among others) to ...Read more
Observatory for monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)
The Observatory for monitoring Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was designed within the framework of the government's long-term Strategic Plan as a proposal to integrate academics in the process that leads ...Read more
National Transparency Council
The National Transparency Council was a consultative and advisory organization of the Executive Body for public policies on transparency and the prevention of corruption. It was created by Decree in ...Read more
Laboratory for the City
Laboratory for the City, or LabCid PTY, is the first Citizen Laboratory in Panama. Its objective is to connect different areas of knowledge and involve citizens in processes of open ...Read more
Environmental Advisory Commissions
The National, Provincial, County and District Environmental Advisory Commissions are spaces for citizen participation where local government, community organizations, companies and producers come together to analyze environmental issues and make ...Read more