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We've been writing about all things Panama for over 10 years. So search our blog to plan your vacation. From must do's, where to party or eat, to which beaches and hiking trails you shouldn't miss. You'll find great insider info about Bocas del Toro, Panama City and Boquete, as well as Panamanian culture, customs and traditions, and certainly tips and advice for learning Spanish while on vacation!


5 Famous Panamanians Everyone Should Know

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I was teaching a group of Panamanian executives earlier this week. We were working on learning about the past tense in English through reading the biography of Martin Luther King Jr.

The executives were enthralled by King, the history of the Civil Rights Movement, and asked many questions about his famous "I Have a Dream" Speech.

When I asked them about great leaders in Panamanian history, here are the ones they named:

5. Urracá

Urracá was a Ngöbe cacique who bravely defeated the well-armed Spanish conquistadors attempts to make inroads into Panama and throughout Central America by building alliances with other indigenous peoples to fight off the Spanish invasion. Urracá bravely fought off the Spanish expedition for almost nine years, and repeatedly defeated the conquistadors. Under the guise of signing a peace treaty, the Spanish captured him and tried to ship him to Spain to end the war. However, Urracá escaped and reunited with his people, maintaining his resistance against the Spanish forces for several years more.

Urracá on 1 cent coin

Urracá appears on some of Panama's 1 cent coins, and several parks (including one right on Panama's City Avenida Balboa), and streets throughout the country, pay tribute to his legacy as well..

4. Omar Torrijos Herrera

Omar Torrijos was born on February 13, 1929, in Santiago de Veraguas, Panamá. He joined the National Guard of Panama and rose to become a brigadier general. In 1968, he helped overthrow President Arnulfo Arias and became the military dictator of Panama, a position he held until 1978.

Como parte de la jornada de conmemoración por el 40° aniversario de la firma de los Tratados Torrijos-Carter que celebramos este año, la Fundación Omar Torrijos hace público y accesible en fundacionomartorrijos.com.pa el libro digital “Ideario: Omar Torrijos.” Selección y prólogo de José de Jesús Martínez. Agradecemos a Ediciones Digitales Riata de Rómulo Castro por su autorización a la divulgación de este valioso material que contiene en forma de pequeños textos agrupados en forma temática, parte del pensamiento político del general Omar Torrijos. #EnLaCasadeOmar #Panama #IdearioTorrijista http://www.fundacionomartorrijos.com.pa/index.php/blog/138-ideario-omar-torrijos-seleccion-y-prologo-de-jose-de-jesus-martinez

A post shared by Fundación Omar Torrijos H. (@fomartorrijosh) on

Torrijos is best known for negotiating the 1977 Torrijos–Carter Treaties that eventually gave Panama a greater degree of sovereignty over the Panama Canal.

”Me convencí.. Sr. Carter, de su rostro moral y de la honestidad que los Estados Unidos tenían en su Presidente.”

Posted by Fundación Omar Torrijos Herrera on Friday, September 16, 2016

After decades of U.S. occupation and the bloody uprising that followed in Panama (January 9th 1964 commemorated as Martyr's Day), the famous treaty guaranteed that Panama would gain control of the Panama Canal after 1999, ending the control of the canal that the U.S. had exercised since 1903. Torrijos dedicated his government to achieving sovereignty for the Panamanian people.

3. Marta Matamoros

Marta Matamoros was a labor rights leader in Panama. In the 1940s, the textile garment industry paid men paid between $15 to $20 a week, and women received only between $ 5 and $ 7. Pregnant women had to work up until they went into labor and return promptly after giving birth so as not to lose their job. Matamoros fought tirelessly for better pay and better working conditions.

En el marco del Día Internacional de la Mujer se dio la presentación oficial del libro Marta Matamoros: Entrevista...

Posted by La Matamoros on Wednesday, March 8, 2017

She is known for leading strikes in the 1940s which resulted in workers gaining maternity leave with pay and job security while they were on leave. In 1951, she became the first woman general secretary of the Trade Union Federation of Workers of Panama. "The Hunger and Desperation March" Matamoros led in 1959 resulted in the first minimum wage law in Panama.

Trailer Oficial - La Matamoros

De modista de fábrica a dirigente sindical internacional, la vida de Marta Matamoros estuvo dedicada a la defensa de los derechos de las mujeres y los trabajadores panameños. Su lucha le acarreó persecución y cárcel, tragos amargos que se transformaron en grandes victorias: la conquista del salario mínimo y del fuero maternal, beneficios que hoy día se dan por descontados, son parte de la vida de esta gran mujer panameña, una historia que juntos vamos a conocer #LaMatamoros

Posted by La Matamoros on Friday, March 3, 2017

Her legacy lives on and a documentary inspired by her life and accomplishments is currently being made.

2. Justo Arosemena

Born in 1817, Justo Arosemena is considered to be one of the most illustrious Panamanians and the father of the nation. As a statesman, he strongly supported both respect for human rights and greater autonomy for the Isthmus of Panama in Colombia. For this reason, the Federal State of Panama was created, and was elected as its first president in 1855. He resigned his position a few months later.


Ver Justo Arosemena y la libertad de expresión.

Additionally, “The Federal State of Panama” is his most significant essay. In it, Arosemena describes Panama's history and nationality and explains the importance of Panama's independence. This essay paved the way for the creation of Panama's first Constituent Assembly in 1855.

Justo Arosemena left innumerable writings in newspapers, magazines, books and proposals of work.

1. Victoriano Lorenzo

Victoriano Lorenzo was born in the province of Coclé, in 1867. Having learned how to write and read with the help of a priest, he was one of the first indigenous leaders to occupy a political position.

Having fought in "La Guerra de los Mil Días", motivated to defend the rights of his fellow country, denouncing unjust taxes, systematic abuses against those without education, shortage of food and many other sources of inequality, he was betrayed by "Los Conservadores", the same group of people he had fought with, and sentenced to death.

Urracá on 1 cent coin
"La pelea es peleando." - Victorinao Lorenzo. Image source.

His last words, before being executed by a firing squad, where these:

"Señores, oíd una palabra pública. Ya sabéis de quién es la palabra. Victoriano Lorenzo muere... a todos los perdono... Yo muero como murió Jesucristo."

Victoriano's message still lives on today...

Escucha. Observa. Conoce tu pasado. Actívate. Panamá nos llama.

Nos están hablando desde la tumba... ¿a ti también te hablan?

Escucha. Observa. Estudia. Conversa. Debate. Comparte.

Vamos. Juntos. Unidos. Actívate.

Hacia un nuevo Panamá.

Hacia una nueva Humanidad.

Posted by El Joules on Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Many other great Panamanian leaders could have been on this list. What actually went down in history is debatable and beyond the scope of this post. I'm not an expert in Panama's history, but the impressions of a visitor who's spent hundreds of hours with Panamanians from every walk of life counts too.

So dig up your history books and start doing your own research online. Understand where you come from before deciding where you want to go. Panama's history is full of men and women that will make you feel inspired, regardless from where you are. Get inspired and let's start working together for a better world.

How are you going to change the world?

Feel free to share which other Panamanian leaders should have been mentioned on this list (and please correct me if I wrote something inaccurately). I'll be happy to research, write and share more about other amazing Panamanians who shaped the course of their space and their time.

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We've been writing about all things Panama for over 10 years. So search our blog to plan your vacation. From must do's, where to party or eat, to which beaches and hiking trails you shouldn't miss. You'll find great insider info about Bocas del Toro, Panama City and Boquete, as well as Panamanian culture, customs and traditions, and certainly tips and advice for learning Spanish while on vacation!


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