Arias Madrid, Arnulfo (1901–1988)

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Arias Madrid, Arnulfo (1901–1988)

Arnulfo Arias Madrid (b. 15 August 1901; d. 10 August 1988), Panamanian politician and three-time president (1940–1941, 1949–1951, 1968). A medical doctor by profession and a graduate of Harvard Medical School, Arnulfo Arias was a controversial politician. Elected three times and overthrown on every occasion (the last time after just eleven days in office), Arias dominated Panamanian politics for fifty-seven years. He was highly nationalistic and anti-American. After joining the nationalistic organization Acción Comunal in 1930, he was leading it a year later in the revolution that overthrew the corrupt government of Florencio Harmodio Arosemena.

As a populist leader, Arias tried to ingratiate himself with the masses by promoting social revolution and using anti-establishment rhetoric. His platform was embodied in what he called panameñismo, translated as "Panama for the Panamanians." His policies against the Chinese and West Indians, whom he stripped of citizenship, and others, such as requiring people in some professions to wear uniforms, made people uneasy. His first presidency constituted a small revolution, challenging the oligarchy and the United States. He promulgated a nationalistic constitution, created a social security system, gave women the right to vote, attempted a land reform program, and involved the state more actively in the economy. His enemies, the United States in particular, accused him of Nazi tendencies. Arias did not allow the United States to acquire more land for military bases with long-term leases and full jurisdiction as the United States had requested. Arias was trying to avoid the creation of other areas in Panamanian territory over which Panama would not have control. His nationalism and anti-Americanism put him on a collision course with the United States, which in 1941 was involved in his overthrow. In the mid-1980s, Arias became the major figure opposing the dictator General Manuel Antonio Noriega. His followers came to power after the 1989 U.S. invasion and renamed his party the Arnulfista Party of Panama.

See alsoPanama .


Felipe Juan Escobar, Arnulfo Arias (1946).

Jorge Conte Porras, Arnulfo Arias Madrid (1980).

Additional Bibliography

Pearcy, Thomas L. "Panama's Generation of '31: Patriots, Praetorians, and a Decade of Discord." Hispanic American Historical Review 76 (November 1996): 691-719.

Robinson, William Francis. "Panama for the Panamanians: The Populism of Arnulfo Arias Madrid." In Populism in Latin America, edited by Michael L. Conniff. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1999.

                                    Juan Manuel PÉrez