Porras, Belisario (1856–1942)

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Porras, Belisario (1856–1942)

Belisario Porras (b. 1856; d. 1942), Panamanian politician and three-time president (1912–1916, 1918–1920, 1920–1924). One of the most popular figures in Panama's history, Porras was born in Las Tablas. He headed the Liberal revolution in 1901, but he opposed Panamanian independence in 1903 under U.S. auspices, fearing that Panama would become a colony of the United States. As a result, he was stripped of his citizenship for one year (15 November 1905–13 September 1906).

He remained in Panama City for a while, but as his enemies made his life more and more difficult, he moved to Colón and later to his ranch in his native Las Tablas, where he remained until his rights were reinstated. He was first elected president in 1912. In 1918, with the death of his successor, Ramón Maximiliano Valdés, Porras, as first vice president, assumed the presidency once again to finish Valdés's term amid charges of fraud. The United States intervened to maintain order. In 1920 he was elected to another term.

Porras was a populist leader with both an urban and a rural following. He maintained his leadership through the system of compadrazgo. It was believed that he had as many as 757 compadres throughout the country.

Porras helped to build modern Panama. He organized a civil registry, the national archives, and the national bank; built the Chiriquí Railroad; and nationalized the lottery. On 6 November 1913, Porras had organized a national commission for the drafting of a Panamanian legal code. Prior to his election, the country was still governed by Colombian law. The commission included people like Carlos Antonio Mendoza, Harmodio Arias, and Ricardo J. Alfaro. Its work was completed in 1916 when by Law 1 of 22 August 1916, the Administrative Code was approved. Law 2 of 22 August 1917 approved the penal, commercial, mining, civil, and judicial codes.

See alsoPanama; Panama Railroad.


Manuel Octavio Sisnet, Belisario Porras o la vocación de la nacionalidad (1972).

Additional Bibliography

Araúz, Celestino Andrés. Belisario Porras y las relaciones de Panamá con los Estados Unidos. Panama: Editorial Portobelo, 1998.

Conte Porras, J., and Belisario Porras. Belisario Porras: Pensamiento y acción. Panama: Fundación Belisario Porras, 1996.

                                        Juan Manuel PÉrez