Party affiliation: National Patriotic Coalition
José Antonio Remón Cantera rose to power in Panama as an officer of the National Police, becoming colonel and commandant in February 1947. He modernized and upgraded the force and made it the arbiter of political affairs. Between 1948 and 1952 five different persons filled the office of president, largely at the will of “kingmaker” Remón.
In 1931, when the United States refrained from intervening in the overthrow of President Florencio Harmodio Arosemena, the National Police became a factor in political affairs. Its power expanded after the coup ousting President Arnulfo Arias Madrid in 1941, again with U.S. blessing.
After shuttling civilian politicians in and out of the presidency, Remón put together the National Patriotic Coalition and won his own election in 1952.
He established the primacy of the military, even though he denied he was a dictator. He won the support of the masses by promising economic and social reform, even though he amassed a fortune under Panama’s corrupt political system and capitalized on Panamanian nationalism. He negotiated the new Remón-Eisen- hower Canal Treaty, which did not answer the demands of ultranationalists but provided Panama with increased revenues and eliminated discriminatory wage policies in the Zone. Remón completed the negotiations only days before he was assassinated in January 1955.
Remón kept the civilian politicians in line by limiting the number of political parties, but he made a fetish of constitutionality and civilian authority. He promoted economic development, extensive public works, improvement of education, housing, and health care, and inauguration of an ambitious agrarian reform program. On the other hand he outlawed labor’s right to strike and maintained the system of private monopolies and concessions that sustained the ruling families. He converted the National Police into the National Guard in 1953, improving its professionalism and training but tolerating graft and corruption that enriched its leaders.