Panamanian Public Forces
|Military of Panama
Servicio Nacional de Fronteras
(National Borders Service)
Servicio Nacional Aeronaval
(National Aeronaval Service)
Servico de Protección Institucional
(Institutional Protection Service)
|Budget||USD 481 million (2011)|
The Panamanian Public Forces (Spanish: Fuerza Pública de la República de Panamá) are the national security forces of Panama. Panama is the second country in Latin America (the other being Costa Rica) to permanently abolish standing armies, leaving it with only small para-military forces. This came as a result of a US invasion that overthrew a military dictatorship which ruled the country from 1968 to 1989. The final military dictator, Manuel Noriega, had been belligerent toward the USA culminating in the killing of a US Marine Lieutenant and US invasion ordered by President, George H. W. Bush. Panama maintains forces, consisting of armed Police and Security forces, and small air and maritime forces. They are tasked with law enforcement, and can perform limited military actions.
The National Police 
Panama's first army was formed in 1903, when the commander of a brigade of the Colombian army defected to the pro-independence side during Panama's fight for independence. His brigade became the Panamanian army.
In 1904, the army tried to overthrow the government, but failed. The United States persuaded Panama that a standing army could threaten the security of the Panama Canal Zone. Instead, the country set up a "National Police." For 48 years, this was the only armed force in Panama.
However, starting in the late 1930s, the National Police attracted several new recruits who had attended military academies in other Latin American countries. Combined with increased spending on the police, this began a process of militarization. The process sped up under José Remón, who became the Police's commandant (commanding officer) in 1947. He himself had graduated from Mexico's military academy. He began promoting fewer enlisted men to officer rank, giving the police a more military character.
The National Guard 
After playing a role in overthrowing two presidents, Remón resigned his commission and became president himself in 1952. His first act was to reorganize the National Police along military lines with a new name, the National Guard. The new grouping retained police functions as well. With a new name came increased American funding.
In 1968, the Guard overthrew President Arnulfo Arias in a coup led by Lieutenant Colonel Omar Torrijos and Major Boris Martínez. They completed the process of converting the Guard into a full-fledged army. In the process, they promoted themselves to full colonels. Torrijos thrust Martínez aside in 1969, promoted himself to brigadier general, and was de facto ruler of the country until his death in a 1981 plane crash. (See Panamanian Air Force FAP-205 crash)
The Panamanian Defense Forces 
Torrijos was eventually replaced by Manuel Noriega, who merged all of Panama's armed forces under his command as the Panamanian Defense Forces. He built the PDF into a structured force, and further consolidated the dictatorship. Under Noriega, the PDF was a feared tool of repression. Having set up a commando style group called the Dobermans he was able to survive various attempted coups. Outside of the inner core of the PDF Noriega did not have strong support similar to the civilian population. For this reason he formed the civilian paramilitary Dignity Battalions in 1988. The majority of the PDF surrendered quickly when the United States invaded Panama and overthrew Noriega in 1989.
Panamanian Public Forces 
On February 10, 1990 the government of then President Guillermo Endara abolished Panama's military and reformed the security apparatus by creating the Panamanian Public Forces. In October 1994, Panama's Legislative Assembly approved a constitutional amendment prohibiting the creation of a standing military force, but allowing the establishment of a special temporary military to counter acts of "external aggression." The PDF was replaced with the Panamanian Public Forces.
The PPF includes the National Border Service, National Police, National Maritime Service, Judicial and Technical Police (PTJ) for investigatory activities, National Air Service, and an armed Institutional Protection Service or SPI for protection of public buildings. The PPF is also capable of performing limited military duties.
In contrast to the former PDF, the Panamanian Public Forces is on public record and under control of the executive.
In November 2008, the Servicio Aéreo Nacional (National Air Service) merged with its maritime counterpart, the Servicio Maritimo Nacional (National Maritime Service) to become the Servicio Nacional Aeronaval (National Aeronaval Service), also the creation of the new Servicio Nacional de Fronteras (National Borders Service) as an independent force from the National Police.
The New Ministry 
In February 2010, the new administration led by President Ricardo Martinelli has proposed the creation of a new Ministry of Security, that will replace the Ministry of Government and Justice to be divided in two new Ministries (Public Security and Government), which shall be placed under the National Police, National Naval Air Service, Immigration Service and National Borders Service.
Immigration, Customs and Passport 
In 2012, The National Customs Authority, the National Immigration Service (SNM) and the National Passport, following advice from the government of the United States of America would merge and form other security sectors autonomous or entity of the Republic of Panama, the Government Executive issued Decree 871 of November 14, 2012 that creates an interagency commission to first take care of structuration, coordination and technical process for the merger of the first customs and immigration agencies to subsequently merge passports. Is published in the Official Gazette 27165 of 16 November 2012 as the first step towards that goal.
As of 2012, the National Police Force's maneuver units comprised:
- One presidential guard battalion (under-strength)
- One military police battalion
- Eight paramilitary companies
- 18 police companies
The IISS also noted that there were reports of a special forces unit having been formed.
At this time, the National Police Force had a total strength of 11,000 personnel and was equipped only with small arms.
Panamanian aircraft inventory 
|ENAER T-35 Pillan||Chile||Trainer, reconnaissance||B, D||6|
|CASA C-212 Aviocar||Spain||Tactical transport||300||5|
|Britten Norman Islander||United Kingdom||Tactical light transport||2A||1|
|Bell 205||United States||Utility and transport||15|
|Bell 212||United States||Utility and transport||6|
|Sikorsky S-76||United States||VIP transport||C||2|
|Piper PA-34 Seneca||United States||Utility and transport||2|
|Cessna 152||United States||Utility||1|
|Cessna 172||United States||Utility||1|
|Grumman Gulfstream II||United States||VIP transport||II||1|
Maritime forces 
As at 2012, the patrol boats operated by the Panamanian Public Forces included:
- One Balsam class PCO
- Three Chiriqui class patrol boats
- Two Panama class patrol boats
- Two Panquiaco class patrol boats
- Five Point class cutters (Tres De Noviembre class)
- Escudo de Veraguas
- Nombre de Dios
- IISS (2012), p. 397
- IISS (2012), p. 398
- "World Military Aircraft Inventory", Aerospace Source Book 2007, Aviation Week & Space Technology, January 15, 2007.
- Works cited
- International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) (2012). The Military Balance 2012. London: IISS. ISSN 0459-7222.
Further reading 
- Mellander, Gustavo A.(1971) The United States in Panamanian Politics: The Intriguing Formative Years. Daville,Ill.:Interstate Publishers. OCLC 138568.
- Mellander, Gustavo A.; Nelly Maldonado Mellander (1999). Charles Edward Magoon: The Panama Years. Río Piedras, Puerto Rico: Editorial Plaza Mayor. ISBN 1-56328-155-4. OCLC 42970390.
- Robert C. Harding, Military Foundations of Panamanian Politics, Transaction Publishing, 2001.
- Robert C. Harding, The History of Panama, Greenwood Publishing, 2006.