Not surprisingly, the United States generates a range of feelings in Panama . The United States has intervened in the affairs of the isthmus constantly since its own early days as a republic. It often has used the isthmus to further its own strategic and commercial interests, and for most of the 20th century had military bases and a largely foreign community planted in a 500-square-mile zone that bisected the country and over which Panama had little control.
Students, politicians, activists, and nationalistic citizens regularly denounced the U.S. presence on the isthmus as imperialistic and paternalistic, quite often with good cause, though sometimes Panama’s leaders used the U.S. presence as a bogeyman to deflect attention from domestic problems.
Though some in Panama were violently opposed to the U.S. presence, others had largely positive attitudes toward it. Many others were ambivalent, seeing the United States as instrumental in helping Panama gain independence but selfishly robbing it of true self-determination, in spurring great improvements in health and welfare on the isthmus but keeping most of the spoils for itself, and in propping up but finally removing the military dictatorships that ruled the country for decades.
What most can now agree on is that the end of the Canal Zone and the closing of the U.S. military bases have made possible a healthier and more equal relationship between the two nations. There’s a widespread sentiment in Panama that the country did not gain full sovereignty until December 31, 1999, when it gained full control of the Panama Canal . Soberanía (sovereignty) is still a word one hears often in Panama, and its importance to many is undeniable. When the Panamanian government created a new national park through a swath of the Panama Canal.’s watershed, it named it Parque Nacional Soberanía . Evidence of the U.S. presence in the former Canal Zone  has been steadily eroded, with streets renamed and English-language signs removed.
Panama and the United States generally enjoy good relations these days. A free-trade agreement between the two countries was awaiting U.S. Congressional approval in 2010. However, Congress was delaying approval of the pact over the most serious and bizarre diplomatic clash between the two countries in many years: In September 2007, Pedro Miguel González Pinzón, who is wanted in the U.S. on murder charges, was elected president of Panama’s national assembly. González is accused of killing U.S. Army Sergeant Zak Hernández and wounding another soldier in 1992 before a visit by President George H. W. Bush. González, under pressure from the Panama business community, among others, announced that he would not seek reelection when his term as assembly president expired in September 2008.
American pop culture took hold long ago, apparent in everything from the Hollywood movies playing at the multiplexes to the popularity of American fast-food franchises, to the clothing and music tastes of young people. Baseball, basketball, and, to a more limited extent, American football have long been popular in Panama. European football (soccer) has only come into its own in recent years. For wealthier Panamanians, Florida is a popular shopping destination, and U.S.-style malls sprouted up in and around the major cities. Middle- and upper-class students often go to the United States for college and graduate school.