The Journal of Caribbean History: Volume 53, Issue 2

Article 4
Ciudad Romero: The Salvadoran Refugee Family and Panamanian Statecraft under the Torrijos Regime

Rachael De La Cruz


In the early 1980s, the Government of Panama offered 360 Salvadoran refugees, over half of whom were under the age of fifteen, the opportunity to resettle along the Atlantic coast of Panama. By the end of the decade, this settlement – known as Ciudad Romero – was widely considered a success. This article examines how and why the Panamanian government provided such special treatment for this group of refugees, while simultaneously carrying out far less generous refugee policies, including the closing of the border to prevent the entry of other Salvadorans. Archival sources suggest that the Panamanian government, particularly under General Omar Torrijos, practised a calculated level of generosity to a limited number of refugee families. This was recognized by the state as strategic acts of sovereignty, nationalism, and anti-US imperialism in the context of the Cold War. Furthermore, this curated selection of mainly refugee mothers and children, created an opportunity to criticize US foreign policy in the region.