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Arnulfo Arias

Arnulfo Arias Madrid
21st President of Panama
In office
1 October 1940 – 9 October 1941
Preceded by Augusto Samuel Boyd
Succeeded by Ernesto Jaén Guardia
31st President of Panama
In office
24 November 1949 – 9 May 1951
Preceded by Roberto F. Chiari
Succeeded by Alcibíades Arosemena
43rd President of Panama
In office
1 October 1968 – 11 October 1968
Preceded by Marco Aurelio Robles Méndez
Succeeded by José María Pinilla Fábrega
Personal details
Born (1901-08-15)15 August 1901
Penonomé, Coclé Province, Panama
Died 10 August 1988(1988-08-10) (aged 86)
Miami, Florida, United States
Political party Panameñista Party
Spouse(s) Ana Matilde Linares (1927-1955, her death)
Mireya Moscoso (1964-1988, his death)
Religion Roman Catholicism

Dr. Arnulfo Arias Madrid (August 15, 1901 – August 10, 1988) was a Panamanian politician, doctor, writer and President of Panama on three occasions: 1940-41, 1949-51, and for 11 days in October 1968.

His tenacious opposition to the military dictatorship that ruled Panama, coupled with the adversities that he suffered during his political career, which ranged from electoral fraud to three coups, made him into one of the most important and popular politicians in Panama, as well as an icon of Panamanian democracy.


  • Origins 1
  • Political life 2
  • Death 3
  • Personal life 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Arias was born in Penonomé, a main town located in Coclé Province, western Panama. He was the son of Antonio Arias and Carmen Madrid, and the brother of Harmodio Arias, who served as the President of Panama in two occasions: for 13 days in January 1931 and 1932-36. He wrote his first letters with the French Christian Brother (today known as La Salle) in his native city and made his secondary studies in New York.

He studied medicine and surgery at Harvard University and the University of Chicago. Later, he specialized in psychiatry, obstetrics and endocrinology.

Political life

In 1925, Arias returned to United States exerted on the country. It formed the nucleus of the present-day Panameñista Party. Panama had been, for all intents and purposes, a U.S. protectorate since gaining independence in 1903.

In 1931, Arias led a coup that deposed Liberal President Florencio Harmodio Arosemena. The next year, he helped his brother Harmodio become president. He subsequently served in cabinet and diplomatic posts. In 1940, he was elected president by an unprecedented majority as the candidate of the National Revolutionary Party (PNR, which became the Panameñista Party in the mid-1940s). Soon after taking office, Arias enacted a new constitution[1] that granted women the right to vote for the first time. He was ousted in October 1941, in a coup supported by the United States.

He ran for president again in 1948 as the candidate of a coalition of his party and the Authentic Revolutionary Party and lost. However, a year later the National Assembly declared that he had actually won. He suspended the constitution and set up a secret police force. Corruption was widespread, and he was overthrown again in 1951. He ran unsuccessfully in 1964, then won the 1968 elections as the standard-bearer of a five-party coalition.

Taking office in October, he maneuvered to gain control of the legislature and the Supreme Court and to restructure the command of the National Guard. After only 11 days as president, he was ousted for the third time and undertook a midnight escape to the Canal Zone. Arias had made the mistake of attempting to send military leader Omar Torrijos Herrera to a foreign position, which Torrijos felt he would lose money from uncollected bribes. The Presidential Palace was shot up by Torrijos' men. Arias, having seen the Guards gone and after receiving a call from the Costa Rican President José Joaquín Trejos Fernández, warning him that the border had been closed; he left the Palace along with Hildebrando Nicosia, his Chief of Staff.

Nicosia called Michael J. Merry, his son-in-law and manager of a U.S. communications company, and asked him to pick up Arias and three Ministers of State at a pre-arranged location. By that time, military patrols were searching the city for Arias. With the country's leaders and a arsenal of automatic weapons in his vehicle, Merry drove through the military blockade to safety in the Panama Canal Zone, where the headquarters for the government in exile had been prepared. Because the Canal Zone authorities would not allow the weapons to remain in its territory, Merry was forced to bluff his way back to Panama City, through the National Guard border blockade and patrols to safety. Arias and Nicosia later left the Canal Zone to Miami, Florida. His 93-year-old mother, however, was sleeping upstairs, but was unharmed and undisturbed, having taken her hearing aids out to sleep.[2]

After the U.S. pressured military leader Omar Torrijos to liberalize his regime, Arias and Nicosia returned to Panama in 1978. While they were in exile, a small dissident group in Arias's Panameñista Party joined the pro-Torrijos coalition, and took over the party's registration. The majority of the party remained with Arias, renaming itself the Authentic Panameñista Party. It was renamed the Arnulfista Party in 1990, and in 2005 regained its old name, the Panameñista Party.

In 1984, the 83-year-old Arias ran once more for president. When exit polls showed Arias with a substantial lead, the government, now controlled by Manuel Noriega, halted the count. It brazenly manipulated the results and declared that its candidate, Nicolás Ardito Barletta, had won by only 1,713 votes. Independent observers estimated that Arias would have won in a landslide had the election been conducted in a fair manner. As a result, Barletta was nicknamed fraudito (little fraud), in reference to his second name Ardito. Arias fled once again to Florida.


In the morning of August 10, 1988 while watching television at his home located in Coral Gables, Miami, Arnulfo died due to natural causes. His wife, Mireya Moscoso was at his side. His body was transferred to Panama City, where he was ultimately buried in Jardin de Paz cemetery, located in Parque Lefevre. His supporters used his funeral as a protest against Noriega.

After his death, Guillermo Endara became the leading opponent of the military dictatorship, heading the opposition coalition in the 1989 presidential election. Despite defeating pro-Noriega candidate Carlos Duque by a 3-to-1 margin, the results were annulled by the government, and Endara and his running mates were badly beaten in the streets by the paramilitary Dignity Battalions. Seven months later, United States invaded Panama, and Arias' party regained power shortly afterwards.

On January 8, 2012 in order to fulfill his last wish, he was re-buried in the mausoleum of the Arias Madrid Family Museum, located in the town of Penonomé, Coclé province, Panama.

Currently, there are monuments, schools, and a township street bearing his name.

Personal life

Arias married to Ana Matilde Linares in 1927 and remained together until her death in 1955. In 1964, he married Mireya Moscoso. He remained married until his death. Moscoso later became the first woman President of Panama following the 1999 elections.


  1. ^ Araúz, Celestino Andrés. "Arnulfo Arias Madrid". 'Historia de Panamá' (in Spanish). Editora Panama America. Retrieved 10 March 2012. 
  2. ^ Just Cause the real story by Alfanso Carlito Diaz

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Augusto Samuel Boyd
President of Panama
Succeeded by
Ricardo de la Guardia
Preceded by
Roberto Chiari
President of Panama
Succeeded by
Alcibíades Arosemena
Preceded by
Marco Aurelio Robles
President of Panama
October 1, 1968 – October 11, 1968
Succeeded by
José María Pinilla
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