Even before, in the 16th century, Spain had turned Panama into a crossroads between the seas and a significant tradepost within its empire. The riches from the South American Pacific were at first shipped to Panama City, and then carried on mule trains to Nombre de Dios. After the pirate Francis Drake attacked the latter destination, the authorities decided to move the city to a better protected site, choosing Portobelo. This city in turn become very coveted by pirates such as Henry Morgan, who attacked and looted it in 1668, two years before doing likewise at Panama City on the Pacific coast.
Motivated by the winds of freedom blowing from neighboring countries, Panama became independent from Spain in November 1821 and joined instead Gran Colombia, comprised of the countries of Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador. Panama's desire to become a free and sovereign republic brought it to separate from Colombia on November 3, 1903.
Construction began in 1904 on the Panama Canal, considered the eighth wonder of the modern world, definitively establishing the territory as a place of transit and exchange. Today, Panama is one of the most developed countries of Central America, and with one of the highest levels of economic development and tourism in the Americas. With a healthy and effective democratic system, the country is considered safe, peaceful, prosperous, and burgeoning, at the forefront in many sectors. Its economy is based on services provided at tourism sites, the Panama Canal, and the international banking center. First-world facilities can be found here, such as international call centers, modern shopping malls, and excellent professionals and technicians.