A rendering of the flag of the Republic of Isthmus.

Isthmus (pronunciation: /ˈɪsθməs/ or /ˈɪsməs/; from Ancient Greek: ἰσθμός isthmos "neck"), officially called the Republic of Isthmus, is a fictional Central American country which appeared in EON Productions' 1989 James Bond film Licence to Kill and its accompanying novelisation. Headed by the President of Isthmus, Hector Lopez, the state's capital and largest city is Isthmus City. Ostensibly a democratic republic, Isthmus is strongly influenced by Franz Sanchez' drug cartel, with a heavy military presence in metropolitan areas.


Outside the El Presidente' Hotel in Isthmus City.

"So you buy a mayor, a chief of police, a general... a president. One day you wake up and you own the whole goddamn country. Then you take what you want. A bank, a gambling casino, airline concession. Why? Simple. It's easier for the politicians to take silver than lead."
Franz Sanchez.[src]

Likely deriving its name from the geographical term 'Isthmus', describing a strip of land that connects two larger bodies of land (and separates two large water bodies), the Republic of Isthmus was located in an unspecified region of Central America.[1] Ostensibly governed by the Isthmus Revolutionary Party (Spanish: Partido Revolucionario Isthmo[2]), under President Hector Lopez, the country was heavily corrupt; influenced by Franz Sanchez' drug cartel. Sanchez's policy of "plata o plomo" (literally "silver or lead", colloquially "[accept] money or [face] bullets"), in addition to the bribery of countless government officials, police, and politicians, ensured that Isthmus would be a secure base of operations. During the height of its operations, the Sanchez Cartel's main distribution centre was located in Isthmus; the centre of an invisible cocaine empire, stretching from Chile to Alaska. According to the film's novelisation, Isthmus' capital city is polarized between those in extreme poverty and the very wealthy; with high levels of unemployment.[3] Notable locations in Isthmus include its largest bank, the Banco de Isthmus, the Casino de Isthmus (both owned and operated by Sanchez), the El Presidente' Hotel, Olympatec Meditation Institute, and the Paso del Diablo.

Following his brief capture and subsequent escape from the DEA, Franz Sanchez is smuggled out of the United States by his associate Milton Krest; taking up permanent residence at his base of operations in Isthmus. It is later noted that during the event, the reluctant President Lopez had been conspicuously silent over the drug lord's detainment; a fact that Sanchez reminds him of by reducing his bribe money and threatening his life. The kingpin is followed to Isthmus by a vengeful James Bond, who proceeds to ingratiate himself with Sanchez and dismantles his drug operation from within his organization. Following the drug lord's death, it is unknown what became of the state. While the film leaves the question of Isthmus' future open to interpretation, John Gardner's novelization ends with a bloodless coup. President Lopez has resigned, and most of his government with him. The novelization introduces a dissident faction led by Captain Simon Rojas, comprised of a cadre of police officers who had been initially trained in the United States and four senior military officers. The dissidents take over responsibility for governing Isthmus and held an inquiry into Sanchez’s demise, and other matters. Hopeful for a peaceful end to corruption, Rojas did not seem to wish any ill on the politicians who had been in Sanchez’s thrall.[4]

Behind the scenes

For the location of Licence to Kill co-producer Michael G. Wilson created the Republic of Isthmus, a banana republic based on Panama, with the pock-marked Sanchez bearing similarities to General Manuel Noriega.[5] The parallels between the two figures were based on Noriega's political use of drug trafficking and money laundering to provide revenues for Panama.[5] Shooting began in Mexico on 18th July 1988, which mostly doubled for the fictional Republic of Isthmus:[6] locations in Mexico City included the Biblioteca del Banco de Mexico for the exterior of El Presidente Hotel and the Casino Español for the interior of Casino de Isthmus whilst the Teatro de la Ciudad was used for its exterior. Villa Arabesque in Acapulco was used for Sanchez's lavish villa, and the La Rumorosa Mountain Pass in Tecate was used as the filming site for the tanker chase during the climax of the film. Sanchez's Olympatec Meditation Institute was shot at the Otomi Ceremonial Center in Temoaya.[7] Other underwater sequences were shot at the Isla Mujeres near Cancún.[8]


  • According to the film's novelisation, the city is served by Isthmus City International Airport and includes Bond's arrival by aircraft; a filmed scene cut from the film's theatrical release.[9]


  1. Gardner, John (2012). Licence to Kill. Orion, p.176. ISBN 978-1409135760. 
  2. (1989). 'Licence to Kill' [DVD]. Isthmus City arrival scene: MGM.
  3. Gardner, John (2012). Licence to Kill. Orion, p.93. ISBN 978-1409135760. 
  4. Gardner, John (2012). Licence to Kill. Orion. ISBN 978-1409135760. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Smith, Jim (2002). Bond Films. London: Virgin Books, pp.235-236. ISBN 978-0-7535-0709-4. 
  6. (1999). Inside Licence to Kill [DVD]. Licence to Kill: Ultimate Edition: MGM.
  7. (1999). Exotic Locations [DVD]. Licence to Kill: Ultimate Edition: MGM.
  8. (2001) Kiss Kiss Bang! Bang!: the Unofficial James Bond Film Companion. Batsford Books, p.185. ISBN 978-0-7134-8182-2. 
  9. Gardner, John (2012). Licence to Kill. Orion, p.93. ISBN 978-1409135760. 

See also

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