, officially the Republic of
( ; ), is the southernmost country of both Central America
and, in turn, North America
. Situated on the isthmus connecting North and South America, it is bordered by Costa Rica to the northwest, Colombia to the
southeast, the Caribbean
Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The capital is
an international business center, and has the largest economy in
Central America, followed by Guatemala, Costa
Rica and El
is also the fastest growing economy and the largest per capita
consumer in Central America.
There are several theories about the origin of the name "Panama".
Some believe that the country was named after a commonly found
species of trees. Others believe that the first settlers arrived in
Panama in August, when butterflies abound, and that the name means
"many butterflies" in indigenous tongue. The best known of these
versions is that a village populated by fishermen originally bore
the name "Panamá", after a beach nearby, and that this name meant
"many fish". Captain Antonio Tello de Guzmán, while exploring the
Pacific side in 1515, stopped in a small indigenous fishing town by
the name of Panama. This was communicated to the Crown and in 1517
Don Gaspar De Espinosa, a Spanish Lieutenant, decided to settle a
front post there. In 1519, Pedrarias Dávila decided to establish
the Empire's Pacific city in this site. The new settlement replaced
Santa María La Antigua del Darién, which had lost its function
within the Crown's global plan after the beginning of the Spanish
exploitation of the riches in the Pacific.
Blending all of the above together, Panamanians believe in general
that the word Panama means "abundance of fish, trees and
butterflies". This is the official definition given in Social
Studies textbooks approved by the Ministry of Education in Panama.
Some believe the word Panama comes from the Kuna word "Bannaba"
which means "distant" or "far away". Kunas
one of the native tribes of the Latin American nation. Ultimately,
the etymology of the word Panamá is not very clear.
earliest known inhabitants of Panama were the Cuevas and the Coclé tribes, but
they were decimated by disease and fighting when the Spaniards
arrived in the 1500s.
The Isthmus of Panama was formed in a very long process that
started 20 million years ago, up to about 3 million years ago when
the isthmus finally closed and plants and animals gradually crossed
it in both directions (Mayo 2004: 9-10). Dolores Piperno (1984) has
located the human occupancy of the isthmus at around the Late
Glacial Period (cited in Mayo 2004: 13). Olga Linares (1979: 21-43)
points out in turn that the existence of the isthmus had an impact
on the dispersal of people, agriculture and technology throughout
the American continent from the appearance of the first hunters and
collectors to the era of villages and cities (cited in Cooke and
Sánchez 2004: 3).
Richard Cooke and Luis Sánchez (2004: 4, 41-42) emphasize the
permanence of peoples in the terrestrial bridge of Central America,
and the higher probability that Pre-Columbian peoples in the
isthmus satisfied their needs by the exchange of goods, by
commercial exchange and through social relationships with
neighbouring communities, rather than by long distance exchanges
(Cooke and Sánchez 2004: 41).
Dendrograms proposed by genetists and linguists and available
information about styles and iconography of ceramic and stone
objects point to a successively complex dispersal of a population
of millenary permanence in the isthmus and neighbouring areas (see,
for example, Corrales 2000, cited in Cooke and Sanchez 2004: 39).
Cooke and Sánchez (2004: 4) argue therefore that Panama is a
singular example of diversity and endemism, and that Christopher
Columbus’ observations (1501-02) that ‘although dense, every
(village) has a different language and they don’t understand one
another’ (quoted in Jane 1988) describe the ethnographic phenomenon
of scattering and diversification of peoples that had inhabited the
isthmus for several thousands of years.
The earliest traces of these indigenous peoples include fluted
projectile points. Central Panama was home to some of the first
-making villages in the Americas
, such as the Monagrillo culture
dating to about 2500–1700 BC. These evolved into significant
populations that are best known through the spectacular burials of
the Conte site (dating to c. AD 500–900) and the beautiful
polychrome pottery of the Coclé style
. The monumental
monolithic sculptures at the Barriles
(Chiriqui) site were another important clue of the ancient isthmian
cultures. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, Panama was widely
settled by Chibchan
, and Cueva
peoples, among whom the largest group were the Cueva (whose
specific language affiliation is poorly documented). There is no
accurate knowledge of the size of the indigenous
the isthmus at the time of the European conquest. Estimates range
as high as two million people, but more recent studies place that
number closer to 200,000. Archeological finds as well as
testimonials by early European explorers describe diverse native
isthmian groups exhibiting cultural variety and suggesting people
already conditioned by regular regional routes of commerce.
Rodrigo de Bastidas, sailing westward
from Venezuela in 1501 in search of gold, was the first European
to explore the isthmus of Panama. A year later, Christopher Columbus visited the
isthmus and established a short-lived settlement in the Darien. Vasco Nunez
de Balboa's tortuous trek from the Atlantic to the Pacific in
1513 demonstrated that the Isthmus was, indeed, the path between
the seas, and Panama quickly became the crossroads and marketplace
of Spain's empire in
the New World.
Gold and silver were
brought by ship from South America, hauled across the isthmus, and
loaded aboard ships for Spain. The route became known as the Camino
Real, or Royal Road, although it was more commonly known as
Camino de Cruces
(Road of the
Crosses) because of the abundance of gravesites along the
Panama was part of the Spanish empire
for 300 years (1538–1821). From the outset, Panamanian identity was
based on a sense of "geographic destiny," and Panamanian fortunes
fluctuated with the geopolitical importance of the isthmus. The
colonial experience also spawned Panamanian nationalism as well as
a racially complex and highly stratified society, the source of
internal conflicts that ran counter to the unifying force of
In 1538 the Real Audiencia de Panama was established, initially
with jurisdiction from Nicaragua to Cape Horn. A Real Audiencia
(royal audiency) was a judicial district that functioned as an
appeals court. Each audiencia had oidores (Spanish: hearer, a
the site of the ill-fated Darien scheme, which set up a Scottish colony in the region in 1698. This failed for a
number of reasons, and the ensuing debt contributed to the union of England and Scotland in 1707.
When Panama was colonized, the indigenous peoples who survived many
diseases, massacres and enslavement of the conquest ultimately fled
into the forest and nearby islands. Indian slaves were replaced by
The prosperity enjoyed during the first two centuries (1540–1740)
while contributing to colonial growth; the placing of extensive
regional judicial authority (Real Audiencia) as part of its
jurisdiction; and the pivotal role it played at the height of the
Spanish Empire -the first modern global empire- helped define a
distinctive sense of autonomy and of regional or national identity
within Panama well before the rest of the colonies.
Santo Domingo Church.
In 1744 Bishop Francisco Javier de Luna Victoria y Castro
established the College of San Ignacio de Loyola and on June 3,
1749 founded La Real y Pontificia Universidad de San Javier. By
this time, however, Panama’s importance and influence had become
insignificant as Spain’s power dwindled in Europe
and advances in navigation technique
increasingly permitted to round Cape Horn in order to reach the
Pacific. While the Panama route was short it was also labor
intensive and expensive because of the loading and unloading and
laden-down trek required to get from the one coast to the other.
Panama route was also vulnerable to attack from pirates (mostly
Dutch and English) and from 'new world' Africans called cimarrons
who had freed themselves from enslavement and lived in communes or
palenques around the Camino Real in Panama's Interior, and on some
of the islands off Panama's Pacific coast. During the last half of the Eighteenth
century and the first half of the Nineteenth century, migrations to
the countryside decreased Panama City’s population and the isthmus' economy shifted from
the tertiary to the primary sector.
the viceroyalty of New
Granada (northern South America) was created in response to
other Europeans trying to take Spanish territory in the Caribbean region.
The Isthmus of Panama was placed
under its jurisdiction. But the remoteness of Santa Fe de Bogota
proved a greater obstacle than the Spanish crown anticipated as the
authority of New Granada was contested by the seniority, closer
proximity, previous ties to the viceroyalty of Lima and even
Panama's own initiative. This uneasy relationship between Panama and
persist for century or two.
Panamanian history has been shaped by its transisthmian canal, which had been a dream since the beginning of
From 1880 to 1890, a French company
under Ferdinand de Lesseps
attempted unsuccessfully to construct a sea-level canal on the site
of the present Panama Canal.
On the other hand, the Panamanian movement for independence can be
indirectly attributed to the abolishment of the encomienda
system in Azuero, set forth by the
Spanish Crown, in 1558 because of repeated protests by locals
against the mistreatment of the native population. In its stead, a
system of medium and smaller-sized landownership was promoted, thus
taking away the power from the large landowners and into the hands
of medium and small sized proprietors.
The end of the encomienda system in Azuero, however, sparked the
conquest of Veraguas in that same year. Under the leadership of
Francisco Vázquez, the region of Veraguas passed into Castillan
rule in 1558. In the newly conquered region, the old system of
encomienda was imposed.
On November 10, 1821, the Grito de La Villa de Los Santos occurred.
It was a unilateral decision by the residents of Azuero (without
backing from Panama City) to declare their separation from the
Spanish Empire. In both Veraguas and the capital this act was met
with disdain, although on differing levels of said emotion. To
Veraguas, it was the ultimate act of treason, while to the capital,
it was seen as inefficient and irregular, and furthermore forced
them to accelerate their plans.
The Grito was an event that shook the isthmus to the core. It was a
sign, on the part of the residents of Azuero, of their antagonism
towards the independence movement in the capital, who in turn
regarded the Azueran movement with contempt, since they (the
capital movement) believed that their counterparts were fighting
their right to rule, once the peninsulares (peninsular-born ) were
It was an incredibly brave move on the part of Azuero, which lived
in fear of Colonel José de Fábrega, and with good reason: the
Colonel was a staunch loyalist, and had the entirety of the
isthmus' military supplies in his hands. They feared quick
retaliation and swift retribution against the separatists.
What they had not counted on, however, was the influence of the
separatists in the capital. Ever since October 1821, when the
former Governor General, Juan de la Cruz Murgeón, left the isthmus
on a campaign in Quito and left the Veraguan colonel in charge, the
separatists had been slowly converting Fábrega to the separatist
side. As such, by November 10
was now a supporter of the independence movement. Soon after the
separatist declaration of Los Santos, Fábrega convened every
organization in the capital with separatist interests and formally
declared the city's support for independence. No military
repercussions occurred because of the skillful bribing of royalist
first eighty years following independence from Spain, Panama was a
department of Colombia.
Aftermath of urban warfare during the
U.S. invasion of Panama.
The people of the isthmus made several
attempts to secede
and came close to
success in 1831, and again during the Thousand Days War
of 1899–1902. When the
Senate of Colombia
, the United
States decided to support the Panamanian independence movement. In
November 1903, Panama proclaimed its independence and concluded the
with the United States.The treaty granted rights to the United
States "as if it were sovereign" in a zone roughly 10 miles wide and 50 miles long.
that zone, the U.S. would build a canal, then administer, fortify,
and defend it "in perpetuity." In 1914, the United States completed
the existing 83-km (52 mile) canal. The early 1960s saw the
beginning of sustained pressure in Panama for the renegotiation of
From 1903 until 1968, Panama was a constitutional democracy
by a commercially oriented oligarchy
During the 1950s, the Panamanian military began to challenge the
oligarchy's political hegemony.
Amidst negotiations for the Robles-Johnson treaty, Panama held
elections in 1967. The candidates were Dr. Arnulfo Arias
Madrid, Antonio González
Revilla, and Engineer David Samudio, who had the government’s
support. Samudio was the candidate of Alianza del Pueblo (“People’s
Alliance”), Arias Madrid was the candidate of Unión Nacional
(“National Union”), and González Revilla was the candidate of
(“Christian Democrats”) (see Pizzurno Gelós and Araúz, Estudios
sobre el Panamá republicano 508).
Arias Madrid was declared the winner of elections that were marked
by violence and accusations of fraud against Alianza del Pueblo. On
1 October 1968, Arias Madrid took office as president of Panama,
promising to lead a government of “national union” that would end
the reigning corruption and pave the way for a new Panama. A week
and a half later, on the 11 October 1968, the National Guard
(Guardia Nacional) ousted Arias, and initiated the downward spiral
that would culminate with the United States invasion in 1989.
Arias, who had promised to respect the hierarchy of the National
Guard, broke the pact and started a large restructuring of the
Guard. To preserve the Guard’s interests, Lt. Colonel Omar Torrijos
Herrera and Major Boris Martínez commanded the first coup of a
military force against a civilian government in Panamanian
republican history (see Pizzurno Gelós and Araúz, Estudios sobre el
Panamá republicano 523).
The military justified itself by declaring that Arias Madrid was
trying to install a dictatorship, and promised a return to
constitutional rule. In the meantime, the Guard began a series of
populist measures that would gain support for the coup. Amongst
them were the freezing of prices on food and other goods until 31
January 1969, the freezing of renting prices, the legalization of
the permanence of squatting families in boroughs surrounding the
historic site of Panama Viejo, and the freezing of prices on
medicines (Pizzurno Gelós and Araúz, Estudios sobre el Panamá
republicano 529). Parallel to this, the military began a policy of
repression against the opposition, which were labelled communists.
The military appointed a Provisional Government Junta that would
arrange new elections. However, the National Guard would prove to
be very reluctant to abandon power, and soon began calling itself
El Gobierno Revolucionario (“The Revolutionary Government”).
During Omar Torrijos’s control, the military regime transformed the
political and economic structure of the country by initiating
massive coverage of social security services and expanding public
education. The Constitution was changed in 1972. For the reform to
the Constitution, the military created a new organization, the
Assembly of Corregimiento Representatives, which replaced the
National Assembly. The new assembly, also known as the Poder
Popular (“Power of the People”), was composed of 505 members
selected by the military without the participation of political
parties, which had been eliminated by the military. The new
Constitution proclaimed Omar Torrijos the “Maximum Leader of the
Panamanian Revolution,” and conceded him unlimited power for six
years, although, to keep a façade of constitutionality, Demetrio B. Lakas
was appointed president for the same
period (Pizzurno Gelós and Araúz, Estudios sobre el Panamá
Torrijos' death in 1981 altered the tone but not the direction of
Panama's political evolution. Despite the 1983 constitutional
amendments, which appeared to proscribe a political role for the
military, the Panama Defense Forces (PDF), as they were then known,
continued to dominate Panamanian political life behind a facade of
civilian government, committing numerous human rights violations.
By this time, General Manuel Noriega
was firmly in control of both the PDF and the civilian
In the 1984 elections, the candidates were Nicolás Ardito Barletta
, supported by the military in a union called UNADE;
Dr. Arnulfo Arias Madrid, for the opposition union ADO; the
ex-General Rubén Darío
, who had been forced to an early retirement by Noriega,
running for Partido Nacionalista Popular PNP (“Popular Nationalist
Party”), and Carlos Iván Zúñiga, running for Partido Acción Popular
PAPO (“Popular Action Party”). Nicolás Ardito Barleta was declared
the winner of elections that had been clearly won by Arnulfo Arias
Madrid. Ardito Barletta inherited a country in economic ruin and
hugely indebted to the IMF and the World Bank. Amidst the economic
crisis and Barletta’s efforts to calm the country’s creditors,
street protests arose, and so did military repression.
Meanwhile, Noriega's regime had fostered the development of a
well-hidden criminal economy that operated as a parallel source of
income for the military and their allies, providing revenues from
drugs and money laundering
the end of the military dictatorship, a new wave of Chinese
migrants arrived at the Isthmus, in the hope of migrating to the
United States. The smuggling of Chinese became an enormous
business, with revenues of up to 200 million dollars for Noriega’s
regime (see Mon 167).
The military dictatorship, at that time supported by the United
States, perpetrated the assassination and torture of more than one
hundred Panamanians and forced into exile at least another hundred
dissidents (see Zárate 15). Noriega also began playing a double
role in Central America under the supervision of the CIA. While the
Contadora group conducted diplomatic efforts to achieve peace in
the region, Noriega supplied the Nicaraguan Contras
and other guerrillas in the region with
weapons and ammunition (Pizzurno Gelós and Araúz, Estudios sobre el
Panamá republicano 602).
On 6 June 1987, the recently retired Colonel Roberto Díaz Herrera,
resentful for Noriega’s violation of the “Torrijos Plan” of
succession that would turn him into the chief of the military after
Noriega, decided to denounce the regime. He revealed details of the
electoral fraud, accused Noriega of planning Torrijos’s death,
declared that Torrijos had received 12 million dollars from the
Shah of Iran so that Panama would give the exiled Iranian leader
asylum, and blamed Noriega for the assassination by decapitation of
opposition leader Dr. Hugo Spadafora (Pizzurno Gelós and Araúz,
Estudios sobre el Panamá republicano 618).
On the night of 9 June 1987, the Cruzada Civilista (“Civic
Crusade”) was created and began organizing actions of civil
disobedience. The Crusade called for a general strike. In response,
the military suspended constitutional rights and declared a state
of emergency in the country. On 10 July, the Civic Crusade called
for a massive demonstration that was violently repressed by the
“Dobermans,” the military’s special riot control unit. That day,
later known as El Viernes Negro (“Black Friday”), left six hundred
people injured and another six hundred detained, many of whom were
later tortured and raped.
United States President Ronald Reagan
began a series of sanctions against the military regime. The United
States froze economic and military assistance to Panama in the
summer of 1987 in response to the domestic political crisis in
Panama and an attack on the U.S. Embassy. Yet these sanctions did
little to overthrow Noriega, and severely damaged Panama’s economy.
The sanctions hit the Panamanian population hard, and caused the
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to decline almost 25% between
1987-1989 (see Acosta n.p.).
On 5 February 1988, General Manuel Antonio Noriega was accused of
drug trafficking by federal juries in Tampa and Miami.
In April 1988, U.S. President Ronald Reagan invoked the International
Emergency Economic Powers Act
, freezing Panamanian Government
assets in all U.S. organizations. In May 1989 Panamanians voted
overwhelmingly for the anti-Noriega candidates. The Noriega regime
promptly annulled the election, and embarked on a new round of
On 19 December, President George
H. W. Bush
decided to use force against Panama,
declaring that the operation was necessary to safeguard the lives
of United States citizens in Panama, defend democracy and human
rights, combat drug trafficking, and secure the functioning of the
Canal as required by the Torrijos-Carter Treaties
Times, A Transcript of President Bush's Address n.p.).
Operation Just Cause
justified by the United States as necessary to secure the
functioning of the Canal and re-establish democracy in the country.
Although described as a surgical maneuver, the action led to
civilian deaths whose estimated numbers range from 400 to 4,000
during the two weeks of armed activities in the largest United
States military operation after the Vietnam War. For some
commentators, the action was not intended only to rid Panama of the
dictatorship, but served also to reinforce United States authority
over the region right at the end of the Cold War, as well as use
Panama as practice field for weapons and strategies that would
shortly after be used in the Gulf War (Cajar Páez 22).
The urban population, living below the poverty level, was greatly
affected by the 1989 invasion, becoming the ‘collateral cost’ of
of the country.
As pointed out in 1995 by a UN Technical Assistance Mission to
Panama, the bombardments during the Invasion caused the
displacement of 20,000 persons. The most stricken district was El
Chorrillo where several blocks of apartments where completely
destroyed. El Chorrillo had been since Canal construction days a
series of wooden barracks; these easily caught fire under the
United States attack. According to the Technical Mission, the
displaced were segregated to unfinished USAID dwellings, far from
communications and basic services, or were sent back to live in El
Chorrillo's new low-standard multi-family buildings constructed
hastily by the Panamanian Government in replacement of their lost
homes (see Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,
n.p.). As stated by respondents in a 2005 survey conducted in El
Chorrillo, after the invasion, crime and drug trafficking
increased, and living conditions in the neighborhood worsened.
Coleen Acosta points out that “the intervention added further to
(Panama’s) economic decline. Some sections of Panama City were
heavily damaged, leaving thousands homeless, and subsequent looting
left businesses with damages in the hundreds of millions. The
economic damage caused by the invasion and subsequent civil
disobedience has been estimated to be between 1.5 and 2 billion
dollars (...) Unemployment rose to record highs as the government
infrastructure was left in chaos. According to the chamber of
Commerce, 10,000 employees lost their jobs in the aftermath of the
The U.S. troops involved in Operation Just Cause achieved their
primary objectives, and Noriega eventually surrendered to U.S.
authorities. He completed his sentence for drug trafficking charges
in September 2007. In August 2007, a U.S. federal court in Miami
extraditable to France to
serve a sentence imposed there after an in absentia conviction for
money laundering. Noriega remains in custody pending the outcome of
his legal challenges to the certificate of extradition issued in
Though Panama suffered heavy economic
upheavals because of military warfare, it has managed to slowly
rebuild its economy.
Panama's Electoral Tribunal moved quickly to rebuild the civilian
constitutional government, reinstated the results of the May 1989
election on December 27, 1989, and confirmed the victory of
President Guillermo Endara
Presidents Guillermo Ford and Ricardo Arias Calderon.
During its five-year term, the often-fractious government struggled
to meet the public's high expectations. Its new police force was a
major improvement over its predecessor but was not fully able to
deter crime. Ernesto Pérez
was sworn in as President on September 1, 1994,
after an internationally monitored election campaign.
Perez Balladares ran as the candidate for a three-party coalition
dominated by the Democratic Revolutionary
(PRD), the erstwhile political arm of military
dictatorships. Perez Balladares worked skillfully during the
campaign to rehabilitate the PRD's image, emphasizing the party's
populist Torrijos roots rather than its association with Noriega.
He won the election with only 33% of the vote when the major
non-PRD forces splintered into competing factions. His
administration carried out economic reforms and often worked
closely with the U.S. on implementation of the Canal
On September 1, 1999, Mireya Moscoso
the widow of former President Arnulfo Arias Madrid, took office
after defeating PRD candidate Martin
, son of the late dictator, in a free and fair
election. During her administration, Moscoso attempted to
strengthen social programs, especially for child and youth
development, protection, and general welfare. Moscoso's
administration successfully handled the Panama Canal transfer and
was effective in the administration of the Canal.
The PRD's Martin Torrijos won the presidency and a legislative
majority in the National Assembly in 2004. Torrijos ran his
campaign on a platform of, among other pledges, a "zero tolerance"
for corruption, a problem endemic to the Moscoso and Perez
Balladares administrations. Since taking office, Torrijos has
passed a number of laws making the government more transparent. He
formed a National Anti-Corruption Council whose members represent
the highest levels of government, as well as civil society, labor
organizations, and religious leadership. In addition, many of his
closest Cabinet ministers are non-political technocrats known for
their support for the Torrijos government's anti-corruption aims.
Despite the Torrijos administration's public stance on corruption,
many high-profile cases, particularly involving political or
business elites, have been acted upon.
The nine provinces and three
Panama's politics take place in a framework of a presidential representative democratic republic
, whereby the President of Panama
is both head of state
and head of government
, and of a multi-party system
. Executive power
is exercised by the
government. Legislative power
vested in both the government
is independent of the executive
and the legislature.
For all people national elections are universal and mandatory for
all citizens 18 years and older. National elections for the
executive and legislative branches take place every five years.
Members of the judicial branch are appointed by the head of state.
is elected by proportional representation in fixed
electoral districts, so many smaller parties are represented.
Presidential elections do not require a simple majority, and
Panama's last three presidents were elected with the support of
only 30–40% of voters.
Since the U.S. invasion and the end of the 21-year military
dictatorship, Panama has successfully completed three peaceful
transfers of power to opposing political factions. The political
landscape is dominated by two major parties and many smaller
parties, many of which are driven by individual leaders more than
ideologies. Former President Martin
is the son of former military dictator Omar Torrijos
. He succeeded Mireya Moscoso
, the widow of Arnulfo Arias
. Panama's most recent national
elections occurred on May 3, 2009 with Ricardo Martinelli
being elected. He was
sworn for a five-year term in Panama City on July 1, 2009.
Provinces and regions
Panama is divided into nine provinces, with their respective local
) and has a total of
ten cities. Also, there are five Comarcas
"Shires") which house a variety of indigenous groups.
Panama is located in Central America, bordering both the Caribbean
Sea and the Pacific Ocean, between Colombia and Costa Rica. Its
location on the Isthmus of Panama
is strategic. By 2000, Panama controlled the Panama Canal that links the Atlantic Ocean via the Caribbean Sea with the North Pacific
Panama, at 75,420 sq km, is ranked 124th worldwide on
the basis of land size.
The dominant feature of the country's landform is the central spine
of mountains and hills that forms the continental divide. The
divide does not form part of the great mountain chains of North
America, and only near the Colombian border are there highlands
related to the Andean
system of South America.
The spine that forms the divide is the highly eroded arch of an
uplift from the sea bottom, in which peaks were formed by volcanic
mountain range of the divide is called the Cordillera
de Talamanca near the Costa Rican border.
Farther east it
becomes the Serranía de Tabasará, and the portion of it closer to
the lower saddle of the isthmus, where the canal is located, is
often called the Sierra de Veraguas. As a whole, the range
between Costa Rica and the canal is generally referred to by
geographers as the Cordillera Central.
highest point in the country is the Volcán
Barú (formerly known as the Volcán de Chiriquí), which
rises to 3,475 meters (11,401 ft). A nearly impenetrable
jungle forms the Darien
Gap between Panama and Colombia where Colombian
guerrilla and drug dealers are operating
forest protection movements create a break in the Pan-American Highway, which otherwise
forms a complete road from Alaska to Patagonia.
Panama's wildlife holds the most diversity of all the countries in
Central America. It is home to many South American species as well
as North American wildlife.
The Chagres River.
Nearly 500 rivers lace Panama's rugged landscape. Mostly
unnavigable, many originate as swift highland streams, meander in
valleys, and form coastal deltas. However, the Río Chagres (Rio Chagres) is one of the few wide
rivers and a source of enormous hydroelectric power.
river is located in central Panama. The central part of the river is dammed by the Gatun Dam and forms Gatun Lake, an artificial lake
that constitutes part of the Panama Canal. The lake was created between 1907 and 1913
by the building of the Gatun
Dam across the Chagres River.
At the time it was created, Gatun Lake was
the largest man-made lake in the world, and the dam was the largest
earth dam. It drains northwest into the Caribbean Sea.
The Kampia and Madden Lakes (also filled
with water from the Río Chagres) provide hydroelectricity for the
area of the former Canal Zone.
The Río Chepo, another source of hydroelectric power, is one of the
more than 300 rivers emptying into the Pacific. These
Pacific-oriented rivers are longer and slower running than those of
the Caribbean side. Their basins are also more extensive. One of
the longest is the Río Tuira
flows into the Golfo de San
and is the nation's only river navigable by larger
The Caribbean coastline is marked by several good natural harbors.
However, Cristóbal, at the Caribbean terminus of the canal, had the
only important port facilities in the late 1980s. The numerous islands
of the Archipiélago de Bocas del Toro, near the Beaches of Costa
Rica, provide an extensive natural roadstead and shield the banana
port of Almirante. The over 350 San Blas Islands, near Colombia, are strung out for more than
160 km along the sheltered Caribbean coastline.
Cold climate is usual near and in the
Panama has a tropical climate. Temperatures are uniformly high—as
is the relative humidity—and there is little seasonal variation.
Diurnal ranges are low; on a typical dry-season day in the capital
city, the early morning minimum may be 24°C (75°F) and the
afternoon maximum 29°C (84°F). The temperature seldom exceeds 32°C
(90°F) for more than a short time. Temperatures on the Pacific side
of the isthmus are somewhat lower than on the Caribbean, and
breezes tend to rise after dusk in most parts of the country.
Temperatures are markedly cooler in the higher parts of the
mountain ranges, and frosts occur in the Cordillera de Talamanca in
western Panama. Climatic regions are determined less on the basis
of temperature than on rainfall, which varies regionally from less
than 1.3 to more than 3 meters per year. Almost all of the rain
falls during the rainy season, which is usually from April to
December, but varies in length from seven to nine months. In
general, rainfall is much heavier on the Caribbean than on the
Pacific side of the continental divide. The annual average in
Panama City is little more than half of that in Colón. Although
rainy-season thunderstorms are common, the country is outside of
the hurricane belt.
Panama's tropical environment supports an abundance of plants.
Forests dominate, interrupted in places by grasslands, scrub, and
crops. Although nearly 40 percent of Panama is still wooded,
deforestation is a continuing threat to the rain-drenched
woodlands. Tree cover has been reduced by more than 50 percent
since the 1940s. Subsistence farming, widely practiced from the
northeastern jungles to the southwestern grasslands, consists
largely of corn, bean, and tuber plots. Mangrove swamps occur along
parts of both coasts, with banana plantations occupying deltas near
Costa Rica. In many places, a multi-canopied rain forest abuts the
swamp on one side of the country and extends to the lower reaches
of slopes in the other.
Colón's Christ Church by the
Panama had a population of 3,309,679 in 2008. As of the year 2000,
the majority of the population, 50.1%, was Mestizo
were together the largest
minority, accounting for 22%. For the remaining groups the
percentages were: Amerindian
5.5%, and other 7.1%. The
Amerindian population includes seven indigenous peoples: the
. More than half the population lives in the
Panama City–Colón metropolitan corridor.
The culture, customs, and language of the Panamanians are
predominantly Caribbean and Spanish. Spanish
is the official and dominant
language. About 93% speak Spanish as their first language, though
there are many citizens who speak both English and Spanish or
native languages, such as ngabere.
Panama, because of its historical reliance on commerce, is above
all a melting pot and a separated country. This is shown, for
instance, by its considerable population of Afro-Antillean and
. The first Chinese immigrated to Panama
southern China to help build the Panama Railroad in the 19th
century. They were followed by several waves of immigrants whose
descendants number around 50,000. Starting in the 1970s, a further 80,000
have immigrated from other parts of China as
Most of the Panamanian population of West Indian
descent owe their presence in the country to the monumental efforts
to build the Panama Canal in the late 19th and early 20th
The country is the smallest in Spanish-speaking Latin America in
terms of population (est. 3,309,679), with Uruguay as the second
smallest (est. 3,463,000).
The most common religion in
is Roman Catholicism
various sources estimate that 75–85% of the population identifies
itself as Roman Catholic and 15–25% percent as evangelical Christian
. The Bahá'í Faith
community of Panama is
estimated at 2.00% of the national population, or about 60,000 and
is home to one of the seven Baha'i Houses of Worship
religious groups include Jewish
communities with approximately 10,000
members each, and small groups of Hindus
. Indigenous religions include
) and Mamatata
(among Ngöbe Buglé
The culture of Panama derived from European music
and traditions that were brought over by
to Panama. Hegemonic
forces have created hybrid
forms of this by blending African
and Native American
with European culture
example, the tamborito
is a Spanish dance that was blended
with Native American rhythms, themes and dance moves. Dance is a
symbol of the diverse cultures that have coupled in Panama. The
local folklore can be experienced through a multitude of festivals,
dances and traditions that have been handed down from generation to
generation. Local cities host live Reggae en Español
performances. Outside of Panama City, regional festivals take place throughout the year
featuring local musicians and dancers.
Another example of
Panama’s blended culture is reflected in the traditional products,
such as woodcarvings
, ceremonial masks
, as well as in its architecture,
cuisine and festivals. In earlier times, baskets were woven for
utilitarian uses, but now many villages rely almost exclusively on
the baskets they produce for tourists.
An example of undisturbed, unique culture in Panama stems from the
who are known for
. Mola is the Kuna Indian word
for blouse, but the term mola has come to mean the elaborate
embroidered panels that make up the front and back of a Kuna
woman's blouse. Molas are works of art created by the women of the
Cuna (or Kuna)
tribe. They are several layers of cloth varying in color that are
loosely stitched together made using an appliqué
process referred to as "reverse
According to the CIA World
, Panama has an unemployment
rate of 5.1%. According to the
, the poverty
is 28.6% as of 2006 and is expected to decline to 11% by 2009, in
spite of the Global financial crisis
of 2008 - 2009
. Also, an alimentary surplus was registered in
August 2008, and infrastructure works are progressing rapidly. On
the Human Development Index
Panama is ranked at number 58 (2008). The International Monetary Fund has predicted that Panama will be the fastest
growing economy in Latin America in 2009.
It was the second
fastest growing economy in Latin America in 2008, after Peru.
Since taking office in 1994 President Ernesto Perez Balladares
an economic liberalization program designed to liberalize the trade
regime, attract foreign investment, privatize state-owned
enterprises, institute fiscal discipline and privatized its two
ports in 1997 and approved the sale of the railroad in early
assets. Panama joined the World
(WTO) and a banking reform law was approved
by the legislature in early 1998 and dismantled the Central bank
. After two years of near
stagnation the reforms began to take root; GDP grew by 3.6% in 1997
and grew by more than 6% in 1998. The most important sectors which
drove growth were the Panama Canal and the shipping and port
activities of The Colon Free Zone which also rebounded from a slow
year in 1996.
El Valle de Antón.
Balboa - Panama's currency.
Panama's economy is mainly based on a well developed service sector
heavily weighted towards banking, commerce, tourism, trading and
, because of its key
geographic location. The handover of the Canal and military
installations by the United States has given rise to some
construction projects. A referendum regarding the building of a
third set of locks for the Panama Canal was approved overwhelmingly
(though with low voter turnout) on 22 October 2006. The official
estimate of the building of the third set of locks is US$5.25
billion. The canal is of economic importance since it pumps
millions of dollars from toll revenue to the national economy and
provides massive employment. The United States had a monopoly over
the Panama Canal for 85 years. However, the Torrijos-Carter
Treaties signed in 1977 began the process of returning the canal to
the Panamanian government in 1999.
The Panamanian currency is officially the balboa
at parity with the United States dollar
in 1903. In practice, however, the country is dollarized
; Panama has its own coinage but
uses U.S. dollars for all its paper currency. According to the
Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean, Panama's
inflation as measured by weight CPI
was 2.0% in 2006. Panama has
traditionally experienced low inflation, as it shares currencies
with the U.S.
The balboa replaced the Colombian
in 1904 following the country's independence. The balboa
has been tied to the United States
(which is legal tender
Panama) at an exchange rate
since its introduction and has always circulated alongside
Panamanian banknotes, denominated in balboas, were printed in 1941
by President Arnulfo Arias. They were recalled several days later,
giving them the name "The Seven Day Dollar." The notes were burned
after the seven days but occasionally balboa notes can be found
with collectors. These were the only banknotes issued by Panama and
U.S. notes have circulated both before and since.
levels of Panamanian trade are in large part from the Colón Free Trade Zone, the
largest free trade zone in the world Western Hemisphere.
Traditional coffee-drying at the Alto
Boquete plant of Cafe Ruiz.
Last year the zone accounted for 92% of
Panama's exports and 64% of its imports, according to an analysis
of figures from the Colon zone management and estimates of Panama's
trade by the
United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the
. Panama's economy is also very much supported by the
trade and exportation of coffee
The Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) between the governments of
the United States and Panama was signed on October 27, 1982. The
treaty protects U.S. investment and assists Panama in its efforts
to develop its economy by creating conditions more favorable for
U.S. private investment and thereby strengthening the development
of its private sector. The BIT with Panama was the first such
treaty signed by the U.S. in the Western Hemisphere. A Trade Promotion
between the United States and Panama was signed by
both governments in 2007, but neither country has yet approved or
implemented the agreement.
Tourism in the Republic of Panama kept its growth during the past 5
years. The number of tourists arriving between January and
September 2008 was 1,110,000, 13.1% or 128,452 visitors. This was a
significant increase to the 982,640 travelers who had arrived in
the same period of 2007, a year that beat all records regarding the
entry of tourists into the country.
The arrival of tourists from Europe to Panama grew by 23.1% during
the first nine months of 2008. According to the Tourism Authority
of Panama (ATP), between January and September, 71,154 tourists
from the Old Continent entered the country that is 13,373 more than
figures for same period last year.
Most of the Europeans who have visited Panama were Spaniards
(14,820), followed by Italians (13,216), French (10,174) and
British (8,833). From Germany, the most populous country in the
European Union, 6997 tourists arrived.
Europe has become one of the key markets to promote Panama as a
In 2007 1.445.5 million entered into the Panamanian economy as a
result of tourism. This accounted for 9.5% of gross domestic
product in the country, surpassing other productive sectors.
Panama´s Law No. 8 is still the most modern and comprehensive law
for the promotion of tourism investment in Latin America and the
Caribbean. In so-called Special Tourism Zones, Law 8 offers
incentives such as 100% exemption from income tax, real estate tax,
import duties for construction materials and equipment, and other
Panama has declared different parts of the country as Special
Tourism Zones which are benefited with multiple tax exemptions and
- Mellander, Gustavo A.; Nelly Maldonado Mellander (1999).
Charles Edward Magoon: The Panama Years. Río Piedras, Puerto Rico:
Editorial Plaza Mayor. ISBN 1563281554. OCLC 42970390.
- Mellander, Gustavo A. (1971). The United States in Panamanian
Politics: The Intriguing Formative Years. Danville, Ill.:
Interstate Publishers. OCLC 138568.
- García-Huidobro, Guillermo, El trabajo infanto juvenil de
Panama en los años noventa, UNICEF, Panamá.
- García-Huidobro, Guillermo, 2001 Panamá, Política Económica y
Empleo en los años noventa,
- The Panama Deception (1992) A
US produced and directed documentary that received an Academy
Award, a.k.a. Oscar, in 1992, and which documents the December 1989
U.S. invasion of Panama
Government and diplomacy
- Panama at UCB Libraries GovPubs
- Panama at Harvard University