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Panama (Spanish: Panamá) is the southernmost country of Central America. It constitutes the last part of a natural land bridge between the North American and South American continents. It borders Costa Rica to the west and Colombia to the east.

República de Panamá
(In Detail) (In Detail)
National motto: Pro Mundi Beneficio (Latin: For the Benefit of the World)
Official language Spanish (Official), (English and indigenous languages on the Caribbean coast)
Capital Panama City
President Martín Torrijos
Main Religion Roman Catholic (80%)
 - Total
 - % water
Ranked 115th
78,200 km²
 - Total
 - Density
Ranked 131st
3,000,463 (July 2004 est.)
 - Declared
From Colombia
November 3, 1903; From Spain
November 28, 1821
Currency Balboa
Time zone UTC -5
National anthem Himno Istmeño
Internet TLD .pa
Calling Code 507



Main article: History of Panama

Much of Panama's domestic politics and international diplomacy in the 20th century were tied to the Panama Canal and the foreign policy of the United States. At the turn of the 20th century, Theodore Roosevelt pursued United States diplomatic efforts to facilitate a deal with Colombia that would allow it to take over French canal operations started by Ferdinand de Lesseps. In November 1903, a representative number of Panamanians lead by a covert Separatist Junta presided by Dr. Manuel Amador Guerrero, were encouraged to secede from Colombia with support from the United States. On November 3, Panama declared its independence from Colombia after controlling the Colombian army. The President of the Municipal Council, Demetrio H. Brid[1], highest authority at the time, became its de facto President, appointing on November 4 a Provisional Government to run the affairs of the new republic. The United States was the first country to recognize the new Republic of Panama and sent troops to protect the nation. The 1904 Constituent Assembly elected Dr. Manuel Amador Guerrero, a prominent member of the Conservative political party, as the first constitutional President of the Republic of Panama.

In December 1903 representatives of the republic signed the Hay-Bunau Varilla Treaty which granted rights to the United States to build and administer indefinitely the Panama Canal, which was opened in 1914. This treaty became a contentious diplomatic issue between the United States and Panama until the signing of the Torrijos-Carter Treaties in 1977.

Although the original intent of the founding fathers was to bring harmony amongst the two major political parties (Conservatives and Liberals), the Panamanian government went through periods of political instability and corruption and at various times in its history, the mandate of an elected president terminated prematurely. In 1968, Gen. Omar Torrijos toppled the government of the recently elected Arnulfo Arias Madrid and became the virtual uncontested leader of Panama until his death in an airplane accident in 1981. After Torrijos's death, power eventually became concentrated in the hands of Gen. Manuel Noriega, a former head of Panama's secret police and a former CIA operative. Relations with the United States government soured by the end of the 1980s, with Noriega being accused of drug trafficking.

In December 1989, the United States invaded Panama in a large military operation codenamed Operation Just Cause involving 25,000 United States troops. Ostensibly, the death of an unarmed U.S. soldier in plain clothes in Panama at a Panamanian Defence Forces roadblock was one of the precipitating causes for the invasion along with drugtrafficking charges and Noriega's refusal to hand over power after being defeated in elections. However, according to the Panamanian government at the time, the officer's vehicle attempted to drive through the roadblock which was located near a sensitive military location. A few hours after the invasion, in a ceremony that took place inside a US military base in the former Panama Canal Zone, Guillermo Endara was sworn in as the new president of Panama. The invasion occurred just days before the Panama Canal administration was to be turned over to Panamanian control, according to the timetable set up by the Torrijos-Carter Treaties. After the invasion, Noriega sought asylum in the Vatican diplomatic mission represented by Monsignior Jose S. Laboa, but after a few days turned himself in to the American military. Noriega was immediately taken to Florida where he was formally charged and arrested by United States federal authorities. He is eligible for parole in 2006.

Under the Torrijos-Carter Treaty, on December 31, 1999, the United States returned all canal-related lands to Panama, but reserves the right to military intervention in the interest of its national security. Panama also gained control of canal-related buildings and infrastructure as well as full administration of the canal.


Politics of Panama

Politics of Panama
Political parties in Panama
Elections in Panama:
1999 - 2004


Politics Portal

Main article: Politics of Panama

Panama is a republic with three branches of government: executive and legislative branches elected by direct vote for 5-year terms, and an independently appointed judiciary. The executive branch includes a president and two vice presidents (second vice presidential seat will be eliminated in May 2009 elections). The legislative branch consists of a 78-member unicameral Legislative Assembly (legislative branch will decrease to 71 members in May 2009 elections). The judicial branch is organized under a nine-member Supreme Court and includes all tribunals and municipal courts. An autonomous Electoral Tribunal supervises voter registration, the election process, and the activities of political parties. Everyone over the age of 18 is required to vote, although those who fail to do so are not penalized.

General elections were held on May 2, 2004; the presidential contest was won by Martín Torrijos, son of the former strongman Omar Torrijos. Martín Torrijos assumed the presidency on September 1, 2004. The former president had been Mireya Moscoso, widow of the political leader Arnulfo Arias.


Main article: Subdivisions of Panama

Panama is divided into 9 provinces (provincias) and 5 indigenous territories (comarcas indígenas), marked by a *:


A map of Panama, showing the nine provinces and three provincial-level comarcas.
A map of Panama, showing the nine provinces and three provincial-level comarcas.

Main article: Geography of Panama

Panama is located in Central America, bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean, between Colombia and Costa Rica. Its location on the eastern end of the isthmus forming a landbridge connecting Central and South America is strategic. By 1999, Panama controlled the Panama Canal that links the North Atlantic Ocean via the Caribbean Sea with the North Pacific Ocean.


Main article: Economy of Panama

Because of its key geographic location, Panama's economy is service-based, heavily weighted toward banking, commerce, and tourism. The handover of the canal and military installations by the US has given rise to new construction projects. The Moscoso administration inherited an economy that is much more structurally sound and liberalized than the one inherited by its predecessor. However, Moscoso was criticized for several failed or halted schemes to develop the former Canal Zone area, including the Ciudad del Saber. The economy also experienced a downturn with the departure of thousands of expatriate Canal professionals.


Main article: Demographics of Panama

Colon, Panama
Colon, Panama
Skyline of Panama City
Skyline of Panama City
traditional Panamanian building
traditional Panamanian building
Ancon Hill in Panama
Ancon Hill in Panama

The culture, customs, and language of the Panamanians are predominantly Caribbean Spanish. Ethnically, the majority of the population is mestizo or mixed Spanish, Indian, Chinese, and West Indian. Spanish is the official and dominant language; English is a common second language spoken by the West Indians and by many in business and the professions. More than half the population lives in the Panama CityColón metropolitan corridor.

The majority of Panamanians are Roman Catholic, accounting for over 80% of the population. Although the Constitution recognises Catholicism as the religion of the majority, Panama has no official religion. Evangelical Christians are now estimated to be around 10% of the population. Other major religions in Panama are Islam (5%), the Bahá'í Faith (1%), Judaism (0.4%), and Hinduism (0.3%). The Jewish community, with over 10,000 members, is by far the biggest community in the region (including Central America, Colombia and the Caribbean). Jewish immigration began in the late 19th Century, and at present there are three synagogues in Panama City, as well as two Jewish schools. Within Latin America, Panama has one of the largest Jewish communities in proportion to its population, surpassed by Uruguay and Argentina.

Panama, because of its historical reliance on commerce, is above all a melting pot. This is shown, for instance, by its considerable population of Chinese origin, who number around 150,000, or about 5% of the population. (See main article at Chinatowns in Latin America—Panama). Many Chinese immigrated to Panama to help build the Panama Canal more than 100 years ago. A term for "corner store" in Panamanian Spanish is el chino, reflecting the fact that many corner stores are owned and run by Chinese immigrants. (Other countries have similar social patterns, for instance, the "Arab" corner store of France.)

The country is also the smallest in Latin America in terms of population, with Uruguay as the second-smallest (by almost 400,000). However, since Panama has a faster birth rate, it is likely that in the coming years its population will surpass Uruguay's.


Main article: Culture of Panama

See also

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