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Our reach  Jurisdictions . Panama


Geography . Economy . Politics . History . Demographics . Transport


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.

A nearly impenetrable jungle forms the Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia. It creates a break in the Pan-American Highway, which otherwise forms a complete road from Alaska to Chile.


Map of Panama


Panama's economy is service-based, heavily weighted toward banking, commerce, and tourism, because of its key geographic location. The handover of the canal and military installations by the US has given rise to new construction projects. The Martín Torrijos administration has undertaken controversial structural reforms, such as a fiscal reform and a very difficult Social Security Reform. Furthermore, it will soon convene a Referendum for the building of a third set of locks for the Panama Canal.


Politics of Panama takes 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 pluriform multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the National Assembly. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.

Panama's political divisions are 9 provinces, 75 districts or municipalities, 5 indigenous comarcas, and 620 "corregimientos." Panama is divided into 9 provinces (provincias) and 3 provincial-level indigenous territories (comarcas indígenas). There are also 2 sub-provincial comarcas, Kuna de Madugandí and Kuna de Wargandí, which are part of Panamá and Darién provinces, respectively.


Much of Panama's domestic politics and international diplomacy in the 20th century was 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 small number of wealthy Panamanian landowners led 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, 1903, Panama declared its independence from Colombia. The President of the Municipal Council, Demetrio H. Brid, 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 two countries, reaching a boiling point on January 9, 1964: Martyr's Day. These issues were resolved with the signing of the Torrijos-Carter Treaties in 1977.

The original intent of the founding fathers was to bring harmony between the two major political parties (Conservatives and Liberals). The Panamanian government went through periods of political instability and corruption, however, and at various times in its history, the mandate of an elected president terminated prematurely. In 1968, a Coup toppled the government of the recently elected Arnulfo Arias Madrid. Gen. Omar Torrijos eventually became the leading power in the governing military junta, and later became an autocratic strong man until his death in an apparent airplane accident in 1981. After Torrijos's death, power was eventually concentrated in the hands of Gen. Manuel Noriega, a former head of Panama's secret police. Noriega was implicated in drug trafficking by the United States, resulting in difficult relations by the end of the 1980’s.

To remove Gen. Manuel Noriega, on December 20, 1989, the United States invaded Panama in a large military operation involving 25,000 United States troops (see US invasion of Panama). Allegedly, 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 drug trafficking 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 U.S. military base in the former Panama Canal Zone, Guillermo Endara, the winning candidate in the May 1989 elections, 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 Monsignor Jose S. Laboa. To induce Noriega's surrender, US forces played loud music outside the embassy. After a few days, Noriega surrendered to the American military, and was taken to Florida to be formally arrested and charged U.S. federal authorities. He will be eligible for parole in 2007.

Under the Torrijos-Carter Treaties, the United States returned all canal-related lands to Panama on December 31, 1999, 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.


Colon, PanamaThe 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 African descent. 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 City–Colón metropolitan corridor.

The majority of Panamanians are Roman Catholic, accounting for almost 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 Protestant churches make up about 4% of the population. Other major religions in Panama are Islam (4.4%), the Bahá'í Faith (1.2%), Buddhism (at least 1%), Judaism (0.4%), and Hinduism (0.3%). The Jewish community in Panama, with over 10,000 members, is by far the biggest 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 three Jewish schools. Within Latin America, Panama has one of the largest Jewish communities in proportion to its population, surpassed by Uruguay and Argentina. Panama's communities of Muslims, East Asians, and South Asians, are also among the largest.

Panama City hosts one of only seven Bahá'í Houses of Worship in the world. Completed in 1972, it is perched on a high cliff overlooking the canal, and is constructed of local stone laid in a pattern reminiscent of Native American fabric designs.

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 Railroad. 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.)

There are seven indigenous peoples in Panama:

Naso (Teribe)

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


Being a small group of islands, transportation is limited. There are 113km of roads. The main airport is located on Beef Island, near Tortola. Virgin Gorda and Anegada have their own smaller airports. The main harbour is in Road Town.

[Source: Wikipedia - Panama]





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