Panama -- Geography --
Panama 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.
Official Name: Republic of Panama
Capital City: Panama
Official Currency: Balboa, U.S. dollar (PAB, USD)
Religions: Roman Catholic 85%, Evangelical Christian 15%
Population: 3,360,474 (2009)
Land Area: 75,991 km2
Landforms: 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 highest point in the country is the Volcán Barú. A nearly impenetrable jungle forms the Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia. 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 is one of the few wide rivers.
Land Divisions: Panama is divided into nine provinces, with their respective local authorities (governors) and has a total of ten cities. Also, there are five Comarcas which house a variety of indigenous groups.
Provinces: Bocas del Toro, Chiriquí, Coclé, Colón, Darién, Herrera, Los Santos, Panamá, Veraguas
Comarcas: Emberá, Kuna Yala, Ngöbe-Buglé, Kuna de Madugandí, Kuna de Wargandí
Panama -- History --
Explored by Columbus in 1502 and by Balboa in 1513, Panama was the principal shipping point to and from South and Central America in colonial days. In 1821, when Central America revolted against Spain, Panama joined Colombia, which had already declared its independence. For the next 82 years, Panama attempted unsuccessfully to break away from Colombia. Between 1850 and 1900 Panama had 40 administrations, 50 riots, 5 attempted secessions, and 13 U.S. interventions. After a U.S. proposal for canal rights over the narrow isthmus was rejected by Colombia, Panama proclaimed its independence with U.S. backing in 1903.
For canal rights in perpetuity, the U.S. paid Panama $10 million and agreed to pay $250,000 each year, which was increased to $430,000 in 1933 and to $1,930,000 in 1955. In exchange, the U.S. got the Canal Zone—a 10-mile-wide strip across the isthmus—and considerable influence in Panama's affairs. On Sept. 7, 1977, Gen. Omar Torrijos Herrera and President Jimmy Carter signed treaties giving Panama gradual control of the canal, phasing out U.S. military bases, and guaranteeing the canal's neutrality.
Nicolas Ardito Barletta, Panama's first directly elected president in 16 years, was inaugurated on Oct. 11, 1984, for a five-year term. He was a puppet of strongman Gen. Manuel Noriega, a former CIA operative and head of the secret police. Noriega replaced Barletta with vice president Eric Arturo Delvalle a year later. In 1988, Noriega was indicted in the U.S. for drug trafficking, but when Delvalle attempted to fire him, Noriega forced the national assembly to replace Delvalle with Manuel Solis Palma. In Dec. 1989, the assembly named Noriega “maximum leader” and declared the U.S. and Panama to be in a state of war. In Dec. 1989, 24,000 U.S. troops seized control of Panama City in an attempt to capture Noriega after a U.S. soldier was killed in Panama. On Jan. 3, 1990, Noriega surrendered himself to U.S. custody and was transported to Miami, where he was later convicted of drug trafficking. Guillermo Endara, who probably would have won an election suppressed earlier by Noriega, was installed as president.
On Dec. 31, 1999, the U.S. formally handed over control of the Panama Canal to Panama. Meanwhile, Colombian rebels and paramilitary forces have made periodic incursions into Panamanian territory, raising security concerns. Panama has also faced increased drug and arms smuggling.
In May 2004 presidential elections, Martín Torrijos Herrera, the son of former dictator Omar Torrijos, won 47.5% of the vote. He took office in September.
Panamanians approved a plan to expand the Panama Canal in 2006. It will likely double the canal's capacity and is expected to be completed by2015.
Panama -- Economy --
Panama's economy is mainly based on a well developed service sector heavily weighted towards banking, commerce, tourism, trading and private industries, 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.
* Exports: clothing, bananas, meat of bovine animals, marine products, sugar, coffee, tobacco.
* Agriculture - mainly bananas, citrus, coffee, tobacco, etc..
* Transportation - highways 11 thousand km of which 4 thousand asphalt, rail lines - 355 kilometers
* Major seaports - Colon and Panama
Panama -- Culture --
The culture of Panama derived from European music, art and traditions that were brought over by the Spanish to Panama. Hegemonic forces have created hybrid forms of this by blending African and Native American culture with European culture. For 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, Cuban, Reggaeton, Kompa, Colombian, jazz, blues, salsa, reggae and rock 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 and pottery, 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.
Panama -- Political system, law and government --
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 is vested in both the government and the National Assembly. The judiciary 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. Panama's National Assembly 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 Torrijos 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.