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About Panama


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This article is about the nation in Central America. For other uses, see Panama.

República de Panamá (Spanish)

Republic of Panama
Flag of Panamá Coat of arms of Panamá
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: “Pro Mundi Beneficio” (Latin)
“For the Benefit of the World”
Anthem: Himno Istmeño (Spanish)
Location of Panamá
(and largest city)
Panama City
8°58′N, 79°32′W
Official languages Spanish
Ethnic groups 70% Mestizo, 14% Zambo, 10% white, 6% Amerindian
Demonym Panamanian
Government Constitutional Democracy
- President Martin Torrijos
- First Vice President Samuel Lewis
- Second Vice President Rubén Arosemena
- from Spain 28 November 1821
- from Colombia 3 November 1903
- Total 75,517 km² (118th)
29,157 sq mi
- Water (%) 2.9
- Dec 2006 estimate 3,320,000 (133rd)
- May 2000 census 2,839,177
- Density 43/km² (156th)
111/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2006 estimate
- Total $31.411 billion (103rd)
- Per capita $10,300 (83rd)
Gini (2002) 48.5
HDI (2007) 0.812 (high) (62nd)
Currency Balboa, U.S. dollar
Time zone (UTC-5)
- Summer (DST) (UTC-5)
Internet TLD .pa
Calling code +507

Panama, officially the Republic of Panama (Spanish: República de Panamá; Spanish pronunciation: [reˈpuβlika ðe panaˈma]), is the southernmost country of Central America. Situated on an isthmus, some categorize it as a transcontinental nation connecting the north and south part of America. It is bordered by Costa Rica to the north-west, Colombia to the south-east, the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. It is an international business center and is also a transit country. Although Panama is also the 3rd largest economy in Central America, after Guatemala and Costa Rica, it has the largest expenditure on resource consumption, making the country the largest consumer in Central America.


Main article: Politics of Panama

Panama’s politics 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 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. All National elections are universal and mandatory to all citizens 18 years and older.

Provinces and regions

The nine provinces and three provincial-level comarcas of Panama

The nine provinces and three provincial-level comarcas of Panama


Main article: Geography of Panama

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 1999, Panama controlled the Panama Canal that links the North Atlantic Ocean via the Caribbean Sea with the North Pacific Ocean.

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 intrusions.

Ancon Hill in Panama

Ancon Hill in Panama

The 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 Panamanian geographers as the Cordillera Central.

The highest point in the country is the Volcán Barú (formerly known as the Volcán de Chiriquí), which rises to 3475 meters (11401 ft.). 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 Patagonia.


Main article: Economy of Panama
A Panamax ship in transit through the  Miraflores locks, Panama Canal

A Panamax ship in transit through the Miraflores locks, Panama Canal

Traditional Afro-Panamanian building

Traditional Afro-Panamanian building

According to the CIA World Factbook, Panama has an unemployment rate of 7.2% and according to the ECLAC, the poverty rate is of 20% as of 2006, comparable to that of wealthier nations such as Argentina. However, the First World infrastructure and high standards of living shows Panama’s strong and thriving economic growth.

Panama’s economy is mainly service-based, heavily weighted toward 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 new construction projects. The Martín Torrijos administration has undertaken controversial structural reforms, such as a fiscal reform and a very difficult Social Security Reform.[citation needed] Furthermore, 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 Panamanian currency is the balboa, fixed at parity with the United States dollar. In practice, however, the country is dollarized; Panama mints its own coinage but uses US dollars for all its paper currency. Panama was the first of the three countries in Latin America to have dollarized their economies, later followed by Ecuador and El Salvador.


Panama City skyline

Panama City skyline

The high levels of Panamanian trade are in large part from the Colón Free Trade Zone, the largest free trade zone in the Western Hemisphere. 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 Caribbean (ECLAC). Panama’s economy is also very much supported by the trade and exportation of coffee.


According to the Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean (ECLAC, or CEPAL by its more-commonly used Spanish acronym), Panama’s inflation as measured by weight CPI was 2.0 percent in 2006. Panama has traditionally experienced low inflation.

Real estate

Panama City is currently experiencing a real estate boom. Tourists and retirees are arriving in greater quantities and consequently helping the local real estate market. Close to thirty-thousand Americans will be choosing Panama as their retirement home in the upcoming years and this will a key development for the country which already has about three million people. Attractive weather and low cost of living along with a firm economy serve as attraction points. The government of Panama has put together a very liberal package for the retirees offering tax exemptions, discounts on transportation and meals.

Apart from the existing demand, future developments will also be helped by such factors as the planned expansion of the Panama Canal.

Bilateral Investment Treaty with the U.S.

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.

The importance of Panama to the U.S. stems from the Panama Canal which was built by the U.S. during the period of 1904-1914.[citation needed] Previously, if ships wanted to pass through the Americas, they would have to go all the way around the most southern tip of South America, the Tierra del Fuego, and through the Drake Passage. The Panama Canal connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans directly at the narrowest point in Panama[citation needed]. When previously a ship going from New York to San Francisco would have to travel for 20,900 kilometers (13,000 miles), now that travel time would be reduced to 8370 km (5200 mi).

The canal is of economic importance since it provides millions of dollars from toll revenue[citation needed] as well as a right to include and exclude any other nation or company from using it. The United States had complete 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 as long as they agreed to the neutrality of the canal, as well as allowing the U.S. to return at any time.

Proposed Free Trade Agreement with the United States

A Trade Promotion Agreement between the United States and Panama was signed by both governments in 2007, but neither country has yet approved or implemented the Agreement. While the U.S. Congress was initially favorably disposed to the Panama pact, the election of the anti-American Pedro González, and his possible link with to the assassination of US soldier Zak Hernández, to the presidency of the Panamanian legislature on September 1, 2007 has halted progress of the pact in that body.


Kuna woman sewing

Kuna woman sewing

According to the CIA World Factbook, Panama has a population of 3,292,693. The majority of the population, 70% is mestizo. The rest is 14% Amerindian and mixed West Indian, 10% white and 6% Amerindian. The Amerindian population includes seven indigenous peoples, the Emberá, Wounaan, Guaymí, Buglé, Kuna, Naso and Bribri. More than half the population lives in the Panama CityColón metropolitan corridor.

The culture, customs, and language of the Panamanians are predominantly Caribbean and Spanish. Spanish is the official and dominant language. About eight percent of the population speak a creole, mostly in Panama City and in the islands off the northeast coast. English is spoken widely on the Caribbean coast and by many in business and professional fields.

The overwhelming majority of Panamanians is Roman Catholic, accounting for almost 75% of the population. Although the Constitution recognizes Catholicism as the religion of the great majority, Panama has no official religion. Minority religions in Panama include Islam (0.3%), the Bahá’í Faith (0.1%), Buddhism (at least 0.5%), Greek Orthodox (0.1%), 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 and the Caribbean). Jewish immigration began in the late 19th century, and at present there are 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 only by Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico. Panama is also the first country in Latin America to have a Jewish president, Eric Arturo Delvalle. Panama’s communities of Muslims, East Asians, and South Asians, are also among the largest.

Colón City, Panama

Colón City, Panama

Panama City hosts a Bahá’í House of Worship, one of only eight in the world. Completed in 1972, it is perched on a high hill facing the canal, and is constructed of local mud 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. Many Chinese immigrated to Panama from southern China to help build the Panama Railroad in the 19th century; their descendants number around 50,000. Starting in the 1970s, a further 80,000 have immigrated from other parts of mainland China as well.

The country is also the smallest in Spanish-speaking Latin America in terms of population (est. 3,232,000), with Uruguay as the second smallest (est. 3,463,000). However, since Panama has a higher birth rate, it is likely that in the coming years its population will surpass Uruguay’s.