(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CIA WORLD FACT BOOK)
|Introduction||Explored and settled by the Spanish in the 16th century, Panama broke with Spain in 1821 and joined a union of Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela – named the Republic of Gran Colombia. When the latter dissolved in 1830, Panama remained part of Colombia. With US backing, Panama seceded from Colombia in 1903 and promptly signed a treaty with the US allowing for the construction of a canal and US sovereignty over a strip of land on either side of the structure (the Panama Canal Zone). The Panama Canal was built by the US Army Corps of Engineers between 1904 and 1914. In 1977, an agreement was signed for the complete transfer of the Canal from the US to Panama by the end of the century. Certain portions of the Zone and increasing responsibility over the Canal were turned over in the subsequent decades. With US help, dictator Manuel NORIEGA was deposed in 1989. The entire Panama Canal, the area supporting the Canal, and remaining US military bases were transferred to Panama by the end of 1999. In October 2006, Panamanians approved an ambitious plan to expand the Canal. The project, which began in 2007 and could double the Canal’s capacity, is expected to be completed in 2014-15.|
|History||Christopher Columbus arrives in Panama on his fourth travel, which started in Nicaragua and ended in Panama. It is in this trip he discovers the Chagres river, which in the XX Century it would be the main resource to build the Panama Canal. He arrived to the Caribbean coast where he baptized the area with the name of Portobelo (in English, Beautiful Port). Columbus then explored Veraguas and founded Santa Maria de Belen, which would be the first Spanish settlement on the continent, leaving Bartolome, his brother, in charge.
Eventually, this settlement was destroyed by the local native population and the few surviving members returned to Spain.
Founding of Panama La Vieja
It wasn´t until 1519 when the Spanish decided to settle the new city. This time they chose a site in the Pacific ocean, which was discovered six years before by Vasco Nuñez de Balboa. The new city, today known as Panama La Vieja, was founded in August 15th, 1519 by orders of governor Pedrarias Davila and became an important port during the Spanish gold trade from Peru to the Caribbean islands and finally to Europe. The merchandise from all over South America would come into Panama and travel to Portobelo using the Camino de Cruces (old stone road) crossing the jungle and navigating the Chagres river. From Portobelo it would distribute to the islands and then to Spain.
Because of its importance and its location the city was an easy target for pirates. However, protection from pirates was only one of its many problems, as it was settled in a site composed mainly by mangrove land, diseases and fires weakened their position, until it was finally destroyed by pirate Henry Morgan in 1671.
Founding of Casco Antiguo
In 1673 a new city of Panama was founded. This time, a rocky peninsula was chosen, still on the Pacific side. A healthier site with crossed winds and easier to defend from both land and ocean attacks. Called interchangeably Casco Viejo, San Felipe, Catedral or Casco Antiguo, it is from here where Panama would declare independece from Spain and later join and separate from Colombia. It will see the boom and bust of the Gold Rush, the French attempt to build a Canal and later its completion by the United States.
After about 320 years under the rule of the Spanish Empire, on 10 November 1821, independence from Spain was declared in the small town of La Villa, today known as La Heroica. On 28 November, presided by Colonel Jose de Fabrega, a National Assembly was convened and it officially declared the independence of the isthmus of Panama from Spain and its decision to join New Granada, Ecuador and Venezuela in Bolivar’s recently founded Republic of Colombia.
In 1830, Venezuela, Ecuador and other territories left the Gran Colombia, but Panama remained as a province of this country, until July 1831 when the isthmus reiterated its independence, now under General Juan Eligio Alzuru as supreme military commander. In August, military forces under the command of Colonel Tomás Herrera defeated and executed Alzuru and reestablished ties with New Granada.
Ten years later, on November 1840, during a civil war that had begun as a religious conflict, the isthmus declared its independence under the leadership of the now General Tomás Herrera and became the ‘Estado Libre del Istmo’, or the Free State of the Isthmus. The new state established external political and economic ties and drew up a constitution which included the possibility for Panama to rejoin New Granada, but only as a federal district. On June 1841 Tomás Herrera became the President of the Estado Libre del Istmo. But the civil conflict ended and the government of New Granada and the government of the Isthmus negotiated the reincorporation of Panamá to Colombia on December 31, 1841.
In the end, the union between Panama and the Republic of Colombia was made possible by the active participation of the US under the 1846 Bidlack Mallarino Treaty, which lasted until 1903. The treaty granted the US rights to build railroads through Panama and to intervene militarily against revolt to guarantee New Granadine control of Panama. There were at least three attempts by Panamanian Liberals to seize control of Panama and potentially achieve full autonomy, including one led by Liberal guerrillas like Belisario Porras and Victoriano Lorenzo, each of which was suppressed by a collaboration of Conservative Colombian and US forces under the Bidlack Mallarino Treaty.
In 1902 US President Theodore Roosevelt decided to take on the abandoned works of the Panama Canal by the French but the Colombian government in Bogotá balked at the prospect of a US controlled canal under the terms that Roosevelt’s administration was offering. Roosevelt was unwilling to alter its terms and quickly changed tactics, encouraging a minority of Conservative Panamanian landholding families to demand independence, offering military support. On November 3, 1903 Panama finally separated and Dr. Manuel Amador Guerrero, a prominent member of the Conservative political party, became the first constitutional President of the Republic of Panama.
In November 1903, Phillipe Bunau-Varilla—a French citizen who was not authorized to sign any treaties on behalf of Panama without the review of the Panamanians—unilaterally signed the Hay-Bunau Varilla Treaty which granted rights to the US 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 Martyr’s Day (9 January 1964). The issues were resolved with the signing of the Torrijos-Carter Treaties in 1977 returning the former Canal Zone territories to Panama.
The second intent of the founding fathers was to bring peace and 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 President Arnulfo Arias Madrid.
While never holding the position of President himself, General Omar Torrijos eventually became the de facto leader of Panama. As a military dictator, he was the leading power in the governing military junta and later became an autocratic strong man. Torrijos maintained his position of power until his death in an airplane accident in 1981.
After Torrijos’s death, several military strong men followed him as Panama’s leader. Commander Florencio Flores Aguilar followed Torrijos. Colonel Rubén Darío Paredes followed Aguilar. Eventually, by 1983, power was concentrated in the hands of General Manuel Antonio Noriega.
Manuel Noriega came up through the ranks after serving in the Chiriquí province and in the city of Puerto Armuelles for a time. He was a former head of Panama’s secret police and was an ex-informant of the CIA. But Noriega’s implication in drug trafficking by the United States resulted in difficult relations by the end of the 1980s.
United States invasion of Panama
On 20 December 1989, 27,000 U.S. personnel invaded Panama in order to remove Manuel Noriega. A few hours before the invasion, in a ceremony that took place inside a U.S. military base in the former Panama Canal Zone, Guillermo Endara was sworn in as the new President of Panama. The invasion occurred ten years before the Panama Canal administration was to be turned over to Panamanian authorities, according to the timetable set up by the Torrijos-Carter Treaties. During the fighting, between two hundred   and four thousand Panamanians, mostly civilians, were killed.
Noriega surrendered to the American military shortly after, and was taken to Florida to be formally extradited and charged by U.S. federal authorities on drug and racketeering charges. He became eligible for parole on September 9, 2007, but remained in custody while his lawyers fought an extradition request from France. Critics have pointed out that many of Noriega’s former allies remain in power in Panama.
Under the Torrijos-Carter Treaties, the United States turned over all canal-related lands to Panama on 31 December 1999. Panama also gained control of canal-related buildings and infrastructure as well as full administration of the canal.
The people of Panama have already approved the widening of the canal which, after completion, will allow for post-Panamax vessels to travel through it, increasing the number of ships that currently use the canal.
|Geography||Location: Central America, bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean, between Colombia and Costa Rica
Geographic coordinates: 9 00 N, 80 00 W
Map references: Central America and the Caribbean
Area: total: 78,200 sq km
land: 75,990 sq km
water: 2,210 sq km
Area – comparative: slightly smaller than South Carolina
Land boundaries: total: 555 km
border countries: Colombia 225 km, Costa Rica 330 km
Coastline: 2,490 km
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nm
contiguous zone: 24 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm or edge of continental margin
Climate: tropical maritime; hot, humid, cloudy; prolonged rainy season (May to January), short dry season (January to May)
Terrain: interior mostly steep, rugged mountains and dissected, upland plains; coastal areas largely plains and rolling hills
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m
highest point: Volcan Baru 3,475 m
Natural resources: copper, mahogany forests, shrimp, hydropower
Land use: arable land: 7.26%
permanent crops: 1.95%
other: 90.79% (2005)
Irrigated land: 430 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources: 148 cu km (2000)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): total: 0.82 cu km/yr (67%/5%/28%)
per capita: 254 cu m/yr (2000)
Natural hazards: occasional severe storms and forest fires in the Darien area
Environment – current issues: water pollution from agricultural runoff threatens fishery resources; deforestation of tropical rain forest; land degradation and soil erosion threatens siltation of Panama Canal; air pollution in urban areas; mining threatens natural resources
Environment – international agreements: party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: Marine Life Conservation
Geography – note: strategic location on eastern end of isthmus forming land bridge connecting North and South America; controls Panama Canal that links North Atlantic Ocean via Caribbean Sea with North Pacific Ocean
|Politics||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 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. The branches are according to Panama’s Political Constitution of 1972, reformed by the Actos Reformatorios of 1978, and by the Acto Constitucional in 1983, united in cooperation and limited through the classic system of checks and balances. Three independent organizations with clearly defined responsibilities are found in the Political Constitution. Thus, the Comptroller General of the Republic has the responsibility to manage public funds. There also exists the Electoral Tribunal, which has the responsibility to guarantee liberty, transparency, and the efficacy of the popular vote; and, finally, the Ministry of the Public exists to oversee interests of State and of the municipalities.|
|People||Population: 3,309,679 (July 2008 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 29.6% (male 499,254/female 479,242)
15-64 years: 63.8% (male 1,066,915/female 1,043,499)
65 years and over: 6.7% (male 102,937/female 117,832) (2008 est.)
Median age: total: 26.7 years
male: 26.3 years
female: 27.1 years (2008 est.)
Population growth rate: 1.544% (2008 est.)
Birth rate: 20.68 births/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Death rate: 4.71 deaths/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Net migration rate: -0.53 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.04 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.04 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.02 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.87 male(s)/female
total population: 1.02 male(s)/female (2008 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 13.4 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 14.35 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 12.42 deaths/1,000 live births (2008 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 76.88 years
male: 74.08 years
female: 79.81 years (2008 est.)
Total fertility rate: 2.57 children born/woman (2008 est.)
HIV/AIDS – adult prevalence rate: 0.9% (2003 est.)
HIV/AIDS – people living with HIV/AIDS: 16,000 (2003 est.)
HIV/AIDS – deaths: fewer than 500 (2003 est.)
Major infectious diseases: degree of risk: intermediate
food or waterborne diseases: bacterial diarrhea and hepatitis A
vectorborne disease: dengue fever and malaria
water contact disease: leptospirosis (2008)
Nationality: noun: Panamanian(s)
Ethnic groups: mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white) 70%, Amerindian and mixed (West Indian) 14%, white 10%, Amerindian 6%
Religions: Roman Catholic 85%, Protestant 15%
Languages: Spanish (official), English 14%; note – many Panamanians bilingual
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 91.9%
female: 91.2% (2000 census)
School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education): total: 13 years
male: 13 years
female: 14 years (2006)
Education expenditures: 3.8% of GDP (2004)