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.
Main article: History of Panama
Panama was part of Spain's colonies in the Americas until 1821 when it seceded and joined the Nueva Granada of Simón Bolívar. It can be argued that to a large extent, Panama's history has been a slave to its geography. This was true in its early history as well as in its more recent history.
Indeed much of Panama's domestic politics and international diplomacy in the 20th century were tied to the Panama Canal. At the turn of the 20th century, Theodore Roosevelt's vision of an interoceanic seaway encouraged United States diplomatic efforts to facilitate a deal that would allow it to take over French canal operations started by Ferdinand de Lesseps. In November 1903, United States naval maneuverings helped the Panamanian rebels secede from Colombia in an almost bloodless revolution. In Panama City, on November 3, the rebels, headed by Manuel Amador Guerrero, declared Panama an independent Republic. Just over two weeks later, representatives of the fledgling republic signed the Hay-Bunau Varilla Treaty by which Panama granted rights to the United States to build and administer the Panama Canal. This treaty was a contentious diplomatic issue between the United States and Panama until the signing of the Torrijos-Carter Treaty in 1977.
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 took over the reigns of government and was the virtual strongman 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. Relations with the United States government soured by the end of the 1980s. In December 1989, the United States invaded Panama. The death of a U.S. soldier in Panama at a Panamanian Defense Forces roadblock was one of the reasons given by George Bush for the invasion, dubbed Operation Just Cause. 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. For further discussion of the reasons for the invasion given by the United States and countervailing interpretations, see the article Operation Just Cause. 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, 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. Charges of corruption and cronyism are still levelled against the government by opposition parties and press.
Under the Torrijos-Carter Treaty, on December 31, 1999, the United States returned all canal-related lands to Panama. Panama also gained control of canal-related buildings and infrastructure as well as full administration of the canal.
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. The legislative branch consists of a 72-member unicameral Legislative Assembly. 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. Torrijos assumed the presidency on September 1, 2004. The former president had been Mireya Moscoso.
Main article: Provinces of Panama
Panama is divided into 9 provinces (provincias) and 5 indigenous territories (comarcas indígenas), marked by a *:
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.
Main article: Demographics of 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 City–Colón metropolitan corridor.
The majority of Panamanians are Roman Catholic, accounting for approximately 80% of the population. Catholicism is also the official religion of Panama. 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%) kkm
Main article: Culture of Panama