|General background: 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. On 7 September 1977, an agreement was
signed for the complete transfer of the Canal from the
US to Panama by the end of 1999. Certain portions of
the Zone and increasing responsibility over the Canal
were turned over in the intervening years. 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 turned over to Panama by or on
31 December 1999.
Slightly smaller than South Carolina.
Tropical maritime; hot, humid, cloudy; prolonged
rainy season (May to January), short dry season (January
Terrain: Interior mostly steep,
rugged mountains and dissected, upland plains; coastal
areas largely plains and rolling hills
Population: 2,882,329 (July 2002 est.)
Ethnic groups: Mestizo (mixed Amerindian and
White) 70%, Amerindian and mixed (West Indian) 14%,
White 10%, Amerindian 6%
Religions: Roman Catholic 85%, Protestant
Language: Spanish (official), English 14%
note: many Panamanians are bilingual
Government type: Constitutional democracy
Legal system: Based on civil law system; judicial
review of legislative acts in the Supreme Court of
Justice; accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction, with
Economic overview: Panama's economy is based
primarily on a well-developed services sector that
accounts for three-fourths of GDP. Services include
the Panama Canal, banking, the Colon Free Zone, insurance,
container ports, flagship registry, and tourism. A
slump in Colon Free Zone and agricultural exports,
the global slowdown, and the withdrawal of US military
forces held back economic growth in 2000-01. The government
plans public works programs, tax reforms, and new
regional trade agreements in order to stimulate growth.
Communication/Telephone system: Domestic and
international facilities well developed.
Places of interest: Incredible rainforest and
some of the finest snorkeling, birding and deep-sea
fishing in the world.
Travel tips: Crime has been on the increase
in Panama of late.