Weather in Panama
Lying at the
crossroads of the North and South American continents and the
Atlantic and Pacific oceans, Panama is of immense strategic
This has made it a target for intervention by the US, which in
1989 invaded Panama to depose a former ally, Manuel Noriega, and
until 1999 controlled the Panama Canal.
Panama has the largest rainforest in the Western Hemisphere
outside the Amazon Basin and its jungle is home to an abundance
of tropical plants, animals and birds - some of them to be found
nowhere else in the world.
However, it is for a feat of engineering, a canal connecting the
Atlantic and Pacific oceans, that Panama is famous. Every year
hundreds of thousands of people make the eight-hour journey
through the waterway and it generates a proportion of the
Panama is widening the canal, which is more than 90 years old
and operating almost at full capacity, to allow it to handle
more and larger vessels. Work on the scheme, which was approved
in a referendum in 2006, began in September 2007.
Offshore finance, manufacturing and a shipping registry generate
jobs and tax revenues. Panama's services-based economy also
benefits from the Colon free trade zone, home to some 2,000
companies and the second largest in the world.
A free trade agreement with the US was negotiated in 2006 but
its implementation was held up pending approval by the US
Congress, which was not granted until 2011.
Bananas are the main cash crop, but the trade has been hit by
disease and is vulnerable to tariff changes in the European
Panama faces the challenge of shaking off its reputation as a
major transit point for US-bound drugs and illegal immigrants,
and as a haven for money-laundering.
It also needs to address social inequality. Elite families of
European descent control most of Panama's wealth and power,
while about 33% of the population lived below the poverty line.
The canal, the natural attractions of its pristine forests and
coastlines, and a lively, modern capital are fuelling a growing
Full name: Republic of Panama
Population: 3.6 million (UN,
Capital: Panama City
Area: 75,517 sq km (29,157 sq
Major languages: Spanish,
Major religion: Christianity
Life expectancy: 74 years
(men), 79 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: 1 balboa = 100
Main exports: Bananas, fish,
shrimp, petroleum products
GNI per capita: US$7,910
(World Bank, 2011)
Internet domain: .pa
International dialing code:
President: Ricardo Martinelli
Conservative supermarket magnate Ricardo Martinelli was elected
to succeed Martin Torrijos with a landslide victory at the April
2009 presidential election.
Mr Martinelli's business credentials drew voters worried by
Standing for the four-party opposition Alliance for Change, Mr
Martinelli gained 61% of the vote, against 37% for Balbina
Herrera, the candidate of the governing left-wing Democratic
The result appeared to run counter a wider Latin American trend
towards the left.
With Panama's recent rapid rate of economic growth slowing as a
result of the global economic slump, Mr Martinelli's business
background attracted many voters fearful about job losses.
The previous government was blamed for rising crime and a surge
in prices, and Mr Martinelli tapped into feelings that little
had been done to spread the wealth created in the economic boom
to low-income Panamanians.
During the campaign, he promised to promote free trade,
especially with the US, Panama's biggest trading partner, and to
encourage foreign investment.
Days after being elected, Mr Martinelli said one of his
priorities would be the ratification of a free trade deal with
Among his proposals were a flat income tax of between 10% and
20% to draw investors to the country, as well as an ambitious
public works programme.
He also promised to forge ahead with a $5.25bn expansion plan
for the Panama Canal, the country's main engine for economic
Mr Martinelli was born in 1952 in Panama City, and has a degree
from the University of Arkansas. Apart from owning the Super 99
supermarket chain, he has interests in several other businesses,
including banks and agricultural firms.
He is the leader of the Democratic Change party founded in 1998,
and unsuccessfully stood for president in 2004.
Panama's media are free to present news and comment. According
to Reporters Without Borders: "Panama stands out as an exception
in Central America, which is notoriously dangerous. Cases of
assaults against journalists are extremely rare."
In 2011, however, leading news media launched a campaign in
defense of freedom of expression, citing a growing number of
threats and attacks on journalists.
Broadcasting is dominated by the private sector. Corporacion
Medcom operates the most-popular TV stations. There are around
100 radio stations and several TV networks.