Area: 75,517 sq. km. (29,157 sq. mi.); Panama occupies the southeastern end of the isthmus forming the land bridge between North and South America.
Cities: Capital -- Panama City (430,299), Panama District (880,691), Panama Province (1,713,000). Other important cities -- Colon City (34,655), Colon district (206,553) ; David City (82,907), David District (144,858).
Terrain: Mountainous (highest elevation Cerro Volcan Baru, 3,475 m. (11,468 ft.);coastline 2,857 km. (1,786 mi.).
Climate: Tropical, with average daily rainfall 28 mm. (1 in.) in winter.
Panamanians' culture, customs, and language are predominantly Caribbean Spanish. Because of Panama’s unique location as a transit point and because of people coming over the years to work on the railroad and the Canal, the majority of the population is ethnically a mix of Spanish, indigenous, and of African descent. The remaining population is of Afro descent, Caucasian, indigenous, Chinese, and others. Spanish is the official and dominant language; English is a common second language spoken by the West Indians and by many businesspeople and professionals. More than half the population lives in the Panama City-Colon metropolitan corridor.
Panama is rich in folklore and popular traditions. Lively salsa -- a mixture of Latin American popular music, rhythm and blues, jazz, and rock--is a Panamanian specialty, and Ruben Blades its best-known performer. Indigenous influences dominate handicrafts such as the famous Kuna textile molas. Artist Roberto Lewis' Presidential Palace murals and his restoration work and ceiling in the National Theater are widely admired. Roberto Duran is a famous boxer. Mariano Rivera is a pitcher for the New York Yankees.
As of 2010, more than 117,600 Panamanian students attended the University of Panama, the Technological University, the Autonomous University of Chiriqui, and the University of Santa Maria La Antigua, a private Catholic institution. Including smaller colleges, there are 88 institutions of higher education in Panama. The first 6 years of primary education are compulsory. As of 2010, there were 723,666 students enrolled in primary and secondary school. More than 94.5% of Panamanians are literate.
Type: Constitutional democracy.
Independence: from Spain, November 28, 1821; separation from Colombia, November 3, 1903.
Constitution: October 11, 1972; amended 1983 and 1994 and reformed in 2004.
Branches: Executive -- president (chief of state), vice president. Legislative -- National Assembly (unicameral; 71 members, reduced from 78 to 71 members for May 2009 elections).Judicial--Supreme Court.
Subdivisions: Nine provinces and three (indigenous) territories.
Political parties: Democratic Change (CD); Panameñista Party (formerly the Arnulfista Party (PA); National Liberal Republican Movement (MOLIRENA); Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD); Popular Party (PP).
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
GDP (2010 est.): $20.86 billion.
Annual growth rate: 10.5% (2011 est.); 7.5% (2010); 3.2% (2009); 10.0% (2008); 12.1% (2007).
Per capita GDP: $5,953 (2010 est.); $5,627 (2009 prelim.); $5,541 (2008); $5,115 (2007); $4,640 (2006).
Natural resources: Timber, copper, gold.
Services (77% of GDP): Finance, insurance, health and medical, transportation, telecommunications, Canal and maritime services, tourism, Colon Free Zone, public administration, and general commerce.
Agriculture, Fishing, Mining (5.7 % of GDP, 2010 est.): Products--bananas, corn, sugarcane, rice, coffee, shrimp, timber, vegetables, livestock.
Industry/manufacturing (11.4% of GDP): construction, brewing, cement and other construction materials, sugar milling.
Other: (5.9% of GDP)
Trade (2010): Exports (goods)--$725 million in exports, with salmon/tuna as the largest dollar amount, followed by beef, watermelon, shrimp, and pineapples. Export partners (as a percentage of total export value in 2010 according to the Government of Panama)--U.S. 29.2%, Canada 10.5%, Netherlands 7.0%, Sweden 6.9%, Costa Rica 6.8%, China (P.R.C.) 5.0%, and Taiwan 5.0%. Imports (goods)--$9.1 billion was imported in 2010: petrol and fuel oils, capital goods, foodstuffs, chemicals, and consumer and intermediate goods are the leading imports. Import partners (2010 according to the Government of Panama)--the top five countries were the U.S. 27.5%, China 5.4%, Costa Rica 4.9%, Mexico 4.3%, and South Korea 3.2%.
Foreign direct investment (2010): $2.4 billion.
Panama's economy is based primarily on a well-developed services sector that accounts for about 77% of GDP. Services include the Panama Canal, banking, the Colon Free Zone, insurance, container ports, flagship registry, tourism, and medical and healthcare.
In October 2006, Panamanians voted overwhelmingly in favor of a $5.25 billion Canal expansion project to construct a third set of locks, which is expected to be completed in 2014. The Government of Panama expects the project to help maintain the value of this strategic transportation asset by doubling the capacity of the waterway. The expansion is financed through a combination of loans from multilateral institutions and current revenues.
GDP growth in 2011 surpassed 10%. Recent growth has been fueled by government investment in infrastructure as well as the construction, transportation, maritime, tourism sectors, and Panama Canal-related activities. Panama maintains one of the most positive growth rates in the region. As a result of this growth and sound fiscal management, government debt as a percentage of GDP dropped to 41.2% in 2011, and government-issued debt is classified as the lowest rung of investment grade. Socially, poverty has fallen from 32.7% in 2008 to about 28% in 2011, with a reduction in the extreme poverty rate from 18.8% in 1997 to 11.4% in 2011.
Panama has bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) in force with the United States, Peru, Chile, El Salvador, Taiwan, Singapore, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, and has completed negotiations with Canada and the European Union. Panama has started free trade negotiations with Colombia, and EFTA.
THE PANAMA CANAL
The Panama Canal is approximately 80 kilometers long between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This waterway was cut through one of narrowest saddles of the isthmus that joins North and South America.
The Canal uses a system of locks -compartments with entrance and exit gates. The locks function as water lifts: they raise ships from sea level (the Pacific or the Atlantic) to the level of Gatun Lake (26 meters above sea level); ships then sail the channel through the Continental Divide.
Each set of locks bears the name of the townsite where it was built: Gatun (on the Atlantic side), and Pedro Miguel and Miraflores (on the Pacific side).
The lock chambers -steps-- are 33.53 meters wide by 304.8 meters long. The maximum dimensions of ships that can transit the Canal are: 32.3 meters in beam; draft -their depth reach- 12 meters in Tropical Fresh Water; and 294.1 meters long (depending on the type of ship).
The water used to raise and lower vessels in each set of locks comes from Gatun Lake by gravity; it comes into the locks through a system of main culverts that extend under the lock chambers from the sidewalls and the center wall.
The narrowest portion of the Canal is Culebra Cut, which extends from the north end of Pedro Miguel Locks to the south edge of Gatun Lake at Gamboa. This segment, approximately 13.7 kilometers long, is carved through the rock and shale of the Continental Divide.
Ships from all parts of the world transit daily through the Panama Canal. Some 13 to 14 thousand vessels use the Canal every year. In fact, commercial transportation activities through the Canal represent approximately 5% of the world trade.
The Canal has a work force of approximately 9 thousand employees and operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, providing transit service to vessels of all nations without discrimination.