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With U.S. backing, Panama seceded from Colombia in 1903 and promptly signed a treaty with the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 1999. Certain portions of the Zone and increasing responsibility over the Canal were turned over in the intervening years. With U.S. help, dictator Manuel NORIEGA was deposed in 1989. The entire Panama Canal, the area supporting the Canal, and remaining U.S. military bases were turned over to Panama on 31 December 1999.


Location: Middle America, bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean, between Colombia and Costa Rica


  • 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:

  • contiguous zone: 24 nm
  • exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
  • territorial sea: 12 nm

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: Volcán de Chiriquí 3,475 m

Natural resources: copper, mahogany forests, shrimp, hydropower

Land use:

  • arable land: 7%
  • permanent crops: 2%
  • permanent pastures: 20%
  • forests and woodland: 44%
  • other: 27% (1993 est.)

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

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


Population: 2,808,268 (July 2000 est.)

Age structure:

  • 0-14 years: 31% (male 439,590; female 422,949)
  • 15-64 years: 63% (male 901,793; female 878,138)
  • 65 years and over: 6% (male 79,330; female 86,468) (2000 est.)

Population growth rate: 1.34% (2000 est.)

Birth rate: 19.53 births/1,000 population (2000 est.)

Death rate: 4.95 deaths/1,000 population (2000 est.)

Net migration rate: -1.16 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2000 est.)

Sex ratio:

  • at birth: 1.04 male(s)/female
  • under 15 years: 1.04 male(s)/female
  • 15-64 years: 1.03 male(s)/female
  • 65 years and over: 0.92 male(s)/female
  • total population: 1.02 male(s)/female (2000 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 20.8 deaths/1,000 live births (2000 est.)

Life expectancy at birth:

  • total population: 75.47 years
  • male: 72.74 years
  • female: 78.31 years (2000 est.)

Total fertility rate: 2.32 children born/woman (2000 est.)


  • noun: Panamanian(s)
  • adjective: Panamanian

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


  • definition: age 15 and over can read and write
  • total population: 90.8%
  • male: 91.4%
  • female: 90.2% (1995 est.)


Country name:

  • conventional long form: Republic of Panama
  • conventional short form: Panama
  • local long form: República de Panama
  • local short form: Panama

Government type: constitutional democracy

Capital: Panama

Administrative divisions: 9 provinces (provincias, singular - provincia) and two territories* (comarca); Bocas del Toro, Chiriqui, Cocle, Colón, Darién, Herrera, Los Santos, Ngobe-Bugle*, Panamá, San Blas*, and Veraguas

Independence: 3 November 1903 (from Colombia; became independent from Spain 28 November 1821)

National holiday: Independence Day, 3 November (1903)

Constitution: 11 October 1972; major reforms adopted April 1983 and in 1994
Legal system: based on civil law system; judicial review of legislative acts in the Supreme Court of Justice; accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction, with reservations

Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal and compulsory

Executive branch:

  • chief of state: President Mireya Elisa MOSCOSO Rodríguez (since 1 September 1999); First Vice President Arturo Ulises VALLARINO (since 1 September 1999); Second Vice President (Dominador) Kaiser Baldonero BAZAN (since 1 September 1999); note - the president is both the chief of state and head of government
  • head of government: President Mireya Elisa MOSCOSO Rodríguez (since 1 September 1999); First Vice President Arturo Ulises VALLARINO (since 1 September 1999); Second Vice President (Dominador) Kaiser Baldonero BAZAN (since 1 September 1999); note - the president is both the chief of state and head of government
  • cabinet: Cabinet appointed by the president
  • elections: president and vice presidents elected on the same ticket by popular vote for five-year terms; election last held 2 May 1999 (next to be held NA May 2004)
    • election results: Mireya Elisa MOSCOSO Rodríguez elected president; percent of vote - Mireya Elisa MOSCOSO Rodríguez (PA) 44%, Martin TORRIJOS (PRD) 37%
    • note: government coalition - PRD, PLN, and Popular Nationalist Party

Legislative branch: unicameral Legislative Assembly or Asamblea Legislativa (72 seats; members are elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms)

  • elections: last held 2 May 1999 (next to be held May 2004)
    • election results: percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - PRD 35, PA 18, PS 4, PDC 4, MOLIRENA 3, PRC 2, PLN 2, Democratic Change 2, MORENA 1; note - one seat had yet to be decided
    • note: legislators from outlying rural districts are chosen on a plurality basis while districts located in more populous towns and cities elect multiple legislators by means of a proportion-based formula

Judicial branch: Supreme Court of Justice or Corte Suprema de Justicia, nine judges appointed for 10-year terms; five superior courts; three courts of appeal

Political parties and leaders: Arnulfista Party or PA [Mireya Elisa MOSCOSO Rodríguez]; Christian Democratic Party or PDC [Ruben AROSEMENA]; Civic Renewal Party or PRC [Serguei DE LA ROSA]; Democratic Change [Ricardo MARTINELLI]; Democratic Revolutionary Party or PRD [Martin TORRIJOS]; National Liberal Party or PLN [Dr. Roberto ALEMAN Zubieta, Oscar UCROS, Raul ARANGO]; National Renovation Movement or MORENA [Joaquin Jose VALLARINO]; Nationalist Republican Liberal Movement or MOLIRENA [Arturo VALLARINO]; Solidarity Party or PS [Ricardo FABREGA]
Political pressure groups and leaders: Chamber of Commerce; National Civic Crusade; National Council of Organized Workers or CONATO; National Council of Private Enterprise or CONEP; Panamanian Association of Business Executives or APEDE; Panamanian Industrialists Society or SIP; Workers Confederation of the Republic of Panama or CTRP

International organization participation: CAN (associate), CCC, ECLAC, FAO, G-77, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, IMO, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO, ITU, LAES, LAIA (observer), NAM, OAS, OPANAL, OPCW, PCA, RG, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UPU, WCL, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTrO

Diplomatic representation in the U.S.:

chief of mission: Ambassador Guillermo FORD
chancery: 2862 McGill Terrace NW, Washington, DC 20008
telephone: [1] (202) 483-1407
consulate(s) general: Atlanta, Houston, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Tampa

Flag description: divided into four, equal rectangles; the top quadrants are white (hoist side) with a blue five-pointed star in the center and plain red; the bottom quadrants are plain blue (hoist side) and white with a red five-pointed star in the center


Overview: Because of its key geographic location, Panama's economy is service-based, heavily weighted toward banking, commerce, and tourism. The hand-over 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. Even though export demand is likely to remain slack in some key markets - especially the Andean countries - GDP growth in 2000 probably will be 3% to 4%. Key reform initiatives from the previous administration - including the privatization of public utilities - remain uncompleted. Although President MOSCOSO is unlikely to overturn any previous reforms, her populist leanings make it unlikely any new initiatives will be undertaken in the near future. Indeed, the government has failed to formulate a comprehensive economic policy framework, and the only concrete step it has taken by yearend 1999 has been a hike in agricultural tariffs.

GDP: purchasing power parity - $21 billion (1999 est.)

GDP - real growth rate: 4.4% (1999 est.)

GDP - per capita: purchasing power parity - $7,600 (1999 est.)

GDP - composition by sector:

  • agriculture: 8%
  • industry: 25%
  • services: 67% (1997 est.)

Population below poverty line: NA%

Household income or consumption by percentage share:

  • lowest 10%: 0.5%
  • highest 10%: 42.5% (1991)

Inflation rate (consumer prices): 1.5% (1999 est.)

Labor force: 1.044 million (1997 est.)

note: shortage of skilled labor, but an oversupply of unskilled labor
Labor force - by occupation: agriculture 18%, industry 18%, services 64% (1997 est.)

Unemployment rate: 13.1% (1997 est.)


  • revenues: $2.4 billion
  • expenditures: $2.4 billion, including capital expenditures of $341 million (1997 est.)

Industries: construction, petroleum refining, brewing, cement and other construction materials, sugar milling

Industrial production growth rate: 0.4% (1995 est.)

Agriculture - products: bananas, rice, corn, coffee, sugarcane, vegetables; livestock; shrimp

Exports: $4.7 billion (f.o.b., 1999 est.)

Exports - commodities: bananas, shrimp, sugar, coffee

Exports - partners: U.S. 40%, Sweden, Costa Rica, Spain, Benelux, Honduras (1998)

Imports: $6.4 billion (f.o.b., 1999 est.)

Imports - commodities: capital goods, crude oil, foodstuffs, consumer goods, chemicals

Imports - partners: U.S. 40%, Central America and Caribbean, Japan (1998)

Debt - external: $7 billion (1999)

Economic aid - recipient: $197.1 million (1995)

Currency: 1 balboa (B) = 100 centésimos

Exchange rates: balboas (B) per US$1 - 1.000 (fixed rate)