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World Mission

Panama

Basic info

  • Area: 75,417 sq km / 29,119 sq mi
  • Population: 4,034,119
  • Infant mortality: 9.9 per 1000 births
  • Life expectancy: 77.8 years
  • Urbanisation: 67.7%
  • Literacy: 94.1%

History

Located on the Isthmus of Panama, this country forms a narrow bridge of land that connects North and South America. Embracing the isthmus and more than 1,600 islands off its Atlantic and Pacific coasts, Panama is renowned as the site of the Panama Canal, which cuts through its midsection. It is equally well known for its natural beauty, for its diverse plant and animal life, including hundreds of bird and tree species, and for its vibrant music and culture.

The home of several Native American peoples, such as the Guaymí, Kuna, and Chocó, Panama became the first Spanish colony on the Pacific. Celebrated as “the door to the seas and key to the universe,” it served in the 1530s as the staging point for the Spanish conquest of the Inca empire, and until the 19th century it was a transshipment point for gold and silver destined for Spain. With the independence of Colombia, which once controlled Panama, from Spain, Panama came to serve as another staging point, this time for oceangoing migrants to the gold fields of California.

Since 1914 the 51-mile long Panama Canal, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, has afforded a long-sought shortcut for shipping and assures the country’s standing as one of the most strategic transportation hubs of the world. The canal also secures Panama’s ongoing role in international affairs and world commerce. The United States relinquished jurisdiction of the Panama Canal on December 31, 1999, marking an unprecedented shift in Panamanian society. For the first time in nearly a century as an independent nation, Panama controlled the entirety of its national territory.

Panama has a lively mix of cultural influences, expressed in the country’s cuisine, artwork, music, and literature. Its capital, Panama City, is located on the Pacific coast just east of the canal. A cosmopolitan city where skyscrapers tower above whitewashed bungalows, it enjoys a handsome setting and a growing importance as a commercial and financial services centre for the region. However, its economic progress has been hampered periodically by environmental problems and political turmoil.

Environment

Panama is located in Central America, bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, between Colombia and Costa Rica.

Its location on the Isthmus of Panama is strategic. By 2000, Panama controlled the Panama Canal which connects the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea to the North of the Pacific Ocean.

The dominant feature of Panama's geography is the central spine of mountains and hills that forms the continental divide. The divide does not form part of the great mountain chains of North America, and only near the Colombian border are there highlands related to the Andean system of South America. The spine that forms the divide is the highly eroded arch of an uplift from the sea bottom, in which peaks were formed by volcanic intrusions.

The mountain range of the divide is called the Cordillera de Talamanca near the Costa Rican border. Farther east it becomes the Serranía de Tabasará, and the portion of it closer to the lower saddle of the isthmus, where the Panama Canal is located, is often called the Sierra de Veraguas. As a whole, the range between Costa Rica and the canal is generally referred to by geographers as the Cordillera Central.

Economy

Acccording to the CIA World Factbook, as of 2012 Panama had an unemployment rate of 2.7 percent. A food surplus was registered in August 2008. On the Human Development Index, Panama ranked 60th in 2015. In recent years, Panama's economy has experienced a boom, with growth in real gross domestic product (GDP) averaging over 10.4 percent in 2006–2008. Panama's economy has been among the fastest growing and best managed in Latin America. The Latin Business Chronicle predicted that Panama would be the fastest growing economy in Latin America during the five-year period from 2010–14, matching Brazil's 10 percent rate.

The expansion project on the Panama Canal and the free trade agreement with the United States are expected to boost and extend economic expansion for some time.

Despite Panama's upper-middle per capita GDP, it remains a country of stark contrasts perpetuated by dramatic educational disparities. Over 25 percent of Panama's population lived in poverty in 2013 and 3 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty, according to reports by the World Bank.

Ethnic groups

Ethnic Groups(%)

Mestizo

65%

Other

18.4%

Native American

12.3%

Black/African

9.2%

Mulatto

6.8%

White

6.7%

Religion

Religion(%)

Roman Catholic

55%

Protestant

24%

Atheist/Agnostic

16%

Other

5%

Protestant Denominations

Baptist, United Methodist, Methodist Church of the Caribbean and the Americas, Lutheran.

Languages

  • 93%%

    Spanish

  • 7%%

    Other