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Panama Fact Sheet

Panamá Fast Facts:

Population: 3.22 million
GDP: $23.09 billion (2008)
GDP per capita: $6,784 (2008)
Currency: Panamanian Balboa
(USD is also accepted, 1:1 ratio)
Capital: Panama City
Meaning of “Panamá”: “abundance of fish,
trees, and butterflies”
Poverty rate: 28.6% (2006)
Expected: 11% by 2009
(fastest growing country in Latin
America in 2009 ~IMF)
A Short History of Panamá Member of World Trade Organization

1501 First Europeans reach Panamá; 1513 Vasco Nuñez de Balboa crosses the isthmus

1538-1821 Panamá is part of the Spanish Empire

1821 November 10, 1821: el Grito de La Villa de Los Santos: Panamanians declare
independence from Spanish Empire

1821-1903 Panamá is a department of Colombia, and remains so despite attempts to secede;

1903 successfully declares independence from Colombia with US support in
exchange for granting US sovereign rights over the Panama Canal zone

Government & Politics: History

1903-1968 Constitutional Democracy dominated by commercial elite

1967 Contested elections; after winner takes office in 1968, Panamá enters a long
period of military rule, starting with its first military coup in history; throughout
the 1970s and 1980s the US-supported regime oppressed dissidents and benefited
from money laundering, drug trafficking, and smuggling, though they also
expanded social services to Panamanians

1987 Cruzada Civilista (Civilian Crusade) starts civil disobedience against regime,
draws international attention

1989 US invades to re-establish democracy, secure the canal, combat drug trafficking,
and protect human rights (Operation Just Cause); regime change occurs, civilian
constitutional government restored

2004 Election of PRD’s Martin Torrijos; improvements in fight against corruption,

government transparency
Panama Fact Sheet

Political Structure
Panama is a presidential representative democratic republic. The president is head of State and
head of Government. Executive power is with the Government, while legislative power is with
both the Government and the Legislature. The Judiciary is independent from the other two
branches. The president appoints the judiciary.

National elections are universal, and the voting age is 18. Panama’s National Assembly is
elected by proportional representation in fixed electoral districts.

Since the US invasion, there have been three peaceful transfers of power. The most recent was
May 3, 2009, when Ricardo Martinelli was elected to the presidency. He is a businessman (the
owner of a supermarket chain), president of the Democratic Change party, and won the elections
in a landslide with more than 60% of the vote.

Cultural influences are primarily Caribbean and Spanish, and 93% of Panamanians speak
Spanish. In ethnic groups, Panama is 50.1% mestizo, 22% African/Mulatto, 8.6% European,
6.7% Native Central American, 5.5% Asian, and 7.1% other. The majority of the Asian
population are Chinese people who immigrated either in the 19th Century during the construction
of the Panama Railroad, or in the 1970s. Most of the West Indian population of Panama arrived
during the construction of the Panama Canal. Regarding religion, 75-85% of the population is
Roman Catholic, and 15-25% are evangelical Christian.


Panama’s Law No. 8 is a landmark law for tourism investment in Latin America. In “Special
Tourism Zones,” Law 8 offers incentives including: “100% exemption from income tax, real
estate tax, import duties for construction materials and equipment, and other taxes.”


The emberá people live in northwestern Colombia and southeastern Panama, and have a
population of about 60,000. The word “emberá” literally means “the people of corn.”

Principle activities include gardening, fishing, hunting, and gathering. An important aspect of
the Embera life is a connection to the jai spirits through jaibanás, non-hereditary shamans who
learn about the magical spiritual power that regulates life, health, livelihoods, and nature.

Dachizeze is the highest god, Tutruíca below him, and Caragabí in this world. Caragabí helped
create the world; he knocked down the tree Jenené from whose roots sprung the seas and rivers.
The snake, Jepá, is a symbol for access and transport between lower and higher worlds, and
when someone is bit by a snake it is said they have been “hunted” by those from the world
below. The jaibanás continue the work of Caragabí in promoting the continuity of the
interactions in nature that created the world.

Useful sources:,á

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