Discovery of Panama


Panama was discovered by the European and Spanish explorers in the early sixteenth century who made it a part of the Spanish Empire, naming it the South Sea. Panama became an important crossroad and marketplace of the Spanish empire in the Americas. Panama was also an important shipment point in the slave trade from Africa during this period. The Panama Canal was an important major construction for the United States because it connected the Pacific Ocean and Atlantic Ocean and because it helped to improve the United States economic conditions significantly and its strength as a nation.

Political History

Panama inherited the traditional political parties of Columbia, The Liberal Party and the Conservative Party, which competed against one another from 1903 until 1920's. The issues that they competed against one another were of the church and state power. More recently, parties formed coalitions from many groups that formed around local leaders. The coalition that came to power in 1990 consisted of President Endara's Arnulfista Party, led by Dr. Arnulfo Escalona, the National Liberal Republican Movement (MOLIRENA), led by second vice president Ricardo Arias. When Arias broke from the coalition, the PDC became the leader of the opposition. With the election of Ernesto Perez Balladares to the presidency in May 1994, the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), which was like the country's previous military regime, was returned to power, as part of a coalition that also included the Liberal Republic Party (PLR) and the Labor Party. The two political parties of Panama are represented in the colors of their flag, the red is the Liberals, the blue is the Conservatives, and the white symbolizes peace between them in which the colors are equally divided as a sign that the country is governed by both at different times.


Panama is a country of many forested hills and mountains ranges. The two principal ranges are in the eastern and western sections of the country, and a third, minor range extends southward along the Pacific coast into Columbia. The eastern Cordillera de San Blas parallels the Caribbean coastline, while the Serrania de Tabasara ascends westward, ending in the Baru volcano, previously known as Chiriqui. There are land breaks between these ranges that the Panama Canal utilizes to run northwest to southeast. Panama has more than 300 rivers and most of them runs into the Pacific but only the Darien Province and the Tuira River are the ones with commercial importance. Panama also has more than 1,600 islands, including the Amerindian-inhabited San Blas Islands in the Caribbean and the Pearls Archipelago in the Gulf of Panama. Its largest island is the penal colony Coiba, which is south of the Gulf of Chiriqui.


The geological and fossil record that has been found for Panama strongly suggests that Panama arose from the sea, first as an archipelago of volcanic islands, and then drifted into its current position to divide the Caribbean Sea from the Pacific Ocean. The Isthmus of Panama rests on the Caribbean Plate. Scientists have found evidence that shows that the Caribbean Plate was created in the Pacific about 60 million years ago. The formation of the Isthmus of Panama about 3 million years ago had dramatic effects on evolution, ocean circulation, and earth's climate. One theory is that these changes in ocean circulation are what triggered the ice ages.


Panama has several important rivers. The Chagress drains a watershed of 806,000 acres north of Panama City and flows into the Caribbean just west of Colon. Dams have been created in two places, in Gatun, to create a lake for the Panama Canal, and upriver in Alajuela, for water storage and hydroelectric power. Gatun Lake, one of the larges artificial reservoirs in the world, covers 106,000 acres and allows ships to transit the canal at an elevation of 85 feet above sea level. Panama's larges river, the Tuira, flows south into the Gulf of San Miguel, draining much of the Darien region. The San Pablo River in the south central portion of the country drains into the Montijo Gulf. Lake Bayano is an important hydroelectric power source. None of Panama's rivers are navigable by deep see ships.


The most dominant feature of Panama are the forested, volcanic in origin, mountains that extend from its Costa Rican border to Columbia, South America. The ranges that are significant includes the Central Mountains, as well as the San Blas, Talamanca and Tabasara. The Sandy beach coastlines of Panama merge into forested lowlands the rise into the foothills of the inland mountain ranges. The eastern side of Panama, the Darien province is a hardly populated land of rain forest, rivers and swampy lowlands bordered by high mountain peaks. The Darian Gap, that is front of the Columbia's border, is inhospitable, in which you can't hardly get through the thick jungle. The highest point is on Volan Baru, 11,401 feet and lowest point is the Pacific Ocean.


Panama's tropical climate has two seasons, one dry and one rainy. The variation of the climate depend on the region and altitude. The Caribbean coast sees rain year around, while the Pacific coast has a more pronounced dry season. The Azuero Peninsula has an extremely dry climate during the dry season, but the mountains get plentiful rain during the wet season. The wet season lasts from May to November and is considered winter. Temperature variations are linked to altitude in Panama. Coastal temperatures regularly reach 95 degrees Fahrenheit but it drops about 34 degrees Fahrenheit for every 150 meters.


One of the landmarks is near the Bridge of the Americas


The geography area of Panama is 30,193 sq. miles, slightly smaller than South Carolina. Panama occupies the southeastern end of the isthmus forming the land bridge between North and South America. The capital city in panama is 1.1. million, metropolitan area. Panama lies within the tropical parts of the hemisphere, and about one third its areas are covered with rain forest. Panama claims 200 nautical miles of territorial waters along its shores. The country is bounded on the north by the Caribbean Sea, on the east by Columbia, on the south the Pacific Ocean, and the West by Costa Rica. The land borders of Panama are shared with Columbia on east and Costa Rica to the west.


The type of Government in Panama is Constitutional democracy with three branches government; executive and legislative branches elected by direct, secret vote for 5 year terms, and an independent appointed judiciary. The executive branch includes a president and two vice presidents. The Legislative branch consists of 72 members' unicameral legislative assembly. The judicial branch is organized under a nine member Supreme Court and includes all tribunals and municipal courts. An autonomous Electoral Tribunal supervises voter registration, the election process, and the activities of political parties. Everyone over the age of 18 is required to vote. The current president is Ricardo Martinelli.


Panama celebrates thirteen public holidays. Panamanian holidays include traditional world holidays such as New Year's Day (January 1st), Flag Day (November 4) and Mother's Day (December 8). As a predominantly Roman Catholic country, Panamanians keep several religious holidays like Holy Friday (the Friday of Roman Catholic Holy Week) and Christmas (December 25). In addition, Panama acknowledges certain dates in its own history and commemorates these with special holidays. These include: Martyr's Day (January 9), Separation Day (November 3) and Independence Day (November 28). Martyr's Day commemorates the day in 1964 when 200 Panamanian high school students marched to Balboa High School in the United States Canal Zone to protest the action of students from Balboa High School students of raising the US flag in the Canal Zone school. In effort to quell tensions, US President John F. Kennedy agreed that the US flag could be raised in conjuction with Panamanian flag in non-military places, but the riot that was formed out of this protest killed and injured many people. Panama's carnival takes place four days before Ash Wednesday. Commemorated since 1900, it is the largest carnival of the world. Colon Day is celebrated for the day that Panama formally separated from Colombia in November 3, 1903. November 10th is the day that Panamanians remember the ‘uprising in Villa Los Santos'. On this date in 1821 the citizens of Los Santos in Panama's southernmost province declared their independence from Spain.


The major wars in Panama have only been three. The first being the 1,000 day war, which is also known as the Columbian Civil War. This war took place between 1899 and 1902, while Panama was still part of Colombia. The second is the Coto Incident where Panama claimed the border area of Coto, and Costa Rica did as well. A small war between Panama and Costa Rica emerged out of this incident as well. This was finally settled in 1942 when Panama and Costa Rica signed a border treaty. The third war in Panama was the Invasion by US Military Forces in 1989 to take out General Manuel Noriega from power, and to bring him to face his criminal charges in the US and restore democracy in Panama.

A look at the Past:

Panama's history has been shaped by the evolution of the world economy and the ambitions of great powers. The earliest known inhabitants of Panama were the Cuevas and the Coclé tribes, but they were decimated by disease and fighting when the Spanish arrived in the 1500s. Rodrigo de Bastidas was the first European to explore the Isthmus of Panama. A year later, Christopher Columbus visited the Isthmus and established a short-lived settlement in the Darien. Panama quickly became the crossroads and marketplace of Spain's empire in the New World. In 1825 and 1855 it was viewed as a potential route between the Atlantic and the Pacific. By 1855, the US had bankrolled a railroad from Colon to Panama City. In 1903, Panama broke with Colombia and soon agreed to develop a canal zone that would be under US control.


The exchange of currency use in Panama is Balboa and U.S dollar. The economy is a Free Market Economy. The mains source of income for the country is exporting oil products, grain, bananas, shrimp, sugar, clothing, and coffee. Since the transportation in Panama Canal is very important for their economy, on October 2006, Panamanians voted to expand and construct the canal for $5.25 billion. This expansion will also provide Panama with 7,000-9,000 direct new jobs during the peak construction period of 2009-2011 and increase economic opportunities for years to come.

Brief overview of the people:

Panamanians' culture, customs, and language are predominantly Caribbean Spanish. The majority of the population is ethnically mestizo or mixed Spanish, Indigenous, Chinese, and West Indian. Spanish is the official and dominant language; English is a common second language spoken by the West Indians and by many businesspeople and professionals so it accounts to only 14%. More than half the population lives in the Panama City-Colon metropolitan corridor. Panama is rich in folklore and popular tradition. Their popular music is salsa, and El Reggaeton, a Latin mixture of Latin American popular music, jazz, and rock. Their main religion is Roman Catholicism.

Sports and Recreation:

Panama sports include basketball, baseball, soccer, tennis, boxing, golf, cycling, horse racing and many more. Some of the most famous international players hail from this country like Carlos Lee Chicago White Sox, an Outfielder, Rommel Fernandez, Soccer player. The Panama soccer, basket ball and baseball teams have competed nationally and internationally and have won numerous titles. Panama Sports also include water sports like snorkeling, surfing and scuba diving. The coral reefs in Panama are the best resort to explore the diverse aquatic flora and fauna. Many people spend their leisure time playing Golf as well.

Typical Meals:

Panamanian food is similar to that of other Latin American countries, but is not too spicy. Corn is found in many Panamanian cuisine meals. Cooking is done mainly in oil. Fish, seafood and shellfish dishes are Panamanian specialties.

Other common foods in Panama include are pollo (chicken), ceviche (raw fish in lemon juice and cilantro), patacones (fried plantain slices), corvina (a white fish from the Pacific), and camarones (shrimp). Though a variety of fruits are grown in Panama, fresh fruit is not served in restaurants as often as in other countries; fruit can be purchased in outdoor markets and at stands along major roads.

Famous People:

Ruben Blades is a Panamanian salsa singer, and songwriter, who was often called the Renaissance man of Salsa. “As a songwriter, Blades brought the lyrical sophistication of Central American nueva canción and Cuban nueva trova as well as experimental tempos. He was an innovative thinker who has worked also as a poet, philosopher and politician. Ruben Blades is the most recognized Panamanian in the world. Justine Pasek is a Panamanian model, goodwill ambassador, and former Miss Universe in 2002. Justine championed the cause of HIV/AIDS and established the first HIV/AIDS prevention center in Panama. Camilo Alleyene is a prominent Panamanian gynecologist. He performed in 1990 the first successful in vitro fertilization in Panama. The baby, Kicia Karen Smith, was born on December 18, 1990.

Health Care:

Panama offers good-quality medical care and modern hospitals in its metropolitan areas. Many Panamanian doctors are U.S.-trained, and the standards at the top hospitals compare favorably to those in the United States. Private health insurance is available and much less expensive than insurance in the United States. Prices for prescription drugs are low as well, because manufacturers price them for the market. Plus, many drugs that require a prescription in the States are available over the counter in Panama.

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