Lying at the crossroads of the North and South American continents and the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, Panama is of immense strategic importance.
The country located in Central America, is bordered by Costa Rica to the west, Colombia to the southeast, the Pacific Ocean to the south, and the Caribbean Sea to the north. The country is divided into ten administrative provinces, with Panama City as the capital.
The official language of Panama is Spanish (although English is also widely spoken).
The official currency in Panama is the balboa (PAB). Since the balboa exists in the form of coins only, Panama uses United States dollars (USD) for all its paper currency. The US dollar and the balboa have the same value in Panama and can be used interchangeably, with no exchange restrictions.
Over the past decade, Panama has been one of the fastest growing economies worldwide. Average annual growth was 7.2 percent between 2001 and 2013, more than double the regional average. By 2018 an average annual growth rate of 5.6 and a minimum 6 % forecast for 2019, set Panama at the top of growing ranks in Latin America.
Panama's economy is mainly based on a well-developed service sector heavily weighted towards banking, commerce, construction, tourism, trading and private industries because of its key geographic location.
The Panama Canal
In addition, revenue from the Panama Canal tolls represents a significant portion of Panama's gross domestic product (GDP). The Canal was built by the US Army Corps of Engineers between 1904 and 1914. The entire Panama Canal, the areas supporting the Canal and all remaining US military bases were transferred to Panama by the end of 1999. In October 2006, Panamanians approved a plan to expand the Canal. The expansion project, which was completed in 2016, doubles the Canal's capacity. Every year more than 15,000 vessels make the eight-hour journey through the waterway, which makes a substantial contribution to the country's economy.
The Government’s 5-year Strategic Development Plan 2015-2019 rests on two pillars of inclusion and competitiveness and includes five themes:
· Enhancing productivity and diversifying growth
· Enhancing quality of life
· Strengthening human capital
· Improving infrastructure, and
· Improving environmental sustainability, including management.
Beside its famous canal, Panama it is equally well known for its natural beauty, for its diverse plant and animal life, including hundreds of bird and tree species. National parks and reserves occupy about one-sixth of the nation’s land area. Panama’s parks are known for their lush tropical rainforests and abundance of wildlife. The Darién region of eastern Panama is the site of a national park created in 1980 and added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List the following year. La Amistad National Park was established in 1988 alongside Costa Rica’s protected Talamanca Range–La Amistad region; the two zones were designated a transboundary World Heritage site in 1990. Among other national parks are Chagres (1984), Portobelo (1976), and Coiba (1991).
Panama has the largest rainforest in the Western Hemisphere outside the Amazon Basin.
Panama enjoys a lively mix of cultural influences, expressed in the country’s cuisine, artwork, music and literature.
Panama Historical Facts
1502 - Spanish explorer Rodrigo de Bastidas visits Panama, which was home to Cuna, Choco, Guaymi and other indigenous peoples.
1519 - Panama becomes Spanish Vice-royalty of New Andalucia (later New Granada).
1821 - Panama becomes independent of Spain, but joins the confederacy of Gran Colombia, which also comprises Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.
1830 - Panama becomes part of Colombia following the collapse of Gran Colombia.
1880s - France attempts to build a canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, but fails due to financial difficulties and the death of more than 20,000 workers from tropical diseases.
1903 - Panama splits from Colombia and becomes fully independent. US buys rights to build Panama Canal and is given control of the Canal Zone in perpetuity. The canal is completed in 1914.
1968-1989 - Period of military rule.
1989 - US invades and ousts Gen Manuel Noriega who became de facto ruler of Panama as head of defence forces in 1983.
1991 - Parliament approves constitutional reforms, including abolition of standing army.
1999 - Panama takes full control of the Panama Canal, ending nearly a century of American jurisdiction over one of the world's most strategic waterways.
2016 - "Panama Papers" lift lid on how the rich and powerful use tax havens to hide their wealth, and reveal Panama itself as one of most popular tax havens. Same year, the OECD welcomes Panama's decision to sign the Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters a very significant step forward in implementing its commitment to tax transparency and effective exchange of information.
2018 - Panama was removed from the EU's "tax haven blacklist".