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, country, Central America

Panama (pănˈəmäˌ), Span. Panamá, officially Republic of Panama, republic (2015 est. pop. 3,657,000), 29,760 sq mi (77,081 sq km), occupying the Isthmus of Panama, which connects Central and South America. To the west and east of Panama, respectively, are Costa Rica and Colombia; the Panama Canal bisects the country. The capital and largest city is Panama City.

Land and People

In the west are rugged mountains (Volcán Barú is 11,401 ft/3,475 m high) of volcanic origin, which yield in the middle of the country to low hills; there is a low mountain range in the east. Lowlands line both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, and there are numerous offshore islands. The climate is generally tropical with abundant rainfall. Colón, a major port, is the second largest city, and David is the third largest city. More than half the population is urban. The population is primarily mestizo, although the building of the canal brought large numbers of people from the West Indies and other parts of the world, many of whom stayed and intermarried with the indigenous population. Spanish is the official language, and many Panamanians also speak English. About 85% of the population is Roman Catholic; there is a Protestant minority.


Panama's economy has become largely service-based, with the operation of the Panama Canal, banking, insurance, container ports, flagship registry, and tourism all playing important roles. Less than a quarter of the land is used for agriculture. On the upland savannas cattle are grazed and subsistence crops such as rice, corn, coffee, and sugarcane are grown. Bananas are grown on the Pacific coast. The country has various light industries, including construction, brewing, and sugar milling. The Colón Free Zone, established in 1953, is a center for foreign investment in manufacturing.

Bananas are the leading export, followed by shrimp, sugar, coffee, and clothing. Capital goods, foodstuffs, consumer goods, and chemicals are imported. Much of the trade is with the United States. In recent years the country has become a nexus for the shipment of illegal drugs from Colombia to the United States, as well as a center for drug-related financial transactions.


Panama is governed under the constitution of 1972 as amended. Executive power is held by the president, who is both head of state and head of government and is popularly elected for a five-year term. A person may serve three terms as president. The unicameral National Assembly has 78 members who are also elected for five years. Administratively the country is divided into nine provinces, plus an autonomous territory for indigenous people.


Early History and Spanish Control

Panama was densely inhabited by different indigenous peoples before the arrival of the Spanish. The first European sighting of Panama was by the Spaniard Rodrigo de Bastidas in 1501, and Columbus dropped anchor off the present-day Portobelo in 1502. Martín Fernández de Enciso and Diego de Niuesa failed in their efforts at colonization in Darién. Vasco Núñez de Balboa established the first successful colony in 1510 and became governor of the region. The indigenous population was soon devastated by the Spanish and by the diseases they carried from Europe.

In 1513, Balboa made his momentous voyage across the isthmus to the Pacific, thus highlighting the dominant factor in the nation's history—the short distance from sea to sea. Under the governorship of Pedro Arias de Ávila, Panama City was founded (1519). Soon the isthmus became the route by which the treasures of the Inca empire were transferred to Spain, attracting the unwelcome attention of English buccaneers—such as Sir Francis Drake, William Parker, Sir Henry Morgan, and Edward Vernon—who swooped down on the gold-bearing galleons and the treasures of Portobelo. Panama was subordinated to the viceroyalty of Peru and remained in this status until 1717, when it was transferred to New Granada.

Attempts at Scottish settlement in the Darién Scheme of the 17th cent. failed wretchedly. With the decline of the Spanish Empire, Panama lost much of its importance in the carrying trade. Panama became a part of independent Colombia in 1821. Its significance as a crossroad was enhanced again when U.S. settlers bound for Oregon and the goldfields of California passed through Panama. W. H. Aspinall built (1848–55) the Panama RR, and the question of a canal across the isthmus became paramount. The project ultimately led to a revolution against Colombian sovereignty and the establishment of Panama as a separate republic (see Panama Canal).

Independence, the United States, and the Canal

The new state, proclaimed in Nov., 1903, was under the aegis of the United States, and the canal and American interests in it became the determinants of Panama's history. The Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty with the United States established the Panama Canal Zone, controlled by the United States, and authorized U.S. intervention in Panamanian affairs if necessary to protect the zone. The internal politics of the republic have been stormy, with frequent changes of administration. U.S. forces were landed in 1908, 1912, and 1918. A controversial figure in Panamanian politics was Arnulfo Arias who was elected president in 1940 and ousted a year later for being pro-Fascist. He seized power in 1949 but was overthrown in 1951. José Antonio Remón, elected in 1952, was assassinated in 1955; Ernesto de la Guardia, Jr., inaugurated the following year, survived disturbances in 1958 and 1959.

In the meantime, a new canal treaty was concluded in 1955, as political unrest developed in Panama over the Canal Zone issue. In 1958 and again in 1960 further steps were taken to assuage Panamanian discontent by establishing uniform wages and employment opportunities in the Canal Zone and by reaffirming Panama's titular sovereignty over the zone. Roberto F. Chiari, a conservative landowner, was elected president in 1960. Marco A. Robles defeated Arias for the presidency in 1964. When U.S. high-school students illegally displayed an American flag in the Canal Zone (Jan., 1964), serious riots broke out. Diplomatic relations between Panama and the United States were briefly suspended. New treaties were negotiated (1967), providing for Panamanian sovereignty over the Canal Zone, joint operation of the canal, and possible construction of a new, sea-level canal, but Panama refused to ratify them (1970).

In early 1974 Panama and the United States agreed in principle for the first time to the eventual end of U.S. jurisdiction over the canal and the Canal Zone. Arias was again elected president in Oct., 1968, but was deposed 11 days later in a military coup. Gen. Omar Torrijos Herrera emerged as the dominant figure shortly thereafter. Torrijos conducted enormous public works projects that gained him considerable popularity while plunging the country into debt. In 1977, he concluded a treaty with the United States that provided for a gradual transfer of jurisdiction over the Canal Zone and the canal to Panama by the end of 1999. A second treaty guaranteed the permanent neutrality of the canal.

The Noriega Years and Modern Panama

After the death of Torrijos in a plane crash in 1981, Colonel Manuel Antonio Noriega Moreno slowly gained power, and in 1983 he took complete control of the national guard and of the country. Throughout the 1980s Noriega manipulated elections, ruling Panama through presidents who were mostly mere puppets. In 1987 a former officer of the Panamanian Defense Force (the expanded National Guard) publicly accused Noriega of ordering the murder of a prominent political opponent, manipulating election results, and engaging in drug smuggling with Colombian drug producers. As a result, the United States imposed strict sanctions that severely damaged Panama's economy and resulted in large protests against Noriega in Panama City.

On Dec. 15, 1989, the Panamanian legislature declared Noriega president and proclaimed that the United States and Panama were in a state of war. The same day a U.S. marine was killed by Panamanian soldiers. On Dec. 20, the United States attacked Panama City with a combined military force of more than 25,000 soldiers in an effort to remove Noriega from power.

Noriega surrendered on Jan. 3, 1990, and was taken to the United States, where he was later tried, convicted, and jailed on charges of drug trafficking. Guillermo Endara Galimany, the candidate of the Authentic Panameñista party who had been elected to the presidency in May, 1989, but prevented by Noriega from taking office, was sworn into office during the invasion. The invasion resulted in considerable loss of life as well as significant damage to Panama City. In 1994, Ernesto Pérez Balladares, a former associate of Torrijos and the candidate of the Democratic Revolutionary party (PRD), which had once supported but later repudiated Noriega, won the presidential election. He introduced a sweeping economic reform plan and pledged to fight corruption and drug trafficking. In Oct., 1994, the constitution was amended to abolish Panama's military.

In 1999 the Arnulfista (Panameñista) party candidate, Mireya Moscoso Rodríguez, a coffee company owner and the widow of Arnulfo Arias, was elected president. The son of Gen. Omar Torrijos, Martin Torrijos Espino, who had lost to Moscoso in 1999, was the PRD candidate again in 2004 and was elected president. In 2006 Panamanian voters approved an expansion of the Panama Canal to add an third, larger set of locks to the existing canal; the new locks opened in 2016. The presidential election in May, 2009, was won by Ricardo Martinelli, one of Panama's wealthiest persons; a pro-business conservative, he was the candidate of the multiparty Alliance for Change. Juan Carlos Varela, a conservative businessman and Martinelli's vice president (from the Panameñista party) but an opponent of the president from 2011, was elected president in May, 2014. Five years later, Laurentino Cortizo Cohen, a cattle rancher and the PRD candidate, won the presidency in a close election.


See L. L. Pippin, The Remón Era: An Analysis of a Decade of Events in Panama, 1947–1957 (1964); D. A. Howarth, Panama: Four Hundred Years of Dreams and Cruelty (1966); R. F. Nyrop, ed., Panama: A Country Study (1981); R. M. Koster, In the Time of the Tyrants: Panama, 1968–1990 (1990); A. S. Zimbalist, Panama at the Crossroads (1991); K. Buckley, Panama: The Whole Story (1991). See also bibliography under Panama Canal.


, city, Panama
Panama, city (1990 pop. 584,803), central Panama, capital and largest city of Panama, on the Gulf of Panama. Founded in 1519 by Pedro Arias de Ávila, the city flourished in early colonial times as the Pacific port of transshipment of Andean riches to Spain. After it was destroyed in 1671 by Sir Henry Morgan, it was refounded (1673) 5 mi (8.1 km) west on a rocky peninsula. The city declined as the Andean sources of gold disappeared but revived briefly during the California gold rush and the building (1848–55) of the trans-Panama railroad. Construction of the Panama Canal brought assured prosperity, and American sanitary measures and disease control made Panama a clean and healthful tropical city. The political, social, and cultural nucleus of the nation, it expanded rapidly after World War II into a polyglot metropolis, creating new residential districts, improved recreational facilities, and such educational centers as the Univ. of Panama (founded 1935), important because of its inter-American organization and curriculum. Panama City is no longer a port; commerce is handled through neighboring Balboa. Although the city has a diverse manufacturing base, its primary economic activities are providing services for the canal employees and serving as a center for international banking. The city had a reputation as a drug transshipment point between South America and the United States in the 1980s, and has also been a center for money-laundering. In Dec., 1989, Panama City was invaded by U.S. troops (see Panama), resulting in serious municipal damage and substantial civilian casualties. Panama City continues to experience rapid growth and ensuing social problems.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Republic of Panama, República de Panamá), a country in Central America, situated on the Isthmus of Panama. Panama is bounded on the east and southeast by Colombia, on the west by Costa Rica, on the north by the Caribbean Sea and on the south by the Pacific Ocean. Its area is 77,080 sq km, including the Canal Zone, which bisects the country. By a treaty concluded in 1903 the USA acquired jurisdiction over the Canal Zone. Population, 1.6 million (1974). The capital is Panama, often called Panama City. Administratively, Panama is divided into nine provinces, which are subdivided into districts and counties.

Constitution and government. Panama is a republic. Under the 1972 Constitution legislative power is vested in the unicameral National Assembly, composed of 505 representatives of counties elected for six-year terms. Some legislative functions are also exercised by the national Legislative Council, consisting of the president, the vice-president, the president of the National Assembly, ministers, and the members of the Legislative Commission. The president, elected by the National Assembly for a six-year term, has limited powers. General Omar Torrijos Herrera, the commander of the National Guard, has been officially proclaimed “leader of the Panama revolution” and appointed head of government. His broad powers include the appointment and dismissal of ministers (members of the cabinet) and other high officials. The judiciary is headed by the Supreme Court, composed of nine judges appointed by the executive branch.

Natural features. Occupying the narrowest part of Central America, Panama has a width ranging from 48 km to 200 km. Its coasts are low-lying and either abrasive or abrasive-aggrada-tional; on the northwestern coast are many lagoons. The Pacific coast is greatly dissected and fringed by many islands, including the Pearl Islands and Coiba. The largest gulfs on the Pacific— the Gulf of Panama and the Gulf of Montijo—are separated by the Azuero Peninsula. The entire country is traversed by mountain ranges. In the west are the Cordillera de Veraguas, rising to 3,475 m, with the country’s single active volcano, Chiriqui. In the north and east, along the Caribbean coast, stretch the Cordillera de San Bias (920 m) and the Serranía del Darién (2,280 m), and to the south of these ranges lie the Serranía del Maje (2,621 m), the Serranía del Sapo (1,300 m), and the Pirre (1,615 m). Lowlands, covering about half of Panama, include intermontane depressions and coastal areas. There are frequent earthquakes.

Panama has a hot and humid subequatorial climate with mean monthly temperatures of 25°-28° C. On the northern slopes and in the east the precipitation, totaling 2,500–3,700 mm annually, falls evenly throughout the year. The leeward southwest receives up to 2,000 mm of rain, falling mainly in the summer. Panama has many rivers, most of which flow through deep gorges and narrow valleys. Their water level fluctuates sharply. Although none are navigable, they are a valuable source of energy. The most important river is the Chagres, whose waters are used to fill the locks of the Panama Canal. On the northern slopes and in the east grow evergreen rain forests on red-yellow lateritic soils. In the extreme southwest are dry savannas on brown-red soils. Animal life includes monkeys, peccaries, tapirs, anteaters, and other typical species of the Neotropical Region. There are many birds, reptiles, and insects.

Population. Panamanians constitute the bulk of the population. Small numbers of Indians, the indigenous peoples of Panama, live along the northeastern coast (Cuna), in the wooded southeastern regions (Chocó), and in the western mountain regions (Guaymi). Other groups include Colombians, Nicara-guans, Costa Ricans, West Indians (mainly Jamaicans), Chinese, and US citizens. Spanish is the official as well as the most commonly spoken language; the Indians speak their own languages. Most of the believers are Catholics, and the rest are Protestants. The official calendar is the Gregorian.

Between 1963 and 1972 the population grew at an average annual rate of 3 percent. Out of an economically active population of 482,000 persons (1972), 449,000 are gainfully employed; of the latter 33.9 percent work in agriculture, 19.1 percent in industry, and 22.9 percent in the services sector. Most of the population lives along the Pacific, on the mountain slopes west of the canal. The population density is highest in Panama Province (51 persons per sq km in 1970) and lowest in Darién Province (1.4 persons per sq km). In 1970, 47 percent of the population lived in cities, of which the largest are Panama City (population 502,000 in 1973) and Colón.

Historical survey. Before the Spanish conquest more than 60 Indian tribes lived in Panama. The west was inhabited by Indians speaking Chibcha languages. They were fishermen, hunters, and farmers and made pottery and gold objects. In the east lived the warlike Carib tribes, who were hunters and fishermen; the Chocó lived in the southeast. All these tribes had a primitive communal social system.

In 1501, Panama was discovered by the Spanish conquistador Rodrigo de Bastidas, and the next year C. Columbus founded the settlement of Santa Maria de Belén at the mouth of the Belen River, but it was soon destroyed by Indians. In 1509 the Spaniards established another colony on the coast of the Gulf of Darién, and in 1519 they founded Panama City. The Panama Audiencia was established in Panama in 1535. Panama was part of the captaincy general of Guatemala from 1542 to 1565, when it was included in the viceroyalty of Peru. In 1718 it was nominally incorporated into the viceroyalty of New Granada. The Spaniards found gold in the rivers emptying into the Caribbean Sea, and gold became a principal export. A paved road was built by the Spaniards between Panama City and Portobello to link the Pacific with the Atlantic coasts. Much of the wealth plundered by the colonialists was transported over the road and shipped to Spain from ports on the Atlantic Coast.

From the 17th century the Spaniards imported Negro slaves from Africa to work on banana plantations and in mines. The local population, supported by the Negro slaves, often rebelled against the Spanish colonialists. The country suffered greatly from pirates, who frequently raided the ships carrying valuable cargo and plundered the port cities. Panama City was sacked and burned in 1671. By the late 18th century the reserves of gold and other precious metals were depleted, and the route across the isthmus was losing its importance because of the pirate attacks. Spain traded with its possessions in the Pacific by sailing around South America. But in other European countries interest in the Isthmus of Panama grew, stimulated by the development of capitalism and the growth of world trade and industry, and numerous plans were drawn up to build a canal across the isthmus.

The War of Independence of the Spanish-American Colonies (1810–26) spread to the isthmus in November 1821. The rebels were supported by detachments sent by S. Bolivar, who was leading the national liberation struggle in New Granada and Venezuela. After bitter fighting Panama proclaimed its independence from Spain on Nov. 28, 1821, and united with New Granada. As part of New Granada, Panama joined the federal Republic of Gran Colombia, formed out of the countries liberated from Spanish rule. Gran Colombia disintegrated in 1830, and Panama became a department in the Republic of New Granada, renamed Colombia in 1886. Recognizing the tremendous importance of the Isthmus of Panama, Great Britain and the USA struggled for possession of or at least control over the area. Great Britain, which owned several islands in the Caribbean Sea, as well as part of the Mosquito Coast, sought to maintain its influence in Central America. In 1846 the USA imposed on New Granada a treaty of friendship, trade, and navigation. Under the treaty the USA pledged to guarantee New Granada’s sovereignty over the Isthmus of Panama in return for the right to use any route across the isthmus on equal terms with New Granada and a concession to build a railroad across the isthmus. The railroad, which was completed in 1855, brought large profits to American capitalists and strengthened US influence on the isthmus. Taking advantage of the treaty of 1846, the USA continually interfered in the internal affairs of New Granada, frequently resorting to armed intervention, such as in 1856 and 1860. Treaties between the USA and Great Britain— the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850 and the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty of 1901—further consolidated the USA’s position in New Granada. France, also interested in building a canal, founded in 1879 the Compagnie Universelle du Canal Interocéanique de Panama, which soon went bankrupt. In 1902 the company’s assets were taken over by the USA, which was preparing to seize territory for the construction of the canal.

The political situation in Colombia was extremely unstable. The Panamanians frequently rebelled against the Colombian authorities, for instance, in 1885, 1895, 1899, 1900, and 1901. Meanwhile, the North American imperialists exploited the sentiments of the many Panamanians who sought to escape the control of the Colombian oligarchy and to form an independent republic. On Nov. 2, 1903, the USA sent warships to the isthmus to isolate the Colombian Army, and on November 3, Panama proclaimed its independence. That same month Panama, finding itself under the complete control of the USA, was obliged to conclude a treaty with the USA, granting it “in perpetuity” the use of a zone for the construction of a canal. The USA was permitted to build and operate a canal in the zone and to maintain armed forces there. As compensation Panama received a lump sum of $10 million and, from 1913, annual payments of $250,000.

A constitution adopted in 1904 granted the USA the right to land troops in any part of the country. The privilege was frequently used by the US government to suppress anti-imperialist uprisings. The presidential elections of 1908, 1912, and 1918 were held in the presence of American troops. In 1918, US forces occupied Panama City and Colón “to maintain order,” and in 1918–20 they occupied Chiriquí Province on the pretext of protecting American citizens. American capital dominated the major branches of the country’s economy. All of Panama’s foreign loans were floated in the USA, and in 1918 the USA took control of Panama’s finances.

In the mid-1920’s the country’s political life became more intense. There were mass strikes of workers demanding economic and political changes, and the people of Panama called for a revision of the 1903 treaty. The first trade union associations were founded in Panama in 1928, and in May 1929, Panamanian representatives attended the first Latin-American congress of revolutionary trade unions. In 1930 several communist groups that had been founded in the middle 1920’s merged to form the Panamanian Communist Party.

The world economic crisis of 1929–33 undermined the country’s economy and exacerbated relations between the USA and Panama. Another United States-Panamanian treaty was signed in March 1936, abolishing or changing several clauses in the 1903 treaty and increasing the annual payments to Panama to $430,000. During World War II, Panama declared war on Japan, Germany, and Italy (1941), and in May 1942 it signed an agreement with the USA, leasing to the latter until the end of the war 15,000 hectares of land for the construction of military bases. The Communist Party, which had disintegrated in 1937, was revived in 1943 as the People’s Party of Panama (Partido del Pueblo de Panamá).

The Panamanian people’s persistent struggle from 1947 to 1949 for the removal of US military bases compelled the USA to return to Panama the land leased during the war. Colonel J. A. Remón, the commander of the National Guard, who promised to renegotiate the treaty with the USA, was elected president in 1952. (Remón was assassinated the day before the treaty was signed.) Under the new treaty the USA increased its payments to Panama to $1.93 million a year, but the basic provisions of the 1903 treaty remained unchanged. The victory of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 contributed to an upswing in the national liberation struggle in Panama. Between 1959 and the early 1960’s there were mass demonstrations calling for the return of the Canal Zone to Panama. In January 1964, the Panamanians took to the streets to demand the return of the Canal Zone. American soldiers fired on the demonstrators at the border of the zone. At the demand of the people, the Panamanian government severed diplomatic relations with the USA and complained to the Organization of American States. Diplomatic relations were restored in April of that year, but these events obliged the USA to agree to a revision of the 1903 treaty.

On Oct. 1, 1968, Arnulfo Arias, who belonged to one of the oligarchic groups and who had already been in power twice, became president. On October 11 he was overthrown by a coup d’etat staged by nationalistic military men headed by General O. Torrijos Herrera. The junta formed by the military disbanded the National Assembly, suspended constitutional rights, and banned all political parties. (The major parties were the National Liberal Party, founded in 1931; the Panamanian Party, founded in 1963; the Republican Party, founded in 1959; and the Christian Democratic Party, founded in 1960.)

Since 1970, when several reactionary members of the junta were dismissed, the new Panamanian leadership headed by Torrijos has implemented several agrarian and educational reforms and has limited the profits of foreign monopolies. Panama refused to renew an agreement under which the USA leased a base in Río Hato and rejected three draft treaties with the USA, worked out in 1967, changing the status of the Panama Canal. In 1971 the negotiations with the USA on the revision of the 1903 Panama Canal Treaty were resumed on the initiative of Torrijos’ government. In 1972 the Panamanian government raised workers’ wages in several branches of the economy, expanded public works to increase employment, and expropriated 58 large landed estates. A new labor code was adopted. In 1972, Fuerza y Luz, a large American electric power company, was nationalized. The government also took steps to further strengthen the national sovereignty of the country.

In the elections to the National Assembly held in August 1972, representatives of the people were elected to the Assembly for the first time in the country’s history. In September the National Assembly approved a new constitution, which declared that “the country’s territory may never be given away or alienated, either temporarily or partially, to a foreign state.” The National Assembly demanded that the government reject the annual compensation of $1.93 million for the Canal Zone while the USA derived an annual profit of $100 million from the operation of the canal. In February 1974, Panama and the USA reached an accord and signed the declaration On Basic Principles for Negotiating a New Treaty on the Panama Canal. The declaration rejected the principle of perpetuity and established a limited period of time for any future treaty on the Panama Canal. In 1977, Panama and the USA signed two new Panama Canal treaties under which the canal is to become Panama’s property in the year 2000. The treaties also increased the annual payment for the operation of the canal to $10 million. Such government measures as tax reform, the reorganization of the education system, and agrarian reforms have received the support of the masses. About 300 cooperatives have been established on the expropriated lands. A new labor law has been adopted. The government is taking steps to strengthen the country’s national sovereignty.


Political parties and trade unions. All political parties have been banned. The People’s Party of Panama (Partido del Pueblo de Panamá), which operates under semiclandestine conditions, is the party of the Panamanian Communists. Founded in 1930 as the Panamanian Communist Party, the party disintegrated in 1937 and was re-established in 1943 under its present name.

The leading trade union organizations are the Confederation of Workers of the Republic of Panama, founded in 1950 and a member of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and of the Inter-American Regional Labor Organization; the National Trade Union Center of Workers of Panama, founded in 1970 and a member of the World Federation of Trade Unions; and the Federation of Workers of the Isthmus of Panama, founded in 1960 and a member of the World Confederation of Labor.

Economic geography. Panama is a poorly developed agricultural country whose economy is dominated by US monopolies. US investments totaled $1.45 billion in 1971. In 1972 the gross domestic product reached 1.04 billion balboas (in 1960 prices), or $863 per capita. Agriculture accounted for 17 percent of the gross domestic product in 1972, manufacturing for about 17 percent, construction for 6.6 percent, transportation and communications for 7.1 percent, and commerce for 14.2 percent. The government is carrying out a program of social and economic changes, including the strengthening of the state sector. The economic development plan for 1973–77 stresses the development of the infrastructure; 33 percent of all expenditures have been allocated for the construction of roads and airports and 15 percent for the construction and modernization of seaports.

AGRICULTURE. Large plantations and vast livestock-raising estates, owned by local landholders or American companies, coexist with semi-subsistence peasant farms. Since 1969 the government has been allotting peasants state-owned land in remote uninhabited regions; both the land and farm implements are used collectively. The government has also been buying land from landholders and foreign companies and distributing it among landless peasants and those with insufficient land. More than 52,000 peasant families had received land by 1972.

In 1970, 21.4 percent of the country’s area was classified as farmland, of which 5.4 percent was plowland, 1.3 percent land under perennial plantings, and 14.7 percent meadows and pastures. Bananas are the main export crop, and four-fifths of the banana plantations belong to the Chiriqui Land Company, a subsidiary of the United Fruit Company, a US firm. Most of the banana plantations are on the Pacific coast, in Chiriquí Province. Small producers account for a considerable portion of the output. The annual banana harvest is 920,000 tons (1972), grown on 210,000 hectares (ha). Cacao, abacá, coffee, and sugarcane are also grown for export. The chief food crops are rice, corn, and legumes. Most of the rice (80,000 ha, 102,000 tons in 1972) is grown in the coastal lowlands of western Panama, chiefly on small farms. Corn and legumes are grown in less humid areas at higher elevations. Pineapples, citrus fruit, tobacco, cotton, and potatoes are also cultivated.

Animal husbandry is important. Cattle, raised chiefly in the savanna regions, numbered 1,296,000 head in 1972. Poultry farming is also well developed (3,950,000). The leading marine industry is shrimp fishing; 5,300 tons of shrimp were caught in 1972.

INDUSTRY. Panama’s industry is poorly developed, with small enterprises predominating. Some 79,000 persons were employed in industry in 1972, including 43,000 persons in manufacturing and 31,000 persons in construction. The installed capacity of the country’s electric power plants was 171,700 kilowatts in 1971; in that year 919.4 million kilowatt-hours were generated by utility electric power plants, using chiefly imported liquid fuel.

The manufacturing industry is based mainly on agricultural and forest raw materials. About half of those employed in industry work in the food industry. A leading branch of the food industry is the processing and canning of milk; 23.5 million liters of milk were processed in 1972, producing 16,200 tons of condensed and dry milk. Also important are the canning of fruit, vegetables, and fish; sugar refining (80,000 tons of raw sugar in 1972); and the production of alcoholic and soft beverages. The principal industrial centers are Panama City, Colón, Natá, Pédregal, and Concepción. The main branches of light industry are the leather footwear and garment industries in Panama City and David. Paper and cardboard are manufactured in Almirante and furniture and plywood in David; pottery and cement are also produced. Crafts are very important. The largest enterprise is an oil refinery in Las Minas owned by American firms. In 1971 the refinery processed 4.1 million tons of imported oil.

TRANSPORTATION. Panama has 474 km of railroads, most of which are separate lines built to haul agricultural produce to seaports. Of the 7,000 km of highways, 2,100 km are paved with concrete or asphalt (1972). The Panamanian merchant marine consists of small coastal vessels; however, a great number of foreign vessels are registered in Panamanian ports. The total tonnage of the merchant marine flying the Panamanian flag was 8.7 million tons (3,866 vessels) by late 1972. The main port is Panama City, and nearby is the Tocumen International Airport.

FOREIGN TRADE. In 1972 exports totaled 122 million balboas and imports 399 million balboas. Bananas account for as much as 50 percent of the value of exports, oil products for up to 20 percent, shrimp for about 10 percent, and sugar for 5 percent. Vehicles and industrial goods account for about 60 percent of imports, crude oil for up to 25 percent, and food for about 10 percent. In 1972 the USA bought about two-fifths of Panama’s exports and supplied one-third of its imports. The main supplier of crude oil is Venezuela. The monetary unit is the balboa, equal to US $1 in December 1973. The foreign debt was $215 million in 1972. Earnings from the operation of the Panama Canal do not cover the foreign trade deficit.


Armed forces. The Panamanian armed forces, called the National Guard, consist of ground troops numbering 5,000 to 6,000 men (1972). The commander of the National Guard, who is also the head of government, has direct command over the troops.

Health and social welfare. In 1972 the birth rate was 34.5 and the mortality rate 5.7 per 1,000 inhabitants; the infant mortality rate was 37.6 per 1,000 live births in 1971. The average life expectancy is 55.8 years. Infectious diseases predominate. The main causes of death are ischemic heart disease and other cardiovascular disorders, malignant tumors, enteritis and other intestinal diseases, children’s infections, and tuberculosis of the respiratory organs. Malaria and venereal diseases are widespread, and outbreaks of poliomyelitis are recorded every five or six years. Ancylostomiasis, wuchereriasis, Chagas’ disease, and arbor viral infections are prevalent in the central provinces. Much of the population suffers from protein deficiency (60.7 percent of the children under five years of age), vitamin A deficiency, and endemic goiter.

Medical services are provided by state hospitals, social insurance institutions, which are available to only about 7 percent of the population, and private clinics. Social insurance is not provided in the banana plantation regions, where most of the population works. In 1972 there were 38 hospitals with 5,700 beds (about three per 1,000 inhabitants), including 450 beds in private hospitals. In 1972 there were 1,200 doctors (one per 1,200 inhabitants), 155 dentists, 60 pharmacists, and about 3,000 medical assistants. Doctors are trained at the medical faculty of the University of Panama. Public health expenditures amounted to 9.2 percent of the state budget in 1971.


Education and cultural affairs. Education for children between the ages of seven and 15 years was made compulsory in 1946. Nevertheless, only 60 percent of the children in this age group are receiving a primary education. Attached to primary schools are one- or two-year preschools for children five and six years of age; there were 170 kindergartens with 9,300 children in 1972. Cities have six-year primary schools consisting of three cycles of two years each. Rural areas have three- and four-year primary schools. In the 1972–73 school year, there were 2,127 primary schools with 305,700 pupils.

The six-year secondary schools have two three-year cycles; the second cycle is a lycée with humanities and natural science divisions. Vocational training is provided by technical, agricultural, commercial, and other schools, which admit graduates of the primary school or the first cycle of the secondary school. The vocational schools offer a three- or four-year course of study. Primary school teachers are trained at three-year teachers colleges, open to graduates of the first cycle of the secondary school; secondary school teachers are trained at universities. In the 1972–73 school year more than 99,000 persons were receiving a secondary education; of these, 65 percent were enrolled in general schools, 32 percent in vocational schools, and 3 percent in teachers colleges.

The higher educational system comprises two universities, both in Panama City: the University of Panama, founded in 1935, and the University of Santa Maria la Antigua, a private Catholic university founded in 1965. In the 1972–73 academic year the universities had a combined enrollment of 16,400 students. In 1969, 1,600 Panamanians were studying abroad, more than 50 percent of them in the USA.

In Panama City are the country’s largest libraries: the Library of the University of Panama (founded in 1935,250,000 volumes) and the National Library (1892, 200,000 volumes). Also in the city is the National Museum, founded in 1925.


Scientific institutions. Systematic scientific research began in the 1920’s. The emphasis was on the humanities and medicine. The leading research institutions founded prior to World War II were the Panama Academy of Language, a corresponding member of the Real Academia Española, the Panama Academy of History (1921), and the National Academy of Sciences of Panama (1942). Among the research institutions established after World War II are the National Commission on Archaeology and Historical Monuments (1946), the National Institute for the Study of the Culture of the Indian Peoples (1952), and the Institute of Economic Development (1953). Theoretical and applied research in agriculture and forestry expanded in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The country’s largest research institution is the University of Panama, which includes the Agricultural Research Center, the Computer Center, the Institute of Anthropological Research, and the Social Research Center. The Institute of Nuclear Research studies the application of radioactive isotopes in medicine and agriculture. The National Science Council was set up in 1963 to direct and coordinate research. Panama participates in joint research programs for Central America conducted by such international organizations as the Institute of Nutrition in Central America and Panama and the Central American Research Institute for Industry. The country’s technical information center—the National Office of Statistics and Census—publishes Estadística Panameña (since 1941), Demografía (since 1941), and Panamá en cifras (since 1953).


Press, radio, and television. In 1977, seven newspapers and periodicals were published, including five dailies: La Crítica (since 1959, circulation 27,000), El Matutino (since 1968, circulation 32,000), La República (founded 1977), the English-language Star and Herald (since 1849, circulation 12,300), and La Estrella de Panama (since 1853, circulation 25,200). La Unidad, the monthly organ of the People’s Party of Panama, was founded in 1973.

The radio and television stations are privately owned and operate on a commercial basis. There are 48 radio and two television stations. The government radio station, Radio Liber-tad, was established in 1971. Television broadcasting was inaugurated in 1959.

Literature. Until the middle of the 19th century the Spanish-language literature of the Panamanian people evolved within the mainstream of Colombian literature. However, even before Panama’s secession from Colombia in 1903, the country’s economic and cultural development stimulated the desire for a national literature. A major contribution was made by the Society of the Lovers of Learning, founded in 1845, among whose members were Panama’s first romantic poets—G. Colunje (1837–99), T. M. Feuillet (1834–62), and J. M. Alemán (1830–87). The modernist poets D. Herrera (1870–1914), G. Andreve (1879–1940), and L. A. Soto (1874–1902), as well as their immediate successors, the poets of the “first generation of the republic,” notably R. Miró (1883–1940), took part in the political struggle and promoted the development of a national culture. These poets were strongly influenced by the French symbolists and the Parnassians. Such writers as G. O. Hernández (1893–1918) depicted social inequality.

The bourgeois-democratic revolution in Mexico (1910–17) and World War I contributed to a split within the literary intelligentsia. Such poets as R. Sinán (born 1904), best known for his collection Wave (1929), and R. J. Laurenza (born 1910) defended avant-garde poetry and espoused formalism. In contrast, the poems of D. Korsi (1899–1957) and D. Herrera Sevillano (1902–50), noted for his collection The Song of a Slave (1947), dealt with sharp social conflicts. Urban and rural life was realistically portrayed in the prose of I. de J. Valdés (1902–59), J. Huerta (born 1899), M. A. Rodriguez (born 1919), and J. B. Sosa (1910–56).

After World War II many writers called for a struggle against social injustice. This theme recurs in the novels of C. A. Can-danedo (born 1906), R. Ozores (born 1910), M. Riera (born 1920), and J. Beleño (born 1922), whose best-known work is Green Moon (1951). It also appears in the stories and poems of P. Rivera (born 1939), acclaimed for his collection Panama, the Fire of Weeping (1970), and in the poems of J. Franco (born 1911) and A. Menéndez Franco (born 1933). The struggle for peace and democracy and the fight against American imperialism are portrayed in the stories of E. Chuez (born 1934) and the poems of D. Moran (born 1932), J. A. Córdoba, noted for his collection Sowing of the Dawn (1963), B. Peralta (born 1939), and C. F. Changmarín (born 1922), famous for his collections Jeers and Tears (1948), Poems of the Body (1956), and Poems of the People (1973). R. Luzcando, known for his book Going Against the Wind (1968), also treats these themes. The playwright J. de J. Martínez is best known for his plays Last Judgment (1962) and Zero and the Three Marchers (1970).


Architecture and art. The Indian cultures that arose in Panama prior to the 16th century reflect an intermingling of the cultures of Mexico and Central America with those of Colombia and the Andes. The Indians of Panama made schematic stone statues, columns adorned with human and animal figures, artistically shaped altars and grain grinders, gold and copper figurines and pendants, and polychrome ceramic vessels, often in the shape of human heads or kettles, resting on artistically shaped bases. During the colonial period the secular architecture of Panama City and Portobello included numerous fortifications, markets, customhouses, and warehouses. The interiors of the severe fortress-like churches were adorned with gilded baroque carving.

The architectural complexes and buildings erected in Panama City and Colón in the 20th century reflect the various trends in contemporary US architecture. The buildings designed by G. de Roux, I. Galindo Vallarino, and O. Méndez Guardia also incorporate indigenous traditions. Among outstanding art works of the 20th century are R. Lewis’ allegorical murals, portraits, and busts, J. M. Ulloa’s expressive sculpture, J. F. Arosemena’s landscapes and still lifes, and F. R. Carcheri’s woodcuts on subjects from the life of the common people. Contemporary Panamanian art shows the influence of cubism (C. Oduber), surrealism (P. Runyan), and pop art. The folk art of the Indians is highly diversified.



Zubok, L. I. Imperialisticheskaia politika SShA v stranakh Karaibskogo basseina, 1900–1939. Moscow-Leningrad, 1948.
Gonionskii, S. A. Istoriia panamskoi revoliutsii. Moscow, 1958.
Gonionskii, S. A. Panama—panamtsam. Moscow, 1963.
Gonionskii, S. A. Ocherki noveishei istorii stran Latinskoi Ameriki. Moscow, 1964.
Venin, V. M. Panama i Panamskii kanal. Moscow, 1951.
Kravets, N. A. Panama. Moscow, 1968.
Saenz, V. Problemy mezhokeanskikh putei Amerikanskogo kontinenta. Moscow, 1959. (Translated from Spanish.)
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Panama 1903–1970. Moscow, 1974. (Translated from Spanish.)
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Rubio, A. Panamá: Monumentos históricos y arqueológicos. Mexico City, 1950.



(also Panama City), the capital of Panama and the administrative center of Panama Province. Panama is situated on the Gulf of Panama, at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal, on the Pan-American Highway. The city has a humid subequatorial climate, with a mean annual temperature of 27°C. It receives 1,500–2,000 mm of rainfall annually. Population, 502,000 (1973).

Panama City was founded by the Spanish in 1519 near an Indian village of that name. It became the base of operations for the conquest of the Pacific coast of South America. The city gave its name to the gulf, to the isthmus, and subsequently to the country. For a long time Panama City held a monopoly on trade with Spain. In 1671 the English pirate Henry Morgan captured, sacked, and burned Panama, and two years later the present city was founded several kilometers from the old city. It became the capital of the Republic of Panama in 1903. Panama is a seaport and the terminus of railroads and highways crossing the isthmus. Tocumen international airport is 27 km northeast of Panama. The city’s economy is closely linked to shipping on the canal. Its industries include food processing and the production of leather footwear, textiles, clothing, furniture, and cement.

Panama is the site of the University of Panama, the Catholic University of Santa Maria la Antigua, the National Academy of Sciences of Panama, the Panama Academy of Language, the Panama Academy of History, the Library of the University of Panama, the National Library, and the National Museum. In 1974 the city’s cultural facilities included the National Theater, the Opera Theater, the Experimental Theater, and the Conservatory.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


A plain woven hopsacking of coarse-yarn basket weave, plain or in two colors, producing an effect similar to the texture of panama hats.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


Official name: Republic of Panama

Capital city: Panama City

Internet country code: .pa

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

Geographical description: Central America, bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean, between Colombia and Costa Rica

Total area: 30,193 sq. mi. (78,200 sq. km.)

Climate: Tropical maritime; hot, humid, cloudy; prolonged rainy season (May to January), short dry season (January to May)

Nationality: noun: Panamanian(s); adjective: Panamanian

Population: 3,242,173 (July 2007 CIA est.)

Ethnic groups: Mestizo (mixed African, Amerindian, and European) 70%, Amerindian and mixed (West Indian) 14%, white 10%, Amerindian 6%

Languages spoken: Spanish (official), English 14%

Religions: Roman Catholic 84%, Protestant 15%, other 1%

Legal Holidays:

Christmas DayDec 25
EasterApr 24, 2011; Apr 8, 2012; Mar 31, 2013; Apr 20, 2014; Apr 5, 2015; Mar 27, 2016; Apr 16, 2017; Apr 1, 2018; Apr 21, 2019; Apr 12, 2020; Apr 4, 2021; Apr 17, 2022; Apr 9, 2023
Flag DayNov 4
Good FridayApr 22, 2011; Apr 6, 2012; Mar 29, 2013; Apr 18, 2014; Apr 3, 2015; Mar 25, 2016; Apr 14, 2017; Mar 30, 2018; Apr 19, 2019; Apr 10, 2020; Apr 2, 2021; Apr 15, 2022; Apr 7, 2023
Holy SaturdayApr 23, 2011; Apr 7, 2012; Mar 30, 2013; Apr 19, 2014; Apr 4, 2015; Mar 26, 2016; Apr 15, 2017; Mar 31, 2018; Apr 20, 2019; Apr 11, 2020; Apr 3, 2021; Apr 16, 2022; Apr 8, 2023
Independence from Colombia DayNov 3
Independence from Spain DayNov 28
Independence ProclamationNov 10
Labor DayMay 1
Mother's DayDec 8
National Mourning DayJan 9
New Year's DayJan 1
New Year's EveDec 31
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.


1. a republic in Central America, occupying the Isthmus of Panama: gained independence from Spain in 1821 and joined Greater Colombia; became independent in 1903, with the immediate area around the canal forming the Canal Zone under US jurisdiction; Panama assumed sovereignty over the Canal Zone in 1979 and full control in 1999. Official language: Spanish; English is also widely spoken. Religion: Roman Catholic majority. Currency: balboa. Capital: Panama City. Pop.: 3 178 000 (2004 est.). Area: 75 650 sq. km (29 201 sq. miles)
2. Isthmus of. an isthmus linking North and South America, between the Pacific and the Caribbean. Length: 676 km (420 miles). Width (at its narrowest point): 50 km (31 miles)
3. Gulf of. a wide inlet of the Pacific in Panama
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005