Panama: Location, History, Size, Population, & Government

About the location, size, population, and government of the country Panama.



Location--Southernmost country in Central America. Colombia is to the east, Costa Rica to the west. The Caribbean Sea is north, the Pacific Ocean south.

How Created--Panama's 1st inhabitants were Indians. Rodrigo de Bastidas discovered the area for Spain in 1501. Panama is the site of Vasco Nunez de Balboa's 1st view of the Pacific Ocean. From 1542-1717, Panama was part of the viceroyalty of Lima, but then joined the new viceroyalty of New Granada (Colombia). Panama continued as part of Colombia after that country's independence in 1821, but its own independence was increasingly an issue. There were 53 rebellions against Colombia between 1846-1903. In 1903, the U.S. seized Panama in order to assure U.S. control of a Panamanian canal route. Panama became a U.S. protectorate, granting the Canal Zone to the U.S. in perpetuity, plus the right to interfere in Panamanian political affairs if they threatened the smooth operation of the Canal.

Size--29,783 sq. mi. (77,138 sq. km.), including the Canal Zone, which has an area of 553 sq. mi.

Population--1.6 million: mulatto, 72%; African, 14%; European, 12%; Indian and other, 2%. 91.5% Roman Catholic, 6% Protestant, 2.5% none.

Who Rules--According to the 1946 constitution, Panama is to elect its President and legislature every 4 years. However, Gen. Omar Torrijos, head of the National Guard (Panama has no Army), took power in a coup in 1968, suspending the National Assembly. The figure-head President is Demetrio Lakas.

Who REALLY Rules--The dominant force in Panama is the U.S., which has complete sovereignty in the Canal Zone and corresponding power in Panama itself. The U.S. provides Panama's only foreign military assistance, and the Canal Zone is headquarters of the U.S. Southern Command. U.S. per capita foreign aid to Panama is higher than to any other country receiving U.S. economic assistance.

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