by Corey Whitaker

The People and Land

Panama's area is 75, 517 sq km (29, 157 sq miles). The official estimate of the population in 1997 was 2, 781, 686. In Panama City alone, the capital, the population is 766, 405. However, only about a quarter of the country is inhabited. The majority of the population live either around the canal and main cities or in the pacific lowlands and adjacent mountains.

Geography

Panama forms the land link between the North and South Americas. Panama borders Colombia to the east, Costa Rica to the west, and the Caribbean and Pacific oceans to the north and south. The country forms an isthmus which runs east 772 km (480 miles) and is 60-177km (37-110 miles) wide. The landscape of Panama is mountainous with lowlands and streams on on both coastlines, with woods, and a wide area of Savannah-covered plains and hills called El Interior.

Panama's Independence

Panama was a trade route under Spanish rule from 1501. Later Panama gained independence as part of Gran Colombia on November 28, 1821. Panama again tried to get out of Gran Colombia four times between the years 1849 and 1855, during that time Panama signed a treaty with the U.S.A. to build the Panama Railroad. Panama, with U.S. help, seceded from Colombia on November 3, 1903 and was know to the world as the Republic of Panama. Colombia, however, withheld recognition until 1921, when the U.S. payed U.S.$25 million compensation.

The Panama Canal

The building of the Panama Canal started in 1903 and was completed on August 14, 1914. After the Panama Canal was in the process of construction, the Panama Canal zone became fully protected by the U.S.A, the country's main ally. After the Panama Canal as completed it was considered the eighth wonder of the world. As of December 31, 1999 Panama gained full control of the canal over the U.S.

Here is a map of the Panama Canal.

Government

The government of Panama consists of the executive president and the 72-member legislature (Asamblea Legislativa). Both branches are elected for a five year term. The president appoints a cabinet of ministers. The legislature, in 1997, approved a new constitutional amendment allowing the president to be elected a second consecutive term.

Panama City

Panama's capital, Panama City, is an intriguing mix of Spain, America, and the strange atmosphere of the East. On the narrow cobble stoned streets of the old city an individual will find many interesting sights.

Those sights may include the Plaza de Francia, the Court of Justice Building, the Paseo de las B-vedas, San Jose Church with the large gold baroque alter, the Santa Domingo Church, the Museum of Colonial Religious Art, and the most interesting museum the Museum of the Panamanian Man. The most impressive building, overlooking the bay, the Presidents Palace and further down the water front the brilliant public market. Another wonderful place to visit is Panama Viejo, its ruins, and the square tower of the old cathedral. This was the original Panama city which was ransacked and looted by Henry Morgan in 1671.

Currency

Panama's currency is in Balboa (B). One Balboa equals one hundred centisimos. There is no Panamanian paper currency. Coins are in denominations of B100, 50, 25,10, 5, and 1 centisimos. One Balboa equals one U.S. dollar, however, U.S. dollars are excepted in Panama. Credit cards are also accepted; the most commonly used are Visa and American Express but Masters Card and Diners Club are also accepted.

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