Portobelo Fort Colón Province, Panama

Portobelo is a port city in Colón Province, Panama. It is located on the northern part of the Isthmus of Panama.

Portobelo was founded in 1597. From the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries it was an important silver-exporting port in New Granada on the Spanish Main and one of the ports on the route of the Spanish treasure fleets.

The city was also victim of one of Captain Henry Morgan's notorious adventures. In 1668, Morgan led a fleet of privateers and 450 men against Portobelo, which, in spite of its good fortifications, he captured and plundered for 14 days, stripping it of nearly all its wealth. This daring endeavor, although successful, also proved particularly brutal as it involved rape, torture, and murder on a grand scale.

On November 21, 1739, the port was again attacked and captured by a British fleet, commanded this time by Admiral Edward Vernon during the War of Jenkins' Ear. The British victory created an outburst of popular acclaim throughout the British Empire, and many streets and settlements in the British Isles and the Thirteen Colonies were named Portobello such as the Portobello Road in London.

The battle demonstrated the vulnerability of Spanish trading practices, and led to a fundamental change in them. The Spanish switched from large fleets calling at few ports to small fleets trading at a wide variety of ports. They also began to travel around Cape Horn to trade on the West coast. Portobelo's economy was severely damaged, and did not recover until the building of the Panama Canal.

Today, Portobelo is a sleepy city with a population of fewer than 5,000. It has a deep natural harbor. In 1980 the ruins of the fortification, along with nearby Fort San Lorenzo, were declared a World Heritage Site.

When Francis Drake died of dysentery in 1596 at sea, he was buried in a lead coffin near Portobelo bay.

Admiral Sir Henry Morgan

Admiral Sir Henry Morgan

Admiral Sir Henry Morgan (Hari Morgan in Welsh), (ca. 1635 – August 25, 1688) was a Welsh privateer, who made a name in the Caribbean as a leader of privateers. He was one of the most notorious and successful privateers from Wales, and one of the most dangerous pirates that lurked in the Spanish Main.

Early life
Henry Morgan was supposedly the oldest son of Robert Morgan, a squire of Llanrumney in the Welsh county of Monmouthshire. However, it has also been postulated that he was from Abergavenny within the same county of Wales, there being a record of an entry in the 'Bristol Apprentice Books' showing 'Servants to Foreign Plantations' : February 9th 1655; 'Henry Morgan of Abergavenny, Labourer, Bound to Timothy Tounsend of Bristol, Cutler, for three years, to serve in Barbadoras on the like Condiciouns' ; there is no record of Morgan himself before 1665. He said later that he left school early, and was 'more used to the pike than the book.' Exquemelin says that he indentured in Barbados but he was forced to retract his claim and subsequent editions were amended after Morgan sued the publishers for libel and was awarded £200 against the publishers ; Richard Browne, his surgeon at Panama, said that Morgan came to Jamaica in 1658, as a young man, and raised himself to 'fame and fortune by his valour'. Jamaica had been conquered by the English Commonwealth in May 1655.

His uncle Edward Morgan was Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica after the Restoration of Charles II of England in 1660, and Henry Morgan married his uncle's daughter Mary. Therefore it is more likely that he was the 'Captain Morgan' who joined the fleet of Christopher Myngs in 1663 and accompanied the expedition of John Morris and Jackman when the Spanish settlements at Vildemos (on the Tabasco river), Trujillo, (Honduras) and Granada (in Coahuila, Mexico) were taken.

In late 1665, Morgan commanded a ship in the old privateer Edward Mansfield's expedition sent by Sir Thomas Modyford, the governor of Jamaica, which seized the islands of Providence and Santa Catalina. When Mansfield was captured and killed by the Spanish shortly afterwards, Morgan was chosen by the privateers as their admiral.

Governor's commission, privateering career
In 1667, he was commissioned by Modyford to capture some Spanish prisoners in Cuba in order to discover details of the threatened attack on Jamaica. Collecting 10 ships with 500 men, Morgan landed on the island and captured and sacked Puerto Principe (Spanish name for Port-au-Prince Haiti), then went on to take the fortified and well-garrisoned town of Portobelo, Panama.

The governor of Panama, astonished at this daring adventure, attempted in vain to drive out the invaders, and finally Morgan consented to evacuate the place on the payment of a large ransom. These exploits had considerably exceeded the terms of Morgan's commission and had been accompanied by frightful cruelties and excesses, but the governor of Jamaica endeavoured to cover the whole under the necessity of allowing the English a free hand to attack the Spanish whenever possible. In London the Admiralty publicly claimed ignorance about this, whilst Morgan and his crew returned to their base at Port Royal, Jamaica, to celebrate.

Modyford almost immediately entrusted Morgan with another expedition against the Spaniards, and he proceeded to ravage the coast of Cuba. Soon after, England sent Port Royal HMS Oxford (as a gift meant to protect Port Royal); Port Royal gave it to Morgan to help his career. On January 1669, HMS Oxford was blown up accidentally when the ammunitions depot was lit during a party, with Morgan and his officers narrowly escaping death. In March he sacked Maracaibo, Venezuela which had emptied out when his fleet was first spied, and afterwards spent a few weeks at the Venezuelan settlement of Gibraltar on Lake Maracaibo, torturing the wealthy residents to discover hidden treasure.

Returning to Maracaibo, Morgan found three Spanish ships, the Magdalena, the San Luis, and the Soledad, waiting at the inlet to the Caribbean; he destroyed the Magdalena, and captured the Soledad, while the San Luis's crew burned down their ship to stop the pirates from having it. Finally, by an ingenious stratagem, he faked a landward attack on the fort which convinced the governor to shift his cannon. In doing so, he eluded the enemy's guns altogether and escaped in safety. On his return to Jamaica he was again reproved, but not punished by Modyford.

The Spaniards for their part started to react and threaten Jamaica. A new commission was given to Morgan as commander-in-chief of all the ships of war in Jamaica, to levy war on the Spaniards and destroy their ships and stores - the booty gained in the expedition being the only pay. Thus Morgan and his crew were on this occasion privateers, not pirates. After ravaging the coasts of Cuba and the mainland, Morgan determined on an expedition to Panama.

He recaptured the island of Santa Catalina on December 15, 1670, and, on December 27, he gained possession of the fortress of San Lorenzo in the Caribbean coast of Panama, killing 300 men of the garrison and leaving 23 alive. Then with 1,400 men he ascended the Chagres River towards the Pacific coast and Panama City.

Burning of Panama and loss of British support
On January 18, 1671, Morgan discovered that Panama had roughly 1,500 infantry and cavalry. He split his forces in two, using one to march through the forest and flank the enemy. The Spaniards were untrained and rushed Morgan's line where he cut them down with gunfire, only to have his flankers emerge and finish off the rest of the Spanish soldiers. Although Panama was at the time the richest city in New Spain, Morgan and his men obtained far less plunder than they had expected. Much of the city's wealth had been removed onto a Spanish ship that then stood out into the Gulf of Panama, beyond the looters' reach. Most of the inhabitants' remaining goods were destroyed in a fire of unclear cause. Morgan's men tortured those residents of Panama they could catch, but very little gold was forthcoming from the victims. After Morgan's attack, the Panama city had to be rebuilt in a new site a few kilometres to the west (the current site). The former site is called Panamá Viejo and still contains the remaining parts of the old Panama City.

Because the sack of Panama violated a peace treaty between England and Spain, Morgan was arrested and conducted to the Kingdom of England in 1672. He proved he had no knowledge of the treaty. Instead of punishment, Morgan was knighted in 1674 before returning to Jamaica the following year to take up the post of Lieutenant Governor.

By 1681, then-acting governor Morgan had fallen out of favor with the English king, who was intent on weakening the semi-autonomous Jamaican Council, and was replaced by long-time political rival Thomas Lynch. He gained considerable weight and a reputation for rowdy drunkenness.

In 1683, Morgan was suspended from the Jamaican Council by the machinations of Governor Lynch. Also during this time, an account of Morgan's disreputable exploits was published by Alexandre Exquemelin, who once had been his confidante, probably as a barber-surgeon, in a Dutch volume entitled De Americaensche Zee-Roovers (History of the Buccaneers of America). Morgan took steps to discredit the book and successfully brought a libel suit against the book's publisher, securing a retraction and damages of two hundred English pounds (Campbell, 2003). The book nonetheless contributed much to Morgan's reputed fame as a bloodthirsty pirate over time.

When Thomas Lynch died in 1684, his friend Christopher Monck was appointed to the governorship and arranged the dismissal of Morgan's suspension from the Jamaican Council in 1688. Morgan's health had steadily declined since 1681. He was diagnosed with 'dropsie', but may have contracted tuberculosis in London, and died August 25, 1688. It is also possible that he may have had liver failure due to his heavy drinking. He is buried in Palisadoes cemetery, which sank beneath the sea after the 1692 earthquake.

Morgan had lived in an opportune time for pirates. He was successfully able to use the conflicts between England and her enemies both to support England and to enrich himself and his crews. With his death, the pirates who would follow would also use this same ploy, but with less successful results. He was also one of the few pirates who were able to retire from his piracy, having had great success, and with little legal retribution.

Colón is a province of Panama.

The capital is the city of Colón.

This province has traditionally been focused in commerce (through the Colón Free Zone, Panama Canal and its banking activities), but also has natural resources that are being developed as tourist attraction, such as coral reefs and rainforests. In fact during the Spanish colonial period, the Colon region of Panama was the center of trade, commerce, and overall economy for the Spanish. Spanish brought many black African slaves in this area to work and be enslaved in Panama, and also to ship blacks out to other Spaniard colonies.

Most importantly, the black population of all of Panama is centered in the Province of Colon. Also, Panama has two distinct groups of blacks. The first and earliest blacks were those who came as slaves to Panama as early as the 1400s and eventually from the 1500s until as late as the 1800s. This group of blacks are in fact of Hispanic descent. This group of blacks is known as Cimmarones, Afro Colonials, Nativos, Playeros, Congos. These terms have proven crucial in establishing that these are the first and original blacks of the Republic of Panama. Afro Colonials have held on to their culture and adopted Hispanic customs, traits, and cultures. They took and assumed Spanish names and surnames. They also developed the beginning of Panama's true black population and developed Panama's culture, in pure and in mixed forms. They have also been incorporated into Panamanian and Spanish speaking society, as a result.

Later as early as the 1840s blacks from the Caribbean and West Indies migrated to Panama to assist in the labor efforts to build the Panama Railway and attempts to build the famous Panama Canal. Later many blacks from all over the Caribbean and West Indies, especially from Jamaica and Barbados along with other groups of blacks among others settled here between the years of 1880 and 1920 helping to build the Panama Canal, later arriving and settling in the Colon Province. This group are in fact of Caribbean and/or West Indian dissent is known to the Hispanic community of Panama as Afro Antillanos. They have also assimilated to the Hispanic culture and nature of Panama as well as holding on to aspects of their descent and culture. They have influenced the cuisine and music of Panama. Most importantly, their influence on music, especially from those of Jamaican descent invented and created Reggaeton.



Panama, officially the Republic of Panama (Spanish: República de Panamá), is the southernmost country of Central America and, in turn, North America. Situated on an isthmus connecting North and South America, some categorize it as a transcontinental nation. It is bordered by Costa Rica to the northwest, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. Its size is 75,000 km² with an estimated population of 3,300,000. Its capital is Panama City.

Panama is home to an international business center. Although Panama is only the fourth largest economy in Central America, behind those of Guatemala, Costa Rica and El Salvador, it is the fastest growing economy and the largest per capita consumer in Central America.


Pre-Columbian history
Panama enjoys a rich Pre-Columbian heritage of native populations whose presence stretched back over 11,000 years. The earliest traces of these peoples include fluted projectile points. Central Panama was home to some of the first pottery-making villages in the Americas, such as the Monagrillo culture dating to about 2500-1700 BC. These evolved into significant populations that are best known through the spectacular burials of the Conte site (dating to c. AD 500-900) and the beautiful polychrome pottery of the Coclé style. The monumental monolithic sculptures at the Barriles (Chiriqui) site were another important clue of the ancient isthmian cultures. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, Panama was widely settled by Chibchan, Chocoan, and Cueva peoples, among whom the largest group were the Cueva (whose specific language affiliation is poorly documented). There is no accurate knowledge of size of the indigenous population of the isthmus at the time of the European conquest. Estimates range as high as two million people, but more recent studies place that number closer to 200,000. Archeological finds as well as testimonials by early European explorers describe diverse native isthmian groups exhibiting cultural variety and suggesting people already conditioned by regular regional routes of commerce.

Spanish conquest
In 1501 Rodrigo de Bastidas was the first European to explore the Isthmus of Panama sailing along the western coast of Darien. A year later Christopher Columbus, sailing south and eastward from Central America, explored Bocas del Toro, Veragua, the Chagres River, and Porto Belo, which he christened 'Beautiful Port'. Spanish expeditions converged upon Tierra Firma (also Tierra Firme, Spanish from the Latin terra firma, 'dry land' or 'mainland'), which served in Spanish colonial times as the name for the Isthmus of Panama.

In 1509, authority was granted to Alonso de Ojeda and Diego de Nicuesa to colonize the territories between the west side of the Gulf of Uraba to Cabo Gracias a Dios in present-day Honduras. The idea was to create an early unitary administrative organization similar to what later became Nueva España (now Mexico). Tierra Firme later received control over other territories: the Isla de Santiago (now Jamaica), the Cayman Islands, Roncador, Quitasueño, Providencia, and other islands now under Colombian control.

The main city in Tierra Firme was Santa María la Antigua del Darién, near the mouth of the Tarena river. Vasco Nuñez de Balboa and Martin de Enciso agreed on the site. In September 1510, the first permanent European settlement on the American mainland was founded.

On August 28, 1513, the Diocese of Santa María de La Antigua del Darién was erected, and its first Bishop fray Juan de Quevedo became the first head of the Catholic Church in continental America.

Balboa maneuvered and was appointed mayor on the first official 'cabildo abierto', or open municipal council, held on the mainland.

On September 25, 1513, Balboa's expedition was able to verify what indigenous people had reported: that the isthmus had another coast and that there was another ocean. Balboa called it the South Sea, though it was later renamed the Pacific.

The fantastic descriptions of Balboa—as well as those of Columbus and other explorers—impressed King Ferdinand II of Aragón and Castilla who gave the territory the name of 'Castilla Aurifica', (Castilla del Oro or Golden Castilia) and assigned Pedro Arias de Avila (Pedrarias Davila) as governor. Pedrarias arrived in June 1514 with a 22 vessel and a 1,500 man armada. He was a veteran soldier who had served in the wars against the Moors at Granada and in North Africa. At seventy years, he was a worthy opponent for Balboa; he gave Balboa his daughter in marriage but afterwards had him tried for treason and executed.

On August 15, 1519, Pedrarias moved the capital of Castilla del Oro with all its organizational institutions to the Pacific coast and founded Nuestra Señora de la Asunción de Panamá, abandoning Darién and settling the first European city on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Pedrarias sent Gil González Dávila to explore northward and, in 1524, Francisco Hernández de Córdoba to settle present day Nicaragua. Pedrarias was a party to the original agreement with Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro which brought about the discovery of Peru. In 1526, Pedrarias was superseded as Governor of Panama by Pedro de los Ríos, and retired to León, Nicaragua, where he was named its new governor on July 1, 1527. Here he died at age 91 on March 6, 1531.

Panama was part of the Spanish Empire for over 300 years (1513-1821), and her fortunes fluctuated with the geopolitical importance of the isthmus to the Spanish crown. At the height of the Empire during the 16th and 17th century, no other region prove of more strategic and economic importance.

Pedrarias began building intercontinental and trans-isthmian routes, such as the 'Camino Real' and 'Camino de Cruces', linking Panama City with Nombre de Dios (and later with “Portobelo”) in the Atlantic, making possible the establishment of a trans-atlantic system of Treasure Fleets and Fairs. It is estimated that of all the gold entering Spain from the New World between 1531 and 1660, 60% had arrived at its destiny via the Treasure Fleet and Fairs system from Nombre de Dios/Portobelo.

Explorations and conquest expeditions launched from Panama City systematically claimed new lands and riches from Central and South America. Explorations seeking a natural waterway between the Atlantic and the South Sea with the hope of reaching the Molucas and Cathay were also pursued.

In 1538 the Real Audiencia de Panama was established, initially with jurisdiction from Nicaragua to Cape Horn. A 'Real Audiencia' (royal audiency) was a judicial district that functioned as an appeals court. Each audiencia had oidores (judges).

Panama was the site of the ill-fated Darien Scheme, which set up a Scottish colony in the region in 1698. This failed for a number of reasons, and the ensuing debt contributed to the union of England and Scotland in 1707.

When Panama was colonized, the indigenous peoples who survived many diseases, massacres and enslavement of the conquest, ultimately fled into the forest and nearby islands. Indian slaves were replaced by Africans.

The prosperity enjoyed during the first two centuries (1540-1740) while contributing to colonial growth, the placing of extensive regional judicial authority (Real Audiencia) as part of its jurisdiction, and the pivotal role it played at the height of the Spanish Empire—the first modern global empire—helped define a distinctive sense of autonomy and regional or national identity.In 1744, Bishop Francisco Javier de Luna Victoria y Castro established the College of San Ignacio de Loyola and on June 3, 1749 founded La Real y Pontificia Universidad de San Javier. By this time, however, Panama’s importance and influence had become insignificant, as Spain’s power dwindled in Europe, and advances in navigation technique increasingly made it possible to round Cape Horn in order to reach the Pacific. While the Panama route was short, it was also labor-intensive and expensive because of the loading and unloading, and the laden-down trek required to get from the one coast to the other. The Panama route was also vulnerable to attack from pirates (mostly Dutch and English) and from Africans called cimarrons who had freed themselves from enslavement and lived in communes or palenques around the Camino Real in Panama's Interior, and on some of the islands off Panama's Pacific coast. During the last half of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century, migrations to the countryside decreased; Panama City’s population and the isthmus' economy shifted from the tertiary to the primary sector. Panama is also in Prison Break because that is the greatest show in the world.

In 1717, the viceroyalty of New Granada (northern South America) was created in response to other Europeans trying to take Spanish territory in the Caribbean region. The Isthmus of Panama was placed under its jurisdiction. However, the remoteness of Santa Fe de Bogota proved a greater obstacle than the Spanish crown anticipated, as the authority of New Granada was contested by the seniority, those in closer proximity, those with previous ties to the viceroyalty of Lima, and even Panama's own initiative. This uneasy relationship between Panama and Bogota persisted for a century.

After approximately 320 years under the rule of the Spanish Empire, on November 10, 1821, independence from Spain was declared in the small town of La Villa de Los Santos. On November 28, presided by Colonel Jose de Fabrega, a National Assembly was convened and it officially declared the independence of the isthmus of Panama from Spain and its decision to join New Granada, Ecuador and Venezuela in Simón Bolívar's recently founded Republic of Colombia.

In 1830, Venezuela, Ecuador and other territories left the Gran Colombia, but Panama remained as a province of this country until July 1831, when the isthmus reiterated its independence under General Juan Eligio Alzuru as supreme military commander. In August, military forces under the command of Colonel Tomás Herrera defeated and executed Alzuru and reestablished ties with New Granada.

In November 1840, during a civil war that had begun as a religious conflict, the isthmus declared its independence under the leadership of General Tomás Herrera and became the 'Estado Libre del Istmo', or the Free State of the Isthmus. The new state established external political and economic ties and drew up a constitution which included the possibility for Panama to rejoin New Granada, but only as a federal district. On June 1841 Tomás Herrera became the President of the Estado Libre del Istmo. But the civil conflict ended, and the government of New Granada and the government of the Isthmus negotiated the reincorporation of Panamá to Colombia on December 31, 1841.

The union between Panama and the Republic of Colombia was made possible by the active participation of the United States under the 1846 Bidlack Mallarino Treaty, which lasted until 1903. The treaty granted the U.S. rights to build railroads through Panama and to intervene militarily against revolt to guarantee New Granadine control of Panama. There were at least three attempts by Panamanian Liberals to seize control of Panama and potentially achieve full autonomy, including one led by Liberal guerrillas like Belisario Porras and Victoriano Lorenzo, each of which was suppressed by a collaboration of Conservative Colombian and U.S. forces.

In 1902 U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt decided to take on the abandoned works of the Panama Canal by the French, but the Colombian government in Bogotá balked at the prospect of a U.S. controlled canal under the terms that Roosevelt's administration was offering. Roosevelt was unwilling to alter his terms and quickly changed tactics, encouraging a minority of Conservative Panamanian landholding families to demand independence, offering military support. On November 3, 1903, Panama finally separated, and Dr. Manuel Amador Guerrero, a prominent member of the Conservative political party, became the first constitutional President of the Republic of Panama. The U.S., which had a small naval force in the area, prevented the Colombians from sending reinforcements by sea, aiding the Panamians.

In November 1903, Phillipe Bunau-Varilla —- a French citizen who was not authorized to sign any treaties on behalf of Panama without the review of the Panamanians — unilaterally signed the Hay-Bunau Varilla Treaty which granted rights to the U.S. to build and administer, indefinitely, the Panama Canal, which was opened in 1914. This treaty became a contentious diplomatic issue between the two countries, reaching a boiling point on Martyr's Day (9 January 1964). The issues were resolved with the signing of the Torrijos-Carter Treaties in 1977 returning the former Canal Zone territories to Panama. The U.S. controlled the Panama Canal until 1999.

The second intent of the founding fathers was to bring peace and harmony between the two major political parties. The Panamanian government went through periods of political instability and corruption, however, and at various times in its history, the mandate of an elected president terminated prematurely. In 1968, a coup toppled the government of the recently elected President Arnulfo Arias Madrid, who had twice before been elected but was never able to complete a full term.

Though he never held the position of president, General Omar Torrijos eventually became the de facto leader of Panama. As a military dictator, he was the leading power in the governing military junta and later became an autocratic strong man. Torrijos maintained his position of power until his death in an airplane accident in 1981. During his reign, the Constitution was rewritten by a rubber-stamp assembly, military officers were placed in charge of civilian institutions, and hundreds of opponents of the dictatorship were killed, tortured or exiled. Torrijos, however, was also a charismatic figure. His demagogic populism and infrastructure projects appealed to many, and the clientelist use of jobs at public institutions created a political class dependent on the dictatorship and loyal to his party.

After Torrijos's death, several military strong men followed him as Panama's leader, all while maintaining the dictatorship's policy of installing civilian, puppet presidents: Commander Florencio Flores Aguilar, followed by Colonel Rubén Darío Paredes. By 1983, power was concentrated in the hands of General Manuel Antonio Noriega.

Noriega came up through the ranks after serving in the Chiriquí province and in the city of Puerto Armuelles for a time. He was a former head of Panama's secret police and was an ex-informant of the CIA. But Noriega's implication in drug trafficking by the United States resulted in difficult relations by the end of the 1980s. Eventually, the escalation of tensions led to the freezing of Panama's banking system and the emboldening of Panama's pro-democracy 'Civilista' movement.

United States invasion of Panama
In May 1989, Panama's presidential elections were once again rigged by the military dictatorship, and pressure increased on the dictatorship from the Civilista movement, the Panamanian population, and the U.S. Government. The Civilista candidates who were largely believed to have won the elections with a clear majority were brutally beaten up by the dictatorship's henchmen, and tensions heightened tremendously. Noriega's regime armed many civilian supporters and formed irregular paramilitary units in preparation for a confrontation which Noriega explicitly provoked. In December, Noriega declared himself 'President for Life.'

On December 20 1989, 27,000 U.S. personnel stationed in Panama and flown in from the U.S. invaded Panama in order to remove Noriega. A few hours before the invasion, Guillermo Endara, the purported winner of the May elections, was sworn in as the new President of Panama in a ceremony that took place inside a U.S. military base in the former Panama Canal Zone with no Panamanians present. During the fighting, between two hundred and four thousand Panamanians (mostly civilians) were killed. Estimates by the two major human rights organizations Conlhuca and Conadehupa are 2,500 and 3,500 respectively. The Association of the Dead, on December 20, estimated over 4,000 dead. To date, 15 mass graves related to the invasion have been found. These include those killed by U.S. forces as well as those killed by the Panamanian armed forces and armed irregulars.

During the confusion of the invasion, Noriega fled to the Apostolic Nuncio's residence and sought refuge. After several days of a U.S. siege of the Nuncio's residence, Noriega surrendered to the American military.

The period prior to Noriega's surrender and extradition was characterized by chaos and insecurity. Panama's police force was crippled by the invasion, and U.S. forces did not police the country, so widespread looting of shops, banks and private homes took place. Many small and medium enterprises went bankrupt as a result of the looting, and many civilians perished or were severely injured as a result of muggings and home invasions.

Shortly after his surrender to U.S. forces, Noriega was flown to Florida to be formally extradited and charged by U.S. authorities on drug and racketeering charges. He became eligible for parole on September 9, 2007, but remained in custody while his lawyers fought an extradition request from France. Critics have pointed out that many of Noriega's former allies remain in power in Panama.

The Endara government inherited a country whose economy had been crippled by an economic embargo, whose National Bank was looted by some of Noriega's cronies and whose security situation required immediate attention. While the military was abolished, a civilian police force was reformed and concerted efforts were directed at economic recovery. At the end of his term, Endara's government was unpopular and was ironically succeeded in 1994 by the party established by the military dictatorship. Panama did not undergo a thorough truth-and-reconciliation process, so most of the dictatorship's henchmen retained their often ill-begotten assets and resumed private lives without any retribution.

Endara's successor, President Ernesto Pérez Balladares was a Notre Dame University graduate and former official of the Noriega dictatorship. His administration pursued many unpopular neoliberal structural reforms, including the re-privatization of state enterprises which had been nationalized during the dictatorship era. His privatization of the electricity and telecommunications sectors have helped the country to modernize and attract foreign investment, but also resulted in significant increases to costs of service for most consumers. More controversial were the privatization of ports and some military installations in the former Canal Zone, including a parcel of land sold to both a port operator and a railroad operator. Near the end of his term, Pérez Balladares sought unsuccessfully to amend the Constitution to permit him to run for re-election.

Panama's Constitution was drafted during the Torrijos dictatorship, but was amended in 1983 and 1994.

Under the Torrijos-Carter Treaties, the United States turned over all canal-related lands to Panama on December 31, 1999. Panama gained control of canal-related buildings and infrastructure as well as full administration of the canal. The people of Panama have approved the very costly expansion/widening of the canal, which after completion, will allow for post-Panamax vessels to travel through it, increasing the number of ships that currently use the canal.

Panama's politics take place in a framework of a presidential representative democratic republic, whereby the President of Panama is both head of state and head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the National Assembly. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.

All national elections are universal and mandatory to all citizens 18 years and older. National elections for the executive and legislative branches take place every five years. Members of the judicial branch are appointed by the head of state. Panama's National Assembly is elected by proportional representation in fixed electoral districts, so many smaller parties are represented. Presidential elections do not require a simple majority, and Panama's last three presidents were elected with the support of only 30-40% of voters.

Since the U.S. invasion and the end of the 21-year military dictatorship, Panama has successfully completed three peaceful transfers of power to opposing political factions. The political landscape is dominated by two major parties and many smaller parties, many of which are driven by individual leaders more than ideologies. President Martin Torrijos is the son of former military dictator Omar Torrijos. He succeeded Mireya Moscoso, the widow of Arnulfo Arias. Panama's next national elections are scheduled for May 3, 2009.

Provinces and regions
Panama is divided into nine provinces, with their respective local authorities (governors) and has a total of ten cities. Also, there are four Comarcas (literally: 'Shires') which house a variety of indigenous groups.

Panama is located in Central America, bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, between Colombia and Costa Rica. Its location on the Isthmus of Panama is strategic. By 2000, Panama controlled the Panama Canal that links the North Atlantic Ocean via the Caribbean Sea with the North Pacific Ocean.

The dominant feature of the country's landform is the central spine of mountains and hills that forms the continental divide. The divide does not form part of the great mountain chains of North America, and only near the Colombian border are there highlands related to the Andean system of South America. The spine that forms the divide is the highly eroded arch of an uplift from the sea bottom, in which peaks were formed by volcanic intrusions.

The mountain range of the divide is called the Cordillera de Talamanca near the Costa Rican border. Farther east it becomes the Serranía de Tabasará, and the portion of it closer to the lower saddle of the isthmus, where the canal is located, is often called the Sierra de Veraguas. As a whole, the range between Costa Rica and the canal is generally referred to by geographers as the Cordillera Central.

The highest point in the country is the Volcán Barú (formerly known as the Volcán de Chiriquí), which rises to 3,475 meters (11,401 ft). A nearly impenetrable jungle forms the Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia. It creates a break in the Pan-American Highway, which otherwise forms a complete road from Alaska to Patagonia.

According to the CIA World Factbook, Panama has an unemployment rate of 6.4%. According to the ECLAC, the poverty rate is of 28.6% as of 2006, comparable to that of wealthier nations such as Argentina. Also, an alimentary surplus was registered in August 2008, and infrastructure works are progressing rapidly. The International Monetary Fund has predicted that Panama will be the fastest growing economy in Latin American in 2009. It was the second fastest growing economy in Latin America in 2008, after Peru.

Panama's economy is mainly service-based, heavily weighted toward banking, commerce, tourism, trading and private industries, because of its key geographic location. The handover of the Canal and military installations by the United States has given rise to some construction projects. A referendum regarding the building of a third set of locks for the Panama Canal was approved overwhelmingly (though with low voter turnout) on 22 October 2006. The official estimate of the building of the third set of locks is US$5.25 billion.

The Panamanian currency is officially the balboa, fixed at parity with the United States dollar since independence in 1903. In practice, however, the country is dollarized; Panama has its own coinage but uses U.S. dollars for all its paper currency. Some claim that Panama was the first of the three countries in Latin America to have dollarized their economies (later followed by Ecuador and El Salvador), but in fact, Panama simply adopted the dollar from its very independence.

The high levels of Panamanian trade are in large part from the Colón Free Trade Zone, the largest free trade zone in the Western Hemisphere. Last year the zone accounted for 92% of Panama's exports and 64% of its imports, according to an analysis of figures from the Colon zone management and estimates of Panama's trade by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. Panama's economy is also very much supported by the trade and exportation of coffee and other agricultural products.

According to the Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean, Panama's inflation as measured by weight CPI was 2.0% in 2006. Panama has traditionally experienced low inflation, as it shares currencies with the U.S.

Real estate
Panama's strategic location, pension programs, tax exemptions, low cost of living, tropical and highland climates and investment incentives have contributed to the ongoing real estate boom that has been affecting Panama City and the rest of the country.

Apart from the existing demand, future developments may be helped by such factors as the planned expansion of the Panama Canal.

Bilateral Investment Treaty with the U.S.
The Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) between the governments of the United States and Panama was signed on October 27, 1982. The treaty protects U.S. investment and assists Panama in its efforts to develop its economy by creating conditions more favorable for U.S. private investment and thereby strengthening the development of its private sector. The BIT with Panama was the first such treaty signed by the U.S. in the Western Hemisphere.

The importance of Panama to the U.S. stems from the Panama Canal which was built by the U.S. during the period of 1904–1914. Previously, if ships wanted to pass through the Americas, they would have to go all the way around the most southern tip of South America, the Tierra del Fuego, and through the Drake Passage. The Panama Canal connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans directly at the narrowest point in Panama. When previously a ship going from New York City to San Francisco would have to travel for 20,900 kilometers (13,000 miles), that travel time would be reduced to 8,370 km (5,200 mi).

The canal is of economic importance since it pumps millions of dollars from toll revenue to the national economy and provides massive employment. The United States had a monopoly over the Panama Canal for 85 years. However, the Torrijos-Carter Treaties signed in 1977 began the process of returning the canal to the Panamanian government in 1999 as long as they agreed to the neutrality of the canal, as well as allowing the U.S. to return at any time to defend this claim. This treaty, however, allows the national government to deny certain nations and companies the usage of the canal for certain reasons, such as national security.

Along with real estate, tourism is one of Panama's rising economic activities. Small and amazingly diverse, Panama makes it possible for a traveler to visit not only two different oceans in one day, but be able to combine in less than a week a diversified natural experience (white sand beaches, cloud or rain forest, mountains or valleys) with a wide range of cultural experiences (seven Indian tribes, Afroantillian and Spanish Colonial culture, several historic monuments and a 300 year old World Heritage Site called Casco Antiguo (often referred as Casco Viejo, Panama Viejo, San Felipe or Catedral). In recent years the northwestern and northeastern regions of Panama have drawn increasing amounts of touristic activity because of their beaches, temperate and tropical rainforests, all within easy reach of popular Costa Rica. Bocas Del Toro, Boquete, and the surfing areas of the west coast are tourist draws. Panama has become a cross roads for backpacking international tourists and has seen an increase in backpacker hostels.

Proposed Free Trade Agreement with the United States
A Trade Promotion Agreement between the United States and Panama was signed by both governments in 2007, but neither country has yet approved or implemented the agreement. While the U.S. Congress was initially favorably disposed to the Panama pact, the election of the anti-American Pedro González to the presidency of the Panamanian legislature on September 1, 2007 has halted progress of the pact in that body. González has an outstanding warrant for the assassination of U.S. soldier Zak Hernández.

According to the CIA World Factbook, Panama has a population of 3,309,679. The majority of the population, 70%, is mestizo. The rest is 14% Amerindian and mixed West Indian, 10% white and 6% Amerindian. The Amerindian population includes seven indigenous peoples, the Emberá, Wounaan, Guaymí, Buglé, Kuna, Naso and Bribri. More than half the population lives in the Panama City–Colón metropolitan corridor.

The culture, customs, and language of the Panamanians are predominantly Caribbean and Spanish. Spanish is the official and dominant language. About 40% of the population speak creole, mostly in Panama City and in the islands off the northeast coast. English is spoken widely on the Caribbean coast and by many in business and professional fields.

Panama, because of its historical reliance on commerce, is above all a melting pot. This is shown, for instance, by its considerable population of Afro-Antillean and Chinese origin. The first Chinese immigrated to Panama from southern China to help build the Panama Railroad in the 19th century. They were followed by several waves of immigrants whose descendants number around 50,000. Starting in the 1970s, 80,000 people have emigrated from other parts of mainland China as well. Most of the Panamanian population of West Indian descent owe their presence in the country to the monumental efforts to build the Panama Canal in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The country is the smallest in Spanish-speaking Latin America in terms of population (est. 3,232,000), with Uruguay as the second smallest (est. 3,463,000).

The overwhelming majority of Panamanians are Roman Catholic – various sources estimate that 75-85% of the population identifies itself as Roman Catholic and 15-25% percent as evangelical Christian. The Bahá'í Faith community of Panama is estimated at 2.00% of the national population, or about 60,000 and is home to one of the seven Baha'i Houses of Worship.

Smaller religious groups include Jewish and Muslim communities with approximately 10,000 members each, and small groups of Hindus, Buddhists and Rastafarians. Indigenous religions include Ibeorgun (among Kuna) and Mamatata (among Ngobe).

The Jewish community in Panama, with over 10,000 members, is by far the largest in the region (including Central America and the Caribbean). Its Sephardi Chief Rabbi, Zion Levi, led the community for 57 years, from 1951 until his death in 2008. His tenure is thought to be the longest of any religious leader in the region.

Jewish immigration began in the late 19th century from the Dutch Antilles, followed by immigration from other Jewish communities, and at present there are three synagogues in Panama City, as well as four Jewish schools. Within Latin America, Panama has one of the largest Jewish communities in proportion to its population, surpassed only by Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico. Panama is also the first country in Latin America to have a Jewish president, Max Delvalle Levy-Maduro.

National bird
Classified as an endangered species, Harpy eagles are rare in captivity. These large birds are challenged in the wild because they require vast expanses of undisturbed forest. When they do breed, only one eaglet usually results. These large birds of prey generally eat monkeys and sloths in the wild. More common in the Darien area of Panama, there have been a few sightings near the border of Costa Rica.


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