Lying at the crossroads of the North and South American continents and the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, Panama is of immense strategic importance.
This has made Panama the frequent object of US attention. The United States supported its secession from Colombia in 1903, and secured a sovereign zone in which to build the Panama Canal – which remained under US control from 1914 until 1999.
The US invaded Panama in 1989 to depose a former ally, military ruler Manuel Noriega, over his repressive rule and use of the country as a centre for drug trafficking.
Panama has the largest rainforest in the Western Hemisphere outside the Amazon Basin.
However, it is for a feat of engineering, the canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, that Panama is famous. Every year more than 15,000 vessels make the eight-hour journey through the waterway, which makes a substantial contribution to the country’s economy.
- Republic of Panama
- Capital: Panama City
- Population 3.6 million
- Area 75,517 sq km (29,157 sq miles)
- Major languagesSpanish, English
- Major religion Christianity
- Life expectancy 74 years (men), 79 years (women)
- Currency balboa