Panama: The People and History

The People and History

Most of the people in Panama are of mixed heritage, either mestizo (Native American and European) or mulatto (African-American and European). Other minorities include whites (Europeans), blacks (African-Americans), and Native Americans.

Panama's official language is Spanish, but much English is spoken. There are also many Native American languages spoken throughout the country.

Over 90% of the people in Panama belong to the Roman Catholic Church. In Panama, there is a freedom of religion, unlike other Latin American countries. Again, Native Americans practice their own religions and customs.

The constitution of 1972 states that Panama is a republic. The government is headed by the president, who is elected by popular vote to serve one five year term (no consecutive terms), and appoints his own cabinet. The nine provinces of Panama are each headed by their own governor, and are divided into districts. The National Legislative Assembly and Council, the lower and upper houses, are elected by popular vote to serve four (Assembly) and six (Council) year terms. The Supreme Court consists of nine justices who are appointed by the president to serve a ten year terms. The defense of Panama consists of military force, called the National Defense Force.

Panama was first explored around 1500 by Rodrigo de Bastidas. In 1509, the Spaniards licensed two men, Alonso de Ojeda and Diego de Nicuesa to settle the isthmus. The first colonies were at San Sebastian, and were established in 1510 on the northern coast of Colombia. In 1513, Balboa crossed the isthmus and discovered the Pacific Ocean. Balboa was killed in 1519 by Pedrias de Avila, who founded the city of Panama. In 1531, Francisco Pizarro set out to conquer Peru from this city. His conquest was successful, and a road was built from Portobelo in Peru to Panama, where the goods from the Peruvian mines were shipped back to Spain. Privateers, pirates working for a country, especially from England, were angry with Spain's new fortune. They attacked the isthmus road many times, stealing the gold and gems found in the mines. This forced the Spanish to find an alternative route. In 1739, Panama became part of the viceroyalty of New Granada. In 1746, Spain deserted the isthmus road, and Panama was no longer thriving.

Panama won its independence from Spain in 1821 and joined the new country of Greater Colombia. Panama tried many times to win its independence from Colombia, but only one time were they successsful. From 1840-1841, Panama was independent after a revolution led by Tomas Herrera. Colombia later regained control. In 1849, the California gold rush brought wealth back into Panama as it was the crossing point of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

France was the first country to try and build a canal across Panama. The De Lesseps Company, who had previously built the Suez Canal, tried to build a canal across Panama. The company went bankrupt, and did not complete the canal. The United States wanted to continue to build the canal, but Colombia would not allow it. In 1903, Panama won its independence from Colombia with the help of the United States. They, in turn, gave the U. S. a small section of land, called the Panama Canal Zone, to build and protect the canal.

The Republic of Panama maintained a stable government compared with other Central American countries. Presidents were overthrown in 1931, 1941, 1951,1968, and 1983. A large dispute over the U. S. controlling and displaying their flag at the canal resulted in a treaty, signed in 1977, which gave control of the canal zone in 1979 and control of the canal in 2000. In 1983, General Omar Torrijos, the general of the Panama Defense Force and head of the government died, and was replaced by Manuel Noriega, who became general. Despite free elections in 1984 and 1989, the results were tampered and Noriega remained in office. Relations with the U. S. worsened after much drug trafficking and the killing of a U. S. marine officer by a soldier of Panama. After an attempt to overthrow Noriega failed, the U. S. invaded Panama three months later. Noriega and the military were taken into custody. Guillermo Endara, the actual winner of the 1989 election took office, and the government of Panama had remained stable since, as a constitutional democracy. The current president is Mireya Elisa Rodriguez, pictured above.

Introduction Physical Features Climate Economic Status and Income
The People and History Unusual Details Closing Opinion Bibliography

Created By: Molly S., Kaitlin K., and Nichole Y.
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