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Though long-settled by its native inhabitants, Panama was colonized by the Spanish in the 16th century. After two hundred years of Spanish rule, Panama declared its independence and joined the new nation of Gran Colombia. Seceding in 1903, much of the nation's modern history has been influenced by the Panama Canal.
The man-made canal was the realization of centuries' worth of searching for a route between the Atlantic and Pacific and has helped Panama to become a fairly economically healthy nation. Today, it controls the canal zone and has become a major part of the Latin American economic community.
Quick Facts about Panama
- While the Panama Canal wasn't officially opened until 1914, the construction of a canal in Panama has been discussed since at least the late 16th century.
- Panama is home to about one thousand species of birds.
- The Panama Canal was named as one of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World.
- Panama voluntarily joined Colombia in 1821, but fought for its independence until it was recognized by the United States in 1903.
- Panama is Latin America's second most competitive economy.
Panama only borders two nations on land. To the north of the country is Costa Rica, and to the south is Colombia. The Caribbean Sea is to the country's east, while the Pacific Ocean is to the country's weest.
The country is also the unofficial dividing line between South America and Central America, as evidenced by the fact that the country is home to a significant amount of wildlife that is usually native to both North and South America.
Panama's total area is 29,119 square miles, making it the 116th largest nation in the world. About forty percent of this area is covered with jungles, lending the nation an incredibly high degree of biodiversity.
Perhaps the most important part of Panama's physical location is the fact that it controls the Isthmus of Panama, giving it control over the passage between the Caribbean and Pacific.
The official language of Panama is Spanish, and it is spoken by the vast majority of the people who live in the country. About fourteen percent of Panama's inhabitants speak English, though, a by-product between the American involvement in the Panama Canal Zone.
There are also a number of native languages spoken in Panama, with speakers numbering in the hundreds of thousands for some dialects. Chinese and Arabic are also spoken among Panama's immigrant populations, along with Japanese, Yiddish, and Korean.
Weather & Climate
Panama's climate is defined as being a tropical maritime climate. This means that it tends to be warm and humid, especially in the lower-lying areas. Rather than having four seasons, Panama has two - wet and dry. The dry season lasts roughly from December to April, while the rest of the calendar is dominated by wetter days.
Despite the fact that rain is frequent, it is typically isolated to a few hours in the afternoon - Panama receives a significant amount of sunshine year-round.
Panama's government is a constitutional representative democracy. In this system, all laws are ultimately derived either directly from Panama's constitution or from powers granted to the government by the document.
The president of Panama is both the head of state and the head of government, taking on the responsibilities related to being the head of the executive department. The legislative branch is controlled by the unicameral National Assembly, which seats seventy-one members.
Panama is further divided into thirteen administrative units - ten provinces and three indigenous regions. Each of these regions has its own government. Each region is also divided into smaller units called districts.