Panama: Country and Foreign Investment
Population, Language and Culture
In July 2012, the population of Panama was estimated at just over 3.5 million with half the population residing in urban areas, and the majority of those (over 1m) in Panama City itself. Spanish is the official language, but English is widely spoken and understood in major cities.
Panama was occupied by more than 60 Indian tribes in the first part of the 16th century. The Spanish discovered the Isthmus in 1501, and founded Panama City in 1519, with a Governor appointed by the King of Spain. Panama was the base for Spanish expansion on the Pacific coastline of Central and South America.
During the independence wars of the Spanish colonies, Panama allied itself with Colombia until in 1903 it re-asserted independence and became the present Republic of Panama.
The canal was built between 1904 and 1914 by the US. It spans 81.3 km between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean sea. In August 2002, after five years of operations, expansion of the Galliard Cut was completed, allowing two Panamax-sized vessels to pass through simultaneously.
In October, 2006, 79% of Panamanian voters approved a US$5.25bn plan to expand the Panama Canal even further. Panama's President Martin Torrijos said that the vote on expansion of the Canal was the most important national vote since Panama gained its independence.
Under the expansion plans, two 3-chamber locks are being constructed at both ends of the canal. This will create a third lane of traffic wide enough to handle the largest of modern container ships and tankers. New approach channels will also be prepared, whilst existing channels will be dredged to ensure large craft can enter the system.
The project will take about seven years and employ up to 8,000 people. In December, 2008, Panamanian President Martin Torrijos and Panama Canal Authority (ACP) Administrator/CEO, Alberto Aleman Zubieta, signed a US$2.3bn agreement with leaders from five multilateral and development agencies to finance the waterway's expansion project.
Panama retains many evidences of the old colonial regime architecturally and culturally, but Panama City is a highly sophisticated modern metropolis. Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion.