Panama: Country and Foreign Investment
History, Population, Language and Culture
In the early 16th century, Panama was home to more than 60 Native American tribes. The Spanish discovered the isthmus in 1501, and in 1519 founded the first Panama City, which was granted a royally appointed governor. The Spanish used Panama as a base to aid their expansion along the Pacific coastline of Central and South America.
In 1819, Gran Colombia declared its independence from a Spain exhausted by the Napoleonic Wars. The country’s northernmost department was Panama. By 1830, both Venezuela and Ecuador had seceded from Gran Colombia, leaving the country's extent similar to that of modern-day Colombia and Panama.
In the late 19th century, interest in building a canal across the Isthmus grew. The first attempt was by Fedinand de Lesseps, who had completed the Suez Canal in 1869. However, he was unsuccessful in Panama, mostly due to disease and financial problems due to design. The Canal project was then bought by the USA, which started to develop the project in earnest at the turn of the century.
In January 1903 the USA and Colombia signed the Hay Herrán Treaty, which would have legally granted the US a 6-mile strip of land across Panama, while paying Colombia annual compensation. The treaty was never ratified by Colombia, so the United States turned to gunboat diplomacy. The US government sent in troops and instigated an uprising; this led to the Panamanian declaration of independence later in 1903.
The canal was built between 1903 and 1914. It spans 83 km, running from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea. In August 2002, after five years of operations, expansion of the Galliard Cut was completed, allowing two 'Pamanax' vessels to pass through simultaneously. Since then, there have been two more major expansion projects.
The population of Panama is 4,150,000 (April 2018 est.) Half the population resides in urban areas, with over a million in Panama City itself. About 65% of the population is mestizo, with 13% white, 12% indigenous and 9% black. Spanish is the official language, but English is widely spoken and understood in major cities. Several indigenous languages are also spoken.
Panama retains much evidence of the old colonial regime architecturally and culturally, but Panama City is a highly sophisticated modern metropolis. Christianity (chiefly Catholicism) is the dominant religion.