This has made it 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 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 economy.
President: Laurentio Cortizo
A former head of the National Assembly, Mr Cortizo won the 2019 presidential election for the centre-left Democratic Revolutionary Party, narrowly beating Rómulo Roux of the conservative Democratic Change party.
Press freedom is protected by the constitution and journalists work in relatively safe conditions.
Most media outlets are privately owned. There are no restrictions on internet access.
- Read full media profile
Some key dates in the history of Panama:
1502 – Spanish explorer Rodrigo de Bastidas visits Panama, which was home to Cuna, Choco, Guaymi and other indigenous peoples.
1519 – Panama becomes Spanish Vice-Royalty of New Andalucia, later New Granada.
1968-1989 – Military rule.
1989 – US invades and ousts Gen Manuel Noriega.
1991 – Parliament approves constitutional reforms, including abolition of standing army.
1999 – Panama takes full control of the Panama Canal, ending nearly a century of US jurisdiction.
Related Internet Links
- Foreign ministry
- BBC Mundo.com