1.1 Broad Demographic Information
The Republic of Panamá, with an area of 23,321 square miles (75,062 sq. km.), is located between Costa Rica and Colombia, forms the narrowest and lowest portion of the Isthmus that links North and South America.
Shaped like an elongated letter “S”, which extends west to east some 420 miles (676 km.), the county has a width that varies between 31 and 115 miles (50 and 185 km), and a coastline of 490 miles (788 km) on the Atlantic Ocean and 870 miles (1,400 kin) on the Pacific Ocean. The Canal, which joins the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean, is about 50 miles (80 km) long. Because of the lateral nature of its extension and its curved contour, directions are often surprising. A transit of the Canal from the Pacific to the Atlantic involves traveling not to the East but to the North-West. In Panama City the sun is seen to rise out of the Pacific.
1.2 HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL BACKGROUND
The Isthmus of Panama was discovered in 1501 by the Spanish Rodrigo de Bastidas and Vasco Núñez de Balboa, who had a leading part in the establishment of Santa María La Antigua del Darien in 1510, the first permanent settlement on the mainland of the Americas. In 1513 Balboa led an expedition in Panama that discovered the Pacific Ocean. Panama City was founded by Pedro Arias Dávila on August 15, 1519, almost a hundred years before Jamestown, first permanent English settlement in North America, was founded. Panama was a Spanish colony until 1821 when it became part of Colombia. On November 3, 1903, Panama broke its ties with Colombia and became an independent republic.
1.3 BUSINESS ORGANIZATION AND CULTURE
Since its discovery in 16Th century, the commerce and business culture were one of the most sensitive part of the Panamanian culture. Its stretch territory, two main ports (one in the Atlantic and one in the Pacific Ocean), defined Panama as a strategical point of commerce.
The French Napoleon Code, plus the United States influence, during the construction the Panama Canal produced a very special kind of atmosphere to do business in Panama. The liberty of contract combined with the versatility of American commerce produced great results for American companies to establish their regional headquarters in Panama.
Now, with the Canal expansion, new companies are returning to Panama and establish again their main offices for LatinAmerica such as Caterpillar, Dell, etc.
1.4 OVERVIEW OF LEGAL SYSTEM
Panama is a Constitutional Democracy. The current Constitution was approved on October 11, 1972, amended in 1983 and 1994, and reformed in 2004. There are three branches of government. The Executive branch of the Government is composed of a President and two Vice-Presidents. The Legislative branch consists of a unicameral Legislative Assembly with 78 members. The Judicial branch is headed by a Supreme Court with nine justices appointed by the Executive with the consent of the Assembly. They serve for ten years. President, Vice Presidents and Legislators are elected every five years by direct, popular vote. The President cannot be re-elected until at least ten years have passed since he last left office. Suffrage is universal and compulsory at 18 years of age. The last election was in 2004. The country is divided into nine provinces and 5 semi-autonomous indigenous territories.
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