Country Listing

Panama Table of Contents



Government: Executive--under provisions of 1972 Constitution, as amended in 1978 and 1983, chief executive is president of the republic, assisted by two vice presidents, all elected by popular vote for five-year terms. In late 1980s, de facto executive authority remained, however, in hands of commander of Panama Defense Forces (Fuerzas de Defensa de Panamá--FDP). Legislature--sixty-seven-member unicameral Legislative Assembly created in 1983; members popularly elected for five-year terms that run concurrently with presidential term. Judiciary--Highest court is Supreme Court made up of nine members and nine alternates who serve ten-year terms after nomination by the executive branch and ratification by Legislative Assembly. Supreme Court divided into three chambers for civil, penal, and administrative cases. Lower courts include superior tribunals, circuit courts, municipal courts, and night courts. Public Ministry, headed by attorney general, acts as state representative within judiciary.

Politics: Political culture traditionally characterized by personalism (personalismo), the tendency to give one's political loyalties to an individual rather than to a party or ideology. Politics from 1968 coup until his death in 1981 dominated by General Omar Torrijos Herrera, formally head of government from 1968 to 1978 and thereafter de facto head of government while commander of the National Guard. Torrijos's influence continued after his death, as both military and civilian leaders sought to lay claim to his political and social heritage. Proliferation of parties after 1980, when political system opened up again. Most activity divided into two main coalitions: pro-government and opposition. Pro-government coalition headed by party created by Torrijos: Democratic Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Democrático--PRD). Nation's principal opposition party was Authentic Panameñista Party (Partido Panameñista Auténtico--PPA) led by veteran politician Arnulfo Arias Madrid. Political crisis over lack of democratization and scandals associated with the FDP commander, General Manuel Antonio Noriega Morena, began in June 1987 and escalated throughout the year and into 1988. Opposition forces remained fragmented, but popular protests were orchestrated by the National Civic Crusade (Crusada Civilista Nacional--CCN), a coalition of civic, business, and professional forces.

International Relations: Traditionally dominated by bilateral relations with United States; special relationship created by 1977 Panama Canal treaties continued to be most important aspect of foreign relations in late 1980s. Relations very strained and troubled, however, in late 1987 because of United States concerns over the lack of democratization and serious allegations of involvement of the FDP commander in drug trafficking and money laundering. Following negotiation of Panama Canal treaties, Panama has given more attention to other commercial and trade relations and especially to the Central American peace process.

International Agreements and Membership: The country is party to Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (Rio Treaty) and Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America (Tlatelolco Treaty) and is bound by provisions of Panama Canal treaties. Also a member of Organization of American States, United Nations and its specialized agencies, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and Inter-American Development Bank, as well as an active member of the Nonaligned Movement.

Data as of December 1987