Country Listing

Panama Table of Contents


Transportation and Communication

Transportation was the single most important contributor to Panama's service-oriented economy. The Panama Canal has given great impetus to other transportation services, and many of those, such as the oil pipeline and the CFZ, have achieved a dynamism of their own. In the area of communications, Panama was served by 213,400 telephones in 1984, in addition to 142 radio stations, 6 television channels, and 6 daily newspapers.

The transportation sector has been further broadened by a network of roads, ocean ports, and airports (see fig. 8). The major roads were the Pan-American Highway and the Trans-isthmian Highway (also known as the Boyd-Roosevelt Highway) between Panama City and Colón. In 1984 Panama had 9,535 kilometers of roads, of which 32 percent were asphalted. Panama had only three railroads: two in the west originating in David and Almirante and extending to the Costa Rican border, and one linking Panama City and Colón. The General Omar Torrijos Herrera International Airport (commonly known as Tocumen International Airport), and located near Panama City, served international airlines.

Panama had fourteen ports, the most important of which were Balboa on the Pacific side and Cristóbal on the Atlantic, located at the entrances to the canal. Together, the two ports served 70 percent of the international ships arriving in Panama in 1983. The two ports, however, have declined in regional importance since the 1970s, in part because of technological change and competition. In their prime, Balboa and Cristóbal were transshipment centers of break-bulk traffic. In the 1970s, containerization became widespread; large ships could break the bulk cargo into containers at any port offering container facilities, at which point the cargo could be stored or transshipped through the canal on a smaller vessel. Miami and Kingston developed sophisticated container facilities and contributed to the precipitous decline (from 145,000 tons in 1969 to 38,707 tons in 1980) in transshipment traffic through Balboa and Cristóbal. In order to compete more effectively, US$18 million was spent on Cristóbal in the early 1980s, making it the first container port in Panama. Later plans call for upgrading eight other ports as well.

Data as of December 1987