Panama – Panamania!
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Panama, officially the Republic of Panam, is the southernmost country of both Central America and, in turn, North America.
Situated on the isthmus connecting North and South America, it is bordered by Costa Rica to the northwest, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The capital is Panama City.
Panama is an international business center, and although it is only the fourth largest economy in Central America, after Guatemala, Costa Rica and El Salvador, it is the fastest growing economy and the largest per capita consumer in Central America.
The culture of Panama derived from European music, art and traditions that were brought over by the Spanish to Panama. Hegemonic forces have created hybrid forms of this by blending African and Native American culture with European culture. For example, the tamborito is a Spanish dance that was blended with Native American rhythms, themes and dance moves.
Dance is a symbol of the diverse cultures that have coupled in Panama. The local folklore can be experienced through a multitude of festivals, dances and traditions that have been handed down from generation to generation. Local cities host live Reggae en Español, Cuban, Reggaeton, Kompa, Colombian, jazz, blues, salsa, reggae and rock performances.
Outside of Panama City, regional festivals take place throughout the year featuring local musicians and dancers. Another example of Panama’s blended culture is reflected in the traditional products, such as woodcarvings, ceremonial masks and pottery, as well as in its architecture, cuisine and festivals. In earlier times, baskets were woven for utilitarian uses, but now many villages rely almost exclusively on the baskets they produce for tourists.
An example of undisturbed, unique culture in Panama stems from the Kuna Indians who are known for molas. Mola is the Kuna Indian word for blouse, but the term mola has come to mean the elaborate embroidered panels that make up the front and back of a Kuna woman’s blouse. Molas are works of art created by the women of the Central American Cuna (or Kuna) tribe. They are several layers of cloth varying in color that are loosely stitched together made using an appliqué process referred to as “reverse appliqué”.
Tourism in the Republic of Panama kept its growth during the past 5 years. The number of tourists arriving between January and September 2008 was 1,110,000, 13.1% or 128,452 visitors. This was a significant increase to the 982,640 travelers who had arrived in the same period of 2007, a year that beat all records regarding the entry of tourists into the country.
The arrival of tourists from Europe to Panama grew by 23.1% during the first nine months of 2008. According to the Tourism Authority of Panama (ATP), between January and September, 71,154 tourists from the Old Continent entered the country that is 13,373 more than figures for same period last year.
Most of Europeans who have visited Panama were Spaniards (14,820), followed by Italians (13,216), French (10,174) and British (8,833). From Germany, the most populous country in the European Union, 6997 tourists arrived.
Europe has become one of the key markets to promote Panama as a tourist destination. In 2007 1.445.5 million entered into the Panamanian economy as a result of tourism. This accounted for 9.5% of gross domestic product in the country, surpassing other productive sectors.
Panama´s Law No. 8 is still the most modern and comprehensive law for the promotion of tourism investment in Latin America and the Caribbean. In so-called Special Tourism Zones, Law 8 offers incentives such as 100% exemption from income tax, real estate tax, import duties for construction materials and equipment, and other taxes.
Panama has declared different parts of the country as Special Tourism Zones which are benefited with multiple tax exemptions and tax holidays.
The high levels of Panamanian trade are in large part from the Colón Free Trade Zone, the largest free trade zone in the Western Hemisphere. Last year the zone accounted for 92% of Panama’s exports and 64% of its imports, according to an analysis of figures from the Colon zone management and estimates of Panama’s trade by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. Panama’s economy is also very much supported by the trade and exportation of coffee and other agricultural products.
The Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) between the governments of the United States and Panama was signed on October 27, 1982. The treaty protects U.S. investment and assists Panama in its efforts to develop its economy by creating conditions more favorable for U.S. private investment and thereby strengthening the development of its private sector.
The BIT with Panama was the first such treaty signed by the U.S. in the Western Hemisphere. A Trade Promotion Agreement between the United States and Panama was signed by both governments in 2007, but neither country has yet approved or implemented the agreement.
There are several theories about the origin of the name “Panama”. Some believe that the country was named after a commonly found species of tree. Others believe that the first settlers arrived in Panama in August, when butterflies abound, and that the name means “many butterflies” in indigenous tongue.
The best known of these versions is that a village populated by fishermen originally bore the name “Panamá”, after a beach nearby, and that this name meant “many fish”. Blending all of the above together, Panamanians believe in general that the word Panama means “abundance of fish, trees and butterflies”.
This is the official definition given in Social Studies textbooks approved by the Ministry of Education in Panama. Some believe the word Panama comes from the Kuna word “Bannaba” which means “distant” or “far away”. Kunas are one of the native tribes of the Latin American nation. Ultimately, the etymology of the word Panamá is not very clear.
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