New president in Panama

On May 4, Juan Carlos Varela won the elections in Panama and will become the next president of the country in July. He is 50 years old, and has been the vice-president of the country since 2009. In Panama, the President is elected for a five-year term.

Panama is an isthmus – a skinny piece of land that connects two larger land masses, North America and South America. Panama is a land of mountains, rain forests, swamps, rivers, jungles, and the hot sun. Its capital is (and this should be easy to remember) Panama City.

People have been living in Panama for over 10,000 years. In the early 1500s, the Spanish landed in Panama and the land became a Spanish colony for about 300 years. Panama got its independence from Spain in 1821 and joined a bunch of countries in the neighborhood and eventually became part of Colombia. It got its independence from Colombia in 1903 with help from the United States. The United States was granted some rights in Panama which led to friction between the two countries. One of Panama’s presidents, Manuel Noriega, even declared war on the United States in 1989. In return, the US invaded Panama. Noriega escaped into the embassy of the Vatican City, knowing that the US army would not try to enter it. Know what the army did? They played loud rock music in front of the embassy for a few days! Noriega was eventually captured.

One famous Spanish explorer who has many things in Panama named after him, including the country’s currency, is Vasco Núñez de Balboa. In 1513, Balboa trekked from one side of Panama to the other side discovering the Pacific Ocean. He is considered to be the first European to see the Pacific Ocean from the Americas. Soon after this discovery, Panama became the crossroads for goods. Goods were brought by ship from South America, carried across Panama, and put on ships that sailed to Spain. Panama stayed as a major crossroads for many years. In the mid-1800s, a railway was built across Panama to carry goods. In the early 1900s, the Panama Canal was built as a water passageway connecting the Atlantic Ocean (the Caribbean Sea) to the Pacific Ocean. In fact, the canal opened a hundred years ago in 1914.

Here is an animation showing how the Panama Canal works.

Did you know?

Vatican City is considered to be one of the world’s smallest independent states. It is surrounded by a single country, Italy, on all sides.

Image Credits:  for Varela’s image, for Panama Canal’s image

Sources:,,,,, CIA World Factbook,,