Forgotten World (103): Panama

Panama – the southern-most country of Central America – has long been of great strategic interest to its huge neighbour the United States. In 1989 the USA invaded Panama to depose a former ally, Manuel Noriega, and until 1999 America controlled the Panama Canal.
In international terms, the canal defines the country. Panama plans to widen the canal, which is more than 90 years old and operating almost at full capacity, to allow it to handle more and larger vessels. Work on the scheme, which was approved in a referendum in 2006, is due to go ahead in 2008.
However, for its 3.2 million citizens, Panama remains a nation scarred by social inequality. Elite families of European descent control most of Panama’s wealth and power, while about 40% of the population live below the poverty line.