Panama is a Central American isthmus connecting North and South America. It is situated between Costa Rica to the northwest, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. Formerly, Panama consisted of a single republic, the southernmost country in Central America. The capital was Panama City. Today, Panama is divided into numerous states and no-man's-lands.
Explored and settled by the Spanish in the 16th century, Panama broke with Spain in 1821 and joined a union of Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela, known today as the Republic of Gran Colombia. When the latter dissolved in 1830, Panama remained part of Colombia. With US backing, Panama seceded from Colombia in 1903. The Panama Canal was built by the US Army Corps of Engineers between 1904 and 1914.
In 1968 a military junta, led by Brigadier General Omar Torrijos, took over the country. In 1977, Torrijos and President Jimmy Carter signed an agreement for the complete transfer of the Canal from the US to Panama by the end of the century. In 1981 Torrijos was killed in a plane crash under suspicious circumstances. By 1983, General Manuel Norriega was in the process of consolidating his control of the country. The United States still maintained a major presence in the Canal Zone.
The strategically-located American base ensured that Panama would be a target upon the outbreak of World War III. Soviet warheads destroyed much of Panama City and badly damaged the canal. This had catastrophic results for Panama's highly centralized government and economy. The country fell into anarchy and fractured.
Today Panama is divided into four distinct political regions:
- West Panama is a diverse place that is home to several communities of survivors.
- The Panamanian Federation formed in 2013 and has successfully extended its control over much of this region.
- The Panama Canal Zone is a territory ruled by the South American Confederation.
- East Panama is an autonomous region and integral part of Colombia since late 2012.
- The Darién has the same status, part of Colombia since 1999.
In addition, Colombia has occupied the island of Coiba since 2011, and Costa Rica still has a military presence in a few small areas along the border.