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Panama Country Report

Country Risk Level

Medium

Overview

Executive Summary

Laurentino Cortizo, of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Democrático: PRD), has been in power since July 2019 and has a legislative majority together with coalition partner Nationalist Republican Liberal Movement (Movimiento Liberal Repúblicana Nacional: MOLIRENA). Cortizo's previous anti-corruption agenda including constitutional reforms has been replaced in the six-month outlook by a focus on mitigating the impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) virus, including the implementation of the Panama Solidario aid programme and fiscal relief measures such as tax deferrals and loans for businesses.The government has slowly started reopening the economy after it had to halt reopening plans in June and July based on an upsurge of COVID-19 cases. The country has reopened public works, including the fourth bridge over the Panama Canal and Metro Line 3, and the Cobre Panamá copper project. New business sectors, including wholesale retailers and private construction projectsresumed activities in late August and September.There is a high likelihood that labour strikes will increase across sectors in the next few months, particularly in the public and construction sectors, because of high job insecurity and likely salary caps, with previous strikes by construction sector union (Sindicato Único Nacional de Trabajadores de la Construcción y Similares: SUNTRACS) in May 2019 and April 2018 causing significant disruption lasting for weeks at a time. Our current forecast for 2020 is a contraction of 7% of GDP because of the impact of the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Actions taken to prevent the further spread of the virus in Panama – including a slow exit from quarantine – will diminish domestic consumption and hurt tourism revenues. Economic growth had already slowed to 3.0% (GDP) in 2019, the slowest growth rate since 2009 (1.2%).

Operational Outlook

New businesses can be created through a streamlined online system, and multinational legislation facilitates the establishment of headquarters or regional affiliates. Panama receives high levels of foreign investment in infrastructure to improve transport and communications systems, which are already of a high standard. However, corruption is common and some labour regulations are inflexible. Multisector unions are well organised and have the capability to delay projects for several days and, in rare cases, weeks.

Terrorism

Terrorism risks are low in Panama. There are no domestic groups with the intention or capability to target Panamanian and important Western assets, including the Panama Canal. However, members of Colombian guerrilla group FARC who refused to disarm in 2016 have increased drug-trafficking activity in Darién province. Chiriquí province has a strong presence of criminal groups and drug-trafficking organisations, but they are unlikely to target foreign assets or foreign individuals.

Crime

Businesses in Panama face moderate risks of armed robberies of houses, banks, and restaurants, with theft risks rising amid the COVID-19-virus outbreak. Crime is highest in urban areas, particularly in the capital Panama City, Colón, and along the Atlantic coast. Carjacking by armed groups is an increasing problem, with the road from Tocumen International Airport into Panama City being a hotspot for such incidents. The presence of Mexican and Colombian cartels has been reported over the past decade, in relation to drug-related crimes. Fraud is also common, with 80% of cases involving credit card cloning.

War Risks

The risk of interstate war remains low. The country has no pending boundary disputes, but Panama’s Darién province along the Colombian border has been affected by a spillover of operations by dissident members of demobilised Colombian insurgent group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) and illegal migration. There is a negligible risk of war with Colombia and the two countries co-operate on anti-trafficking initiatives. Panama has been involved in only one interstate war since independence in 1903: the 1989 US invasion to depose the military government of Manuel Noriega.

Social Stability

High

Protests demanding government aid amid the COVID-19-virus outbreak are increasing across the country, mainly involving roadblocks. Risks of violent confrontations, looting, and property damage are highest in Colón, Panama Oeste, and Panama City. Additionally, hydroelectric and mining projects are likely to face protests from indigenous communities, unions, and social activists. Mandatory consultation processes for future hydroelectric projects in the Ngäbe-Buglé indigenous region are likely to increase the assertiveness of indigenous communities in presenting demands also via protests. Major construction union SUNTRACS is likely to continue strikes over demands for concessions and in opposition to economic policies that do not favour union members.

Health Risk

Vaccines required to enter the country

Yellow fever: A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required for travelers arriving from countries with risk of yellow fever transmission. A single dose of YF vaccine is sufficient to confer sustained life-long immunity against the disease; it should be taken ten days in advance to be fully effective.

Vaccines recommended for all travelers

Routine vaccinations: Consult your doctor to ensure all routine vaccinations - such as for diphtheria, tetanus, polio, tuberculosis, influenza, measles, mumps, pertussis, rubella, varicella, etc. - are up to date (include booster shots if necessary).

Vaccines recommended for most travelers

Hepatitis A: The vaccine is given in two doses, six months apart, and is nearly 100 percent effective. The WHO recommends the vaccine be integrated into national routine immunization schedules for children aged one year or older.

Typhoid fever: The typhoid fever vaccine can be administered via injection (administered in one dose) or orally (four doses). The vaccine is only 50-80 percent effective, so travelers to areas with a risk of exposure to typhoid fever, a bacterial disease, should also take hygienic precautions (e.g. drink only bottled water, avoid undercooked foods, wash hands regularly, etc.). Children can be given the shot beginning at two years of age (six for the oral vaccine).

Vaccines recommended for some travelers

Hepatitis B: The WHO recommends that all infants receive their first dose of vaccine as soon as possible after birth, preferably within 24 hours. The birth dose should be followed by two or three doses to complete the primary series. Routine booster doses are not routinely recommended for any age group.

Rabies: The rabies vaccination is typically only recommended for travel to remote areas and if the traveler will be at high risk of exposure (e.g. undertaking activities that will bring them into contact with dogs, cats, bats, or other mammals). The vaccination is administered in three doses over a three-to-four week period. Post exposure prophylaxis is also available and should be administered as soon as possible following contact with an animal suspected of being infected (e.g. bites and scratches).

Yellow fever: A yellow fever vaccination certificate is generally recommended for travelers to areas located east of the Panama Canal.

Natural Risks

The Atlantic hurricane season lasts from June 1 until November 30. While hurricanes and tropical storms rarely hit Panama directly, storm systems can bring torrential rains, leading to flooding and landslides. Hurricane Otto lingered off the northern coast for several days in November 2016, resulting in at least ten deaths and an estimated USD 10 million in damages, prompting the government to decree a six-month state of emergency.

Mountainous areas of the country can prove dangerous, particularly during the long rainy season - which extends from March until December - due to flooding, mudslides, and subsequent road closures. Flooding also occurs within Panama City and can result in transportation chaos.

Panama is located in a seismically active zone and earthquakes occasionally occur. A 7.7-magnitude earthquake struck neighboring Costa Rica in 1991, leaving dozens dead and resulting in major infrastructural damage in the Panamanian province of Bocas del Toro.

Transportation

Cases of taxi drivers robbing kidnapping and/or robbing their clients have been reported, and offending drivers may be armed. To minimize this risk, only use official taxis (yellow in color), never take a taxi with tinted windows, ensure that the car's license plate as well as the drivers credentials are visible, and never take a taxi that already has an occupant (potential accomplice) or allow drivers to pick up more clients (a common practice).

Larger highways are generally well maintained but secondary roads are often less so. Traffic accidents are common along the Pan-American Highway, which should be avoided when possible after nightfall. According to one study, Panama is one of the worst countries in the world for drivers, due to poorly maintained roads and heavy traffic.

In the Panama City region, the metro bus system is safe.

Flooding, particularly common from April to December, can leave roads impassable (see NATURAL RISKS section).

For intercity travel, long distance buses and domestic airlines are safe.

Practical Information

Climate

Panama's climate is tropical; the dry season extends from January until April and the rainy season from May until December. The coast receives more rainfall than the interior of the country. Along the plains, temperatures fluctuate between 20°C and 30°C and tend to be lower in mountainous areas (10°C to 18°C).

Useful Numbers

Country Code: +507
Police: 911
Fire Dept.: 911
Ambulance: 911

Electricity

Voltage: 110 V ~ 60 Hz

Outlets:

Risk Level
Critical High Medium Low Minimal