PANAMA IS AMONG the luckier countries in Latin America. Drug-traffickers mostly bypass the isthmus, preferring to ship cocaine to the United States through northerly neighbours. A forest protected the country from Colombia’s long-running insurgencies. Its canal provided $1.7bn to the treasury last year, an eighth of the government’s budget. Panama’s citizens are the second-richest in Latin America. Thanks partly to the canal, its economy is the fastest-growing. The social safety-net is generous by regional standards and life expectancy matches that in the United States.
These boons do not exempt Panama from problems that bedevil many Latin American countries. Three dozen families control the economy. Politics and business are prone to corruption. Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction firm that bribed politicians across Latin America, paid $100m to suborn Panamanian officials. The “Panama papers”, leaked in 2016, revealed that some of the firms housed in Panama City’s gleaming office blocks are dedicated to