Boca La Caja, with banks and apartment buildings behind. 

Panama City is a major financial hub and the center of political and economic activity in the country. Due to many factors, such as its strategic location between North and South America, the management of the Panama Canal, and its use of dollars as the official currency, Panama’s strategic clout is oversized to its population, resources and landmass. 

The center of Panama City, with the canal in the background. 

On the city's periphery, new development of identical tower blocks and informal neighborhoods exist side by side. 

Early in the 20th century the US essentially wrested control of the area known now as Panama from Colombia, hitherto being one country, and established provisions so that the Canal Zone would be built, fortified, and maintained by the USA (not Panama) “in perpetuity”. This, in a way, was a typical tone for US interventionism in Central America. 
From 1903 to the mid-1960s, Panama was ruled by a sort of oligarchy with the blessing of the US, until protests arose which led, both directly and indirectly, to a series of strong men running the country. This reached its apotheosis in Manuel Noriega, the ex-CIA informant who simultaneously promised support for US anti-drug policies but at the same time took hundreds of millions from drug cartels and provided a strategic launch point for smuggling activities on Panamanian soil. 
When the US invaded Panama in 1989, landing Marines in the center of Panama City, they killed thousands (officially only 314, but this is disputed), deposed Noriega, and restored constitutional government.

The fisherman's neighborhood of Boca La Caja is bounded on two sides by wealthy tower blocks, where families can swim or walk their dogs at the end of the day, separated by a tall wall. 

Boca La Caja. 

The land in Boca La Caja is not cheap. Much like other inner city slums in rich cities, for example Mumbai, the houses here sit on extremely valuable land that is prime for development into wealthy real estate. 

Although the country has made great strides to develop legitimate service industries like finance, it has struggled to shake off the odor of a money laundering hub. The release of millions of leaked documents called the Panama Papers in 2016 highlighted the country’s role in the creation of shell companies for tax evasion and outright money laundering. 
Today, the city is a ultra-modern sea of high-rise skyscrapers and finance bros shuttling between banks, gyms, and inflated real estate. There is absolutely a division between the obvious wealth that has poured into the country and the average Panamanian, who normally lives on the outskirts of the city, and the poor, who normally live in the rural areas of the country. Within the city center there are several slums which abut these high-rises and banks, probably the most famous (pictorially) being called Boca La Casa. 

Cerro Patacón is the city's main landfill, which often is burning, covering the downtown area in toxic smoke. Hundreds of people live next to the dump as waste pickers. 

The boundary between Cerro La Cruz and the neatly gridded and formal neighborhood of Villa Lucre. 

A factory which processes vegetable oil within the Boca La Caja community has left a dark smear in the direction of the prevailing winds.  

The boundary between Villa Lucre and lower income zones to the west. 

You may also like

Back to Top