At one level, Panama has recovered nicely since the United States' invasion of December 1989. The economy is growing rapidly. Bank deposits are rising. Some dent has been made in the debt inherited from the dictatorship of Manuel Noriega, so that the country is once again eligible for IMF credit. New high-rises alter the Panama City skyline. The Panama Canal is efficiently managed under the 1977 treaties; 1991 saw the second-highest tonnage in its history.
But at another level, where most of the 2.5 million Panamanians live, the little country is a mess. The visible prosperity for some has not dented the poverty of most. Small business has not recovered from the looting that followed the U.S. invasion. In this commemorative year for Christopher Columbus, the city named for him at the Caribbean terminus of the canal -- Colon city -- is a dysfunctional slum where the sewage does not flow and half the people are jobless.
Despite the toppling of General Noriega and his conviction in the U.S. on drug charges, the use of Panama for drug transit and money laundering continues. That would explain the selective prosperity that omits most of the people. President Guillermo Endara appears ineffectual. He means well and is constitutionally ineligible to seek re-election in 1994, but he has had to be protected from coup plots in the military where loyalty to General Noriega lingers. Colon city was seized with demonstrations all spring. The university is a residual hotbed of the left where the U.S. is blamed for all troubles, though less vigorously than in the past.