Like a picture through a lens out of focus, it is difficult, even while sitting here, to capture the workings of an institution the caliber of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) against the backdrop of this teeming and sometimes seedy Central American metropolis. Harder still is the further view, both within the metropolis and the rural area that surrounds it, of the grinding poverty that salts this land from border to border and sea to sea. Panama’s economy is, and has been for decades, based on the services industry, which accounts for three-fourths of its Gross Domestic Products(GDP). With a 13 percent unemployment rate and 37 percent of its people living below the poverty line, it is in better shape than most of its neighbors, but it is still not a wealthy country. Its principal exports are bananas, shrimp, sugar, coffee and clothing. Its biggest customer is the United States, which purchases 42 percent of its products, and provides 39 percent of its imported goods. After a long period of political unrest, the government is now stable, but economic growth has still not recovered. Environmental laws are on the books, but still absent is the money to fund them. One national park is guarded by just one ranger, and that ranger does not have a vehicle.
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