The results of the recent election in Panama and the new president are just what the country needs. Panama has gone through five years of excess spending, back-room dealing and corruption in government under Ricardo Martinelli. Presidents can only run for one term of office in Panama. The prime opponent of Juan Carlos Varela, the newly elected president, was Jose Domingo Aries who would have been a ‘Puppet President’ controlled by Martinelli, continuing the same corrupt government of his predecessor.
From all accounts and actions over the past five years as vice-president under Martinelli, Varela has been an upstanding, forthright, honest and caring politician. Through the coalition of Varela’s Panamanista party and Martinelli led Cambio Democratico party in the previous election on 2009, Martinelli managed to become the president; largely due to Varela’s reputation. But shortly thereafter, Martinelli stabbed Varela in the back and proceeded to preside over one of the worst governments since Noriega.
The expectation of the people is that Varela will be an excellent President and that Panama will really prosper under his leadership, not just engage in series of expensive, mega-projects. Varela will have the best interests of the country and the citizens in mind presiding over an honest, just and transparent government. During the past five years Martinelli did a lot of ‘big’ but very expensive things, resulting in a rapid increase in the national debt as a result. He was a crude, rude, ‘bag-boy millionaire’ leader whose goal seemingly was to go down in history as the guy that did the most in the shortest possible time; regardless of the cost or consequences. He did too much, too fast. Varela, on the other hand, an engineer and successful businessman in his own right, will have a firm, even hand on the controls and will lead the country forward in an honest, disciplined, thoughtful and continuous way. When Panamanian voters feel deceived or mistreated by a president, their vote will reflect that, as it did in the May 2014 election.
I don’t think Panama needs to worry about Varela. He has chosen some very good people for keys posts and was out of the gate quickly, reaffirming and beginning to implement his campaign promises. His promised price control program on the ‘canasta basica’, a basket of 22 staple food items, was implemented within the first week and is being rigorously monitored to ensure compliance. This should have a meaningful effect on the national economy by putting money into the pockets of people who will turn around and spend it on other items. Other measures to help the underprivileged are; running water and an indoor bathroom in every household.
On a more general level, and something very important to foreign residents and visitors is his promise to take a tough hand with street crime and eliminate corruption in the police force. He will also place great emphasis on improving foreign relations, creating a more secure foreign investment climate and decentralizing many government departments and services, making for more autonomous and responsible regional and local governments.
Based on the media coverage since July 1st when Varela took office, he is receiving enthusiastic public and legislative support for his sound, stable programs and Panamanians should expect he will continue with a well thought-out plan.