June 21, 2021

Panama New President Laurentino Cortizo Took Office

The newly elected head of state will lead the Central American nation for the 2019-2024 term

In his inauguration speech, Cortizo highlighted the priorities of his presidency. (Photo taken from http://elsiglo.com.pa).

Panama’s President Laurentino “Nito” Cortizo from the center-left Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) took office on Monday, after defeating in a close race in May right-wing candidate Romulo Roux.

The newly elected head of state will lead the Central American nation for the 2019-2024 term and will have the stabilization of relations with China and the United States as main issues at hand, among many other domestic matters.

In his inauguration speech, Cortizo highlighted the priorities of his presidency: ending government corruption and combating inequality.

The new president presented 16 immediate objectives, many of which will be accomplished within of the first three months, for him and his “Good Government.” 

He announced that one of the next months priorities would be the constitutional reforms proposals and the project of a new law to ensure clear rules and transparency around public contracts.

The proposals also include a Public Contracting Law, payment to state suppliers and contractors, an in-house government austerity program, the program “Study Without Hunger”, creation of the Ministry of Culture, a public works reform and program to work on street maintenance, real state leasing law, extension of preferential interest rates and an evaluation of the country’s finances. 

The 65-year-old former agricultural minister will also incorporate a pledge made during his campaign to establish a new office called ProPanama within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which would work with embassies, consulates, and foreign investors to restore confidence in the country in the aftermath of corruption scandals.

The list of high profile corruption cases remains fresh in the minds of Panamanians and has been the prime focus leading up to this year’s elections.

Among the most notorious are the Panama Papers, the infamous international offshore banking scandal; the arrest of ex-President Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014) for alleged breach of secrecy rights, rights to privacy, and surveillance without judicial authorization; and embezzlement related to the large scale Odebrecht (Car Wash) scandal which incriminated not only 80 Panamanian officials, but also officials from across Latin America.

The country’s financial sector, its infrastructure spending and the revenue from the Panama Canal, led the economy to grow on an average 5,3 percent annually under former President Juan Carlos Varela.

Varela had annoyed the U.S. establishing close tights to China who invested in a number of strategic projects, and Cortizo said during his campaign he would continue to deepen ties with China but slower than his predecessor. According to Cortizo, “the country’s bonanza can not hide the country of misery.” As the government will mainly focus to combat poverty and the reduction of inequalities.

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