Panama ambassador defends international outcast Martinelli

Jaime Alemán

President Ricardo Martinelli has lost most international support he had, to the extend that his only friends on the international scene are now other mobster figures like Silvio Berlusconi, Colombia’s parapolitica ex-president Uribe and Honduran sham election winner Porfirio Lobo.

Already firmly condemned for his mafia style politics, his disdain for human rights, the environment and a state of law by most domestic and international social movements and reportedly a US government worried about where things are going in Panama, Martinelli is now also in hot water with the conservatives in the United States.

Little over a year ago, Juan Carlos Hidalgo of the conservative-libertarian CATO institute wrote a piece gleeing over Martinelli’s election victory and expressing hope for Panama’s future. Now, about a year later, he published a piece trashing Martinelli for “interventionist economic measures, cronyism, the erosion of democratic checks and balances, and even harassment of independent media”.

Ah, but for these cases Panama employs diplomats – if they’re not too busy running the diplomatic retail outlets for Foreign Minister Varela’s booze empire, that is. So Panama’s ambassador Jaime Alemán took some time away from the sales counter and penned a reply to Hidalgo’s piece:

The recent piece by Juan Carlos Hidalgo ignores the economic and social progress that Panama has made under President Ricardo Martinelli.

High scores on political stability and freedom of the press are just some of the reasons that Panama was raised to Investment Grade (a claim that only five Latin American countries can make) by Moody’s, Standard & Poor and Fitch – the world’s most influential and respected ratings agencies.

Since 1990, Panama’s GDP expanded five-fold, and President Martinelli is implementing a series of measures that will allow Panama to capitalize on this high growth. In addition to tax reform designed to ensure fiscal sustainability and tackle income inequality, the government took measures to modernize the country’s infrastructure.

Under President Martinelli’s commitment to increase the country’s commercial expansion, Panama is currently undertaking the most ambitious project in history, an expansion of the Panama Canal that will double capacity by 2014, aiding the transit of larger U.S. ships and enhancing the productivity, reliability and efficiency of trade.

Like all Panamanian Administrations, Martinelli is committed to lifting thousands of Panamanians out of poverty through fair paying jobs, improved education standards and access to higher learning. Poverty rates have declined significantly over the past five years and public spending has been directed at improving education and social welfare, including the Universal Scholarship for every child in public school and a transfer of over 600 million dollars to the poorest sectors of the population during the first year of the Martinelli Administration.

Painting an accurate picture of Panama must include an accurate picture of the progress the country has — and continues to make.

Sincerely,

H. E. Jaime Aleman

Ambassador of the Republic of Panama

It’s telling that our ambassador has to go no less than twenty years back to come up with anything that could remotely be characterized as a Martinelli success. The Canal expansion project was passed and started under his predecessor Martin Torrijos. Poverty rates are still high, and increased GDP has not led to reduced inequality, which is one of the main reasons for current skyrocketing crime rates. Besides, after the invasion and the Noriega dictatorship ended in 1990 it would have been very odd if things had not improved at least a little bit.

Alemán’s reply is right out of the Goebbels propaganda textbook, along the lines of “Hitler built highways and the trains left on time”. Nowhere does he address the trampling of the rule of law by his mobster bosses, the disdain for human rights and judicial independence, the harassment of journalists, writers and others critical of Martinelli’s rule, the corruption and cronyism that are rampant as never before, the presence in the government of arms dealers and money launderers and so on.

Needless to say that CATO’s Hidalgo wasn’t impressed either with Alemán’s drivel:

In short, Ambassador Alemán digs deep into the past to defend Martinelli’s current policies. I stand by my criticism of what those policies portend for Panama’s future.

Well, let’s make one prediction. Within another year, Panama will lose its coveted “investment grade” and we’ll be in huge financial trouble. A child can see it coming.

About the author /


Okke Ornstein is an award winning journalist, TV/Radio producer and photographer from the Netherlands and currently based in Panama. Specialized in high-impact investigative journalism, his work has led to arrests, questions in parliament and the downfall of many frauds and swindles.

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