May 7, 2014

Proclamation of Juan Carlos Varela as President of Panama

Photo from Telemetro Noticias website

Just finished watching the official acknowledgement of Juan Carlos Varela as President and Isabel Saint Malo as Vice President of the republic of Panama.  It was an interesting event.  The procedure requires official documents from both individuals be submitted to the Tribunal Electoral. These documents are then approved and authenticated publicly, and the winning candidates are presented with certificates acknowledging their designation as President and Vice President elect of Panama.  

Prior to the official handing over of the certifications, the president of the Electoral Tribunal, Erasmo Pinilla, gave a lengthy speech in which he was scathingly subjective about the significance of the Varela win and his personal  impressions of the current administration.  I enjoyed it for its shock value as much as anything else.  

President Ricardo Martinelli chose not to be present for the event, and after hearing the speech delivered by Mr. Pinilla, I found myself feeling sympathetic toward him and happy he didn't attend what would have been a humiliating experience. The contrast between how this type of event would transpire in the US was eye-opening.  What most struck me from the onset was how no one acknowledged any of President Martinelli's accomplishments, and how he was publicly vilified.   I admit I have not been staunchly in favor of the current president or what has been publicized about his administration, however the man did accomplish a good deal in his five year term and, in my humble opinion, should be given credit for the positive things he accomplished for the country.  Not a positive word was uttered for him or his service to Panama.  Perhaps this will happen later, at the inauguration on July 1st.  I certainly hope so, because President Martinelli worked five years for Panama without taking any salary, and all the while bearing a good deal of criticism and bad press. In only five years the country has a light rail system, new hospitals and dialysis centers, improved roads, a four lane highway from David to Boquete, a public bus transportation system, an official taxi service system,  the Cinta Costera in it's three phases, an additional international airport in Rio Hato, and multiple other improvements. Perhaps he ran roughshod over governmental institutions to accomplish his goals, and perhaps he lacked political correctness in his dealings with government functionaries, but nevertheless his accomplishments stand for themselves and he deserves some credit and acknowledgment for them, in my humble opinion.  

Despite Mr. Varela's  declarations of commitment to public service and overt manifestations of humility, this President Elect shows little compassion for the man who chose him as a running mate five years ago and who handled  vice-presidential responsibilities as well when Mr. Varela dropped out 26 months into the term due to a falling out between the two men.  Mr. Varela continued to receive his salary as Vice President for the rest of the five-year term despite his absence from the position.  (In his defense, he dedicated the salary to an underprivileged school.) Details to what and why it happened are sparse, but each side has made allusions open to diverse speculation.  

As I've previously said, I'm glad I couldn't vote in the election.  I'm glad I am just an observer, and have the luxury of questioning everything.  I would have voted for Varela had I been able to do so, but as things begin to unfold, I'm seeing subtleties I previously didn't and am wondering what they mean and just how significant they could be.

Tonight Mr. Varela gave a great speech in which he promised governmental integrity, dedication to social inequality, a focus on improving the quality of life for all Panamanians, commitment to financial transparency and the strengthening of democracy in this country.  What was there not to like?   

He ended his speech with a not-so-subtle jab at President Martinelli's absence, remarking that in 2019 he, Juan Carlos Varela,  expected to be at the proclamation of the next President Elect, proud of his accomplishments, proud to show his face, and contentedly turning over a better, stronger democracy to his successor.