Latin America Advisor

A Daily Publication of The Dialogue

Is Panama Better Off Now Than When Varela Took Office?

Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela is to leave office this year, completing his five-year term. // File Photo: Panamanian Government.

Outgoing Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela is to leave office this year, concluding a five-year term, during which the Central American country completed a major expansion of the Panama Canal and had among the highest economic growth rates in the hemisphere. However, the country continued to struggle with inequality and experienced a series of high-profile scandals, including the “Panama Papers” data leak and U.S. sanctions against members of the prominent Waked family, which highlighted concerns about Panama’s ability to fight financial crimes. Is Panama in a stronger position now as compared to when Varela took office? How much is the expansion of the canal paying off, and was the project worth the investment? What are the biggest challenges awaiting the country’s next president, who will be elected in May?


Joaquín E. Jácome Diez, former minister of trade and industry in Panama and senior partner of Jácome & Jácome: “Panama’s macroeconomic outlook remains strong and positive. There are several key projects in tourism, logistics, mining and infrastructure that could provide vital foreign direct investment to foster a healthy growth in the years to come. However, the 2014-19 period has been somber in many aspects. On the economic front, there was a slowdown from the 2009-14 bonanza years that has been accentuated by the current administration’s style of management, lack of transparency in the judicial system (which has been used selectively depending on political objectives) and weak political will to fight corruption. All these factors, plus the Panama Papers, the Waked affair and corruption in the executive, legislative and judicial branches have created a strong sentiment of repulsion to all established political parties. Even though Varela’s personal style of government has brought quieter times than the tumultuous Martinelli years, it can’t be said that…”

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The Inter-American Dialogue publishes the Latin America Advisor every business day for a distinguished membership of informed corporate leaders, scholars, and government officials invested in Latin America’s development and future. The Advisor‘s highly regarded Q&A section covers questions submitted by subscribers themselves. Commentators regularly include heads of state, business leaders, diplomats, economists, analysts, and thought leaders from around the world. Many of the world’s largest and fastest-growing companies subscribe to the Advisor. To subscribe click here or for more information, contact Erik Brand, publisher of the Advisor, at

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