UNITED AND STRONGER

Panama 2015 | DIPLOMACY | INSIDE PERSPECTIVE

HE Juan Carlos Varela, President of the Republic of Panama on pulling together for a better future.

HE Juan Carlos Varela
BIOGRAPHY
HE Juan Carlos Varela graduated in Industrial Engineering from Georgia Tech in the US. In the private sector, he led the growth of a Panamanian company with a long history, which generated thousands of jobs in Panama called Varela Hermanos. With a great social vision from the private sector, Varela supported the promotion of projects in favor of culture, sports, education, folklore, and the environment. He was elected Vice-President of the Republic of Panama in July 2009, and in just two years of government he kept the social promises made during his campaign, including: the Program 100 to 70, which aimed at raising the minimum wage. On March 17, 2013, Juan Carlos Varela became the Presidential Candidate for the Panameñista Party and on August 25 of the same year, he was proclaimed the candidate for the Alliance of "The People First" (Alianza "El Pueblo Primero”), made up by the Panameñista and Popular Party, and the support of independent sectors of the country. On May 4, 2014, Varela was elected President of the Republic of Panama for the 2014-2019 Constitutional period.

I thank the Panamanian people for having given me the opportunity to serve them. I thank my government and all public officers for continuing to work daily for the nation. I will always guide the country to achieve the common benefit of all Panamanians. I thank the National Assembly for approving all the projects aimed at improving the life and wellness of our people. I want to share the achievements of my government and the challenges we have ahead to advance together as one nation in the search of our full potential. We are the same healthy, peaceful and honest country that lives in this beautiful land washed by two oceans, full of prosperity and where civilizations meet. Today, we are a country very much different from that of a year ago. Since the Panamanian people gave us their support, the country has a government highly committed to transparency, and respectful of the separation of powers, freedom of expression and human rights. This is a government based on dialogue that aims to reach consensus and serve Panamanians. Permanent dialogue will be the main tool to address all social scenarios we might face. I repeat what I said on my first day in office; I am the president of all Panamanians and we lead the country under a single flag. We live in a new era in which social peace, tolerance and justice are the main ruling elements in a country in which nobody is above the law. Politics today, aims at the development of society with a united vision for the country. The government develops all its projects with social criteria to meet all social needs regardless of political color. We respect democratic values and human rights. We celebrated our 25th anniversary of the restoration of democracy and we must take the necessary steps to make sure it continues strengthening and developing. In the early and mid-1990s, our democracy was ruled by other values and it was weakened as a result. Today, it is founded on the constitution and the laws of the country, in true values and the hard work of many people aiming at the social wellness of Panama. Public life in the past was characterized by avarice, and the political pursuit of wealth. Those days are over and Panama is united for beneficial development, and we seek out those who abused public funds. We have a justice based on fraternal correction. As president, I am not focused solely on judicial matters, but I will do what it takes to defend my people, Panama, and their equity. Our administration will continue to focus on developing our government plans and projects, supporting justice and the Public Ministry in their efforts to bring forward these processes. We need to preserve the peace and work together to further develop our democracy. I will do whatever it takes to unite this country.

Over the past year, we have strengthened our democracy with an honest government open to civil society. Our achievements are those of the entire country and its people. This has been a difficult year, where we have faced challenges from the past and pushed forward many projects. This was aimed at realizing our government plan to benefit all Panamanians. We have seen salary increases, inflation is under control, and the price of food has not increased. We have achieved great development in the agricultural industry with a comprehensive portfolio of services, credit lines, consultancy, and technical support. In terms of security, we advance in two directions; prevention and fulfillment of the law. There are over 4,000 teenagers taking part in the Safe Neighborhood program, which has already generated excellent results. Homicides have decreased by 25%, but this is not enough for me; Panama and its people deserve lower criminality levels. To achieve this, we need the support of all Panamanians, and need to reach core family values to do so. We also need to tackle drug cartels and dealers, and encourage teenagers at risk to make the correct decisions. Our goal is to become the safest country in the Americas. We will achieve it with the support of all the social actors in Panama. This year, we have indicted over 25 criminal gangs and will continue to apply a firm hand in this regard. We also promote the social inclusion of those at risk. We encourage teenagers to respect the rule of law, while we strengthen our security forces. We also increased synergies between all security bodies and institutions of the country.

In terms of housing, we advance our plans in Colón; we have several ongoing programs with 14 work fronts. With “Hope Roofs," and have realized over 5,000 housing units and have over 25,000 units out to tender. In terms of our basic health program, we reached over 30,000 households through Conades. By the end of the year, we want to have doubled this figure. We have designed a two-way strategy; the strengthening of the water treatment plants network, drilling deep wells and have developed a contingency unit for emergency situations.
We have also initiated a national health census to better understand the current state of our people and the health needs. The initial results of the census reveal that around 40% of Panamanians suffer from hypertension or diabetes. We need to promote a healthy life style in society. That is why we will invest in expanding sport facilities across the country. We will also invest in prevention and build new hospitals, the Children's Hospital among them, as well as refurbish and upgrade several other hospitals.

In August, we will see new developments for the construction of the Health City. We want these facilities to host the new Oncological Hospital as well as the new Medicine Faculty of the University of Panama. I call upon all health segments to come together to work hand in hand for the development of the sector and the benefit of the people.

In terms of cleanliness, we have allocated a budget to renew the fleet of garbage collectors in all municipalities of the country, investing also in the entire treatment plant network nationwide. Regarding transport infrastructure, we will build Line 2 of the Panama Underground and are holding talks with the Japanese government regarding technical and financing support for Line 3. This year we will also tender the project for the bridge over the Panama Canal. We will soon announce the new Metrobus project, which will become a public company managed by the government. We will provide a secure, efficient and reliable service to society.
We also created the Public Infrastructure Coordination Unit in order to strengthen the technical capabilities of the government to tender key projects of national interest. This unit is assigned to the Ministry of Public Works. For example, we tendered the Aguas Frias-Yaviza highway with a budget of $150 million and an extension of 102km, benefiting 48,000 inhabitants of the region. It will contribute to the incorporation of the region to the production unit of the country. We will tender many other rehabilitation and upgrading road infrastructure projects.

We committed an annual $400 million investment budget for the support of pensioners, increasing, among other things, their pay, and the support of vulnerable communities.

The private sector also supports us in the plan to rehabilitate public schools. In the first stage of the program, 100 schools will benefit. This means over 200,000 school children, around 30% of Primary School system students. We have also identified several other projects within the education system for a total budget of over $1 billion. Among these we intend to build 10,000 classrooms and 50 new secondary schools. Additionally, we provide training opportunities abroad to our teachers through a Bilingual Program, whereby 1,300 teachers have had the opportunity to travel to the US, Canadian and British universities to improve their language skills. We also need to strengthen tourism as one of the pillars of our economy. We will soon launch a promotional campaign under the slogan “Panama Unites the World", focusing in our three main markets; the US, Latin America and Europe.

In terms of foreign policy, Panama hosted the 7th Summit of the Americas, which was preceded by four international forums; the Forum of the Rectors of America, the Entrepreneurship and Business Forum, the Diplomacy Forum, and the Teenager Forum. We achieved a re-launch of hemispheric relations, especially between two countries that had no relations whatsoever for 50 years, Cuba and the US. We focused on mutual respect regardless of political system and took important steps in the process of tackling common regional problems. The Summit provided excellent proof of our commitment to dialogue and problem solving within our foreign policy strategy. I lead a government that respects international law and is highly committed to the transparency of our financial system, which has implemented several actions to fight money laundering. We will never allow for any country to harm the image of Panama and label us with inappropriate tags.
For our second year in office we have several projects we want to develop such as Colón's Maritime Port and the effective coordination of the national health system network. We will also change certain elements of the political system and the funding of electoral campaigns in order to boost transparency and the election of civil representatives. I make a call to all local authorities to take active part in the dialogue to boost the decentralization of the state. We propose for this dialogue to be based on transfer of competences, a solidarity formula, and strengthening of management capability. In general terms, we have an average growth rate of 6%, we have reduced the country's fiscal debt, increased cash availability and savings, and are set to increase investments, which should further boost our economic growth rates. Meanwhile, we aim to become the first country in Latin America that eradicates child labor. Overall, we have carried out our investments of over $4 billion and those projects will be completed in a short period of time. Let's move forward all together for the benefit of our country.