Juan Carlos Varela’s Promises

Juan Carlos Varela, belonging to the Panameñista Party, has been elected to be the next president of Panama. During his electoral campaign, Varela made an alliance with “El Partido Popular” (The Popular Party). They called the alliance “El Pueblo Primero” (the people first). As power begins to shift to Varela’s administration, the working alliance with The Popular Party remains strong. Varela’s team has presented the governmental proposals using the same slogan, “El Pueblo Primero.” While the new government’s promises are many, among them are the following: Price controls in the basic basket   Juan Carlos Varela has promised he will sign an executive decree that will freeze the price of 22 products in the Basic Basket. These price freezes could result in a monthly savings of about $58.00 per family.

The 22 products listed in the basic basket include meat, dairy, eggs, vegetables, rice, lentils, and more. We have already begun to see the cost of basic food items inflated in some supermarkets. This is due to speculation that the future government will soon restrict the price the 22 basic items.

Basic Health

Varela intends to support the Basic Health Project, “100% potable water / zero latrines.” This project aims to provide the entire country with a 24-hour potable water service. Today, according to Panameñista Party statistics, only 66% of the population has a 24-hour potable water supply. Moreover, the project will focus on the elimination of latrines. A key goal in this plan is to replace latrines with hygienic bathrooms in more than 300 thousand homes nationwide. The newly elected President said he would personally follow this project to make sure its goals are accomplished.

Bilingual Education 

Juan Carlos Varela promises “Better Opportunities” for all students. This project intends boost English language studies in all public schools throughout the Republic of Panama.

Universal Scholarship and $120 at age 65

Varela promises to continue the Universal Scholarship program started by Ricardo Martinelli’s government and extend it to reach college students. He also promises to lower the minimum age required to become a beneficiary of the program.

Panama’s Metro Lines 2 and 3

Juan Carlos Varela plans to continue construction on Panama’s Metro. He will spend his fourth day in charge (July 4) in Arraiján, announcing the commencement of lines 2 and 3 of the country’s metro system.

Construction of Permanent Markets

With this project, Varela promises to build more permanent food markets to increase competition, providing quality food and lower food prices.

Farmers Support

Juan Carlos Varela has promised support of Panama’s agricultural sector. In his proposal to offer farmers support, Varela aims to not only upturn farm production, but also to increase the quality of their products. The agricultural sector has witness a radical decrease in production, and this has caused a dependence on imported products.

Fourth Bridge over the Panama Canal

Part of Juan Carlos Varela’s electoral platform was the construction of the fourth bridge over the Panama Canal. This will be the fourth, not the third bridge, as The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) will build the third bridge near the Gatún floodgates on the Atlantic end of the Canal, near Colón.

Decentralization of the Country

Varela has promised to increase the decentralization of the country. One of the biggest administrative problems Panama faces is that districts nationwide are too dependent on the central government. This can be inefficient and costly in handling municipal problems. By decentralizing these activities, municipalities will acquire more autonomy over their own resources. More independence with resources and in managing institutions that provide public services, municipal powers could become more efficient.

Constituent Assembly

One of the most ambitious projects to be taken on by Juan Carlos Varela is the proposal of a Parallel Constituent Assembly. This assembly’s aim would be reforming the current Political Constitution of 1972. Two years ago, the Martinelli government had asked prominent political science experts to help with redrafting the constitution. This group was called “Los Notables” (The Noteworthy). After 120 meetings over 9 months, the president shelved the draft presented by the group. The draft aimed to reduce the presidential power and regulate the deputies, giving more power to the people. Completion of this project could create more independence from state powers. The elected president said he would wait one year before proposing this draft.

These 10 proposals are among the reasons why the president elect was met with such a large victory, receiving 39% of the votes.

Varela’s challenges and the National Assembly

As we go to press, the following deputies constituted the National Assembly: twelve deputies from “The People First” (Arnulfista and Popular Party), thirty deputies from “Let’s go for more Change” (Cambio Democratico and Molirena), twenty-one deputies from the PRD, one independent deputy and seven other positions are yet to be defined by the Electoral Court.

The political scene puts the newly elected president, Juan Carlos Varela, in a delicate position. With minority seats in assembly, Varela will have to choose carefully how he directs his presidency and carry out his projects.

Perspective on the situation is viewed two ways:

For the pessimists, the assembly constitutes as an obstacle for the elected president. Since the opposition leads the assembly, they are likely to oppose projects coming from the executive. From the optimist’s perspective, this situation could benefit the people and democracy. In which case the assembly moves closer to doing its job, which is to supervise the executive power.

The political situation will force the president to present projects with popular support, so the assembly will have no choice but to approve them. With this synchrony and the civic organizations monitoring both powers democracy grows stronger.