This has been a busy weekend in Panama. All the heads of the myriad of government agencies and their minions, which is about everyone but the janitors, were packing up and clearing out their offices in preparation for the new government which takes office July 1st.
The challenge for ordinary citizens is that if you had an issue with a government agency, a file in the pile on the desk of one functionary or another … everyone likes to leave a clean desk behind … so get ready to start all over again.
The newly elected president, John Carlos Varela, has been busy announcing who is taking over what positions, which is harder than it may sound. With a population of 3.7 million, and a somewhat neatly divided political structure and election, that leaves the incoming president only 1.2 million people from which to choose. Since the election was close and Varela’s party lacks control of the Assembly, like it or not, there has to be some horse trading. Since the dictatorship, fearing any concentration of power, Panamanians have switched democratically elected governments every five years. “TIP” = “This is Panama.” It’s the way it is done and although to an outsider not always the most efficient way, it seems to work.
Panamanians say that politicians are like the big vultures that fly over Panama [a/k/a “The Panamanian Air Force”]. What they mean by this is that “during the day they fight over the same road kill, but at night all go home to the same tree to roost.” These folks all come from the same old, powerful families that control much of Panama, and all belong to the same clubs and high society. Outgoing President Ricardo Martinelli appointed the incoming President Varela as his Vice President. Although they had a very public falling out and Varela defeated the candidate of Martinelli’s party and Martinelli’s wife who was running as Vice President, Martinelli and Varela are partners in a number of huge businesses [“Welcome to Panama!”] and will eventually find a way to work together for a better Panama, as will the rest of the country.
Unlike the US, this is not a country divided by “red” and “blue” but a country of Panamanians. The election is over and there is work to be done, and it will happen. But first … the party! Just to be sure everyone gets off on the right foot, Tuesday, the day the new President is inaugurated is a national holiday! Just what is needed, another day off! And since Varela’s family owns the largest rum distillery … what’s good for the country is also good for the new Chief Executive.