For over 100 years Panama has been the crossroads of the world and the place where the world meets because of its geographical location and the famed Panama Canal. This month the “world”, at least the Latin American world, will meet in Panama at the Summit of The Americas organized by the Organization of American States. This will be the seventh summit of Latin American world leaders.
Over 70 parliamentarians from across the American continent will meet at the permanent headquarters of the Latin American Parliament and in addition to the heads of state around 5,000 advisors and ministers of the various countries will attend, tying up Panama City traffic even worse than usual. Schools and government offices will be closed in an effort to minimize the chaos. Normally Panama goes mas o menos on “vacation” from November [the month of Patriotic holidays], through December [Mother’s Day & Christmas], January [New Year’s and various regional fairs]. February/March [Carnival!], and March [Holy Week which is really “Beach Week” and Easter] through early April. Then of course there is the week after Easter to recover, and this year, the Summit, offers another excuse not to work. So by the end of April, Panama will get more or less back to work.
[As a sidebar, most of Panama’s official government work is still pretty much at a halt. Revelations of corruption charges against former president Ricardo Martinelli and his government, investigations and accusations, have brought government in Panama and governmental projects almost to a halt as every government worker fears approving or signing anything that in five years may put them in prison. The country cries out to get moving again, knowing that once you stop a gigantic moving object it’s difficult to get it moving forward again.]
The Summit, which will take place on Friday April 10 and will be attended by the new secretary-general of the Organization of American States, Uruguayan senator, Luis Almagro. The activity “Legislative Transparency” will discuss issues such as parliamentary ethics, innovation and parliamentary democratic prospects in the region.
Heads of state will arrive at Panama Pacifico airport, the former Howard USAF base, and taken to their hotels in Panama City. Meetings will be held at the ATLAPA Convention Center.
The meeting will involve parliamentarians from Mexico, Canada, Panama, Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, Ecuador, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Canada, among others. Pope Francis is sending the Vatican Secretary of State to the meeting in a move that many see as an attempt to bridge the gap and resolves some of the differences between the US and Venezuela. Panama has its own issues with Venezuela and Colombia. Players to watch are of course US President Barack Obama and Cuban Raul Castro. Panama created a stir when they decided to invite both the US and Cuba to the Summit putting Obama and Castro on the same stage. Since then, with the blessings and encouragement of the Pope, Obama has taken the historic step of attempting to reestablish relationships with one of the closest neighbors of the US. But Cuba is apparently siding with its ally Venezuela and Nicolas Maduro. And what about Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his plan to give away much of his country to China for a much-questioned Nicaraguan canal?
It should prove a very interesting Summit with fireworks lighting up the Panama City sky in celebration … and maybe some fireworks behind the scenes as well.
Once heads of state arrive at Howard airport there will be a brief ceremony including an honor guard, the beating of drums, the presentation of folorico ensemble and a greeting by the vice-chancellor of Foreign Affairs, Luis Miguel Hincapie. More than 1,200 agents of the Institutional Protection Service have been trained for the summit and include explosives personnel, sharp shooters, hostage negotiators, and chemical and nuclear weapons experts.
For a really fascinating overview of how Panama sees and presents itself, and all the details about putting on a Summit, as well as who pays for what, and whether laundry and Internet is included for visiting heads of state, you REALLY want to read the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Operations Manual VII Summit of the Americas, Panama 2015