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Tuesday, November 20 2018 @ 01:54 PM UTC

Juan Carlos Varela - New President of the Panameñista Party

Politics Juan Carlos Varela was elected as the President of the Panameñista Party over the weekend in Santiago. During his swearing-in ceremony he announced he would present the party's position on the proposal to expand the Panama Canal on 29 September after having conducted a national survey of party members to get their feedback. The Panameñistas held a convention attended by more than 900 delegates at the Éxodo hotel in Santiago in the Province of Veraguas to elect and ratify the 15 members of the newly elected Board of Directors that were chosen on Saturday and led by Varela. National Assemblyman Francisco Alemán won the position of General Secretary of the party with 732 votes over ex-Minister of Health José Terán, who received 530 votes. The most notable part of the convention was the absence of the outgoing party president and candidate for re-election Marco Ameglio and the mystery candidate 19 year-old José Varela Beteta. "Ameglio sent a note excusing himself for his absence, but where is Varela Beteta?", Varela asked.

Editor's Comments: This election puts the finishing touches on efforts to bring the Panameñista party back from the political disaster known as Mireya Moscoso. In a fledgling democracy the hope is to see a steady progression of growth in the economy, personal freedoms, reductions in poverty and improvement in social programs, fiscal responsibility, and lowering corruption. So far the post-Noriega era has seen Endara, Balladares, Moscoso, and now Torrijos. The one consistent element in the history of Panameñista (Arnulfista) politics has been their ability to self-destruct from within.

Everyone was in agreement that Noriega had to go. All of the major political parties banded together to force his hand and elected Endara. In the next election the "opposition" parties broke apart, lost their mass and lost the election to Balladares. They learned their lesson and put together enough of a coalition to get Moscoso elected. Then in the most recent election Torrijos the Panameñistas (Arnuflistas) won the Presidency back for the PRD by beating a divided Arnulfista party once again. Endara ran on his name recognition under the Solidarity party flag, and Aleman was a distant third as the official Arnulfista party candidate. Ricardo Martinelli came in fourth as the candidate for the Cambio Democratico party which was mostly a vanity effort.

So, thanks to the general disgust resulting from the corruption of the Moscoso the Arnulfista party was left in ashes. Changing the name from "Arnulfista" to "Panameñista" wasn't just a slap in the face to Arnulfo's widow, it was a kick in the butt on the way out the door. The last time I saw Mireya Moscoso she was sitting down for lunch with Ernesto Balladares to demonstrate their joint support for the expansion of the canal.

Starting today, Juan Carlos Varela will emerge as the new leader of the Panameñista party and will be their candidate for President in the next elections in 2009. His task from now until the elections will be to rebuild a coalition with enough support to challenge the PRD. There's a strong chance that the PRD will put forward Ernesto Balladares for re-election in 2009 who would be eligible because by that time he will have sat out for 10 years.

Varela will have some serious challenges to overcome. Other parties that gained a little momentum in 2004 have merged into the Panamanian Union party but those guys are basically burning off left-over Endara juice. The smartest thing they could do is link up with the Panameñistas early (like today) to start to create momentum. But, they won't. They will hold back and try to keep their political capital in reserve in order to get as much as they can for the little support they can bring to the voting table. That would be a mistake.

Watch Varela closely for the next 20 months or so. Everything he does will be the execution of a political strategy to try to win the election in 2009. The referendum will be in 2006. The construction will start in 2007, but the canal expansion project will take at least ten years (two full presidential terms) to complete. In this case political power and influence in Panama means more than it ever has before - this project will create a whole new crop of millionaires. Panama will see more than $10 billion dollars in mega-project construction in the next ten years and most of that money will be spent here.

I'll make my prediction right now - Ernesto Balladares will win the next Panamanian presidential election in Panama. I base that prediction on the following;

  • Torrijos is doing a pretty good job, and he's relatively popular.
  • The referendum to expand the canal will pass.
  • The economy will continue to grow at a good-to-excellent clip.
  • In order to keep everyone happy, the sitting PRD government will continue to strengthen social programs, infrastructure spending, raise wages, and improve people's lives.
  • Balladares is an economist, and more than anything else the next election will be about money. The last one was about corruption.
  • Varela is on the outside and will have to run as the guy throwing stones at the PRD who will be in the catbird seat. Varela will run a good race but will probably lose.
  • The PRD still has a chance to slip-up, if they allow the growing perception of corruption to continue and take hold. The smartest thing the PRD could do (politically speaking) is to start hammering Arnulfistas who everyone already knows are corrupt as hell. Everyone is waiting for the Torrijos regime to jail someone that has ex-minister in his first name. Prosecutors, local politicians, and deputy-whatever's are simply not enough beef to keep the "zero corruption" machine running.

Balladares will win because he is both the "Devil you Know" as well as the "Steady Hand on the Helm." The donwside is he still has that "no visa" thing hanging over his head.

In the end of the day I don't have a vote anyway. I like to observe the political maneuvering because there's nothing funnier to watch than a politician at work. It's like an ant farm but with characters like Afu. Whatever. Good luck to Varela, and may he be the source of a thousand of interesting political points and counter-points in the next few years.

RENOVACIÓN. EL PARTIDO ESCOGIÓ A SU NUEVA JUNTA DIRECTIVA. Varela asume control del panameñismo Los candidatos a la presidencia, Marco Ameglio y José Varela Beteta, estuvieron ausentes del acto. El diputado Francisco Alemán venció al ex ministro de Salud José Terán en el cargo de secretario general. LA PRENSA/Víctor Arosemena CANAL. El recién electo presidente (Der.) anunciará la posición de su partido sobre la ampliación de la vía interoceánica el 29 de septiembre. 714574 Jean Marcel Chéry mchery@prensa.com Durante el acto de su proclamación como presidente del Partido Panameñista, el industrial del licor Juan Carlos Varela anunció ayer que dará a conocer la posición del colectivo sobre la propuesta de ampliación del Canal el 29 de septiembre, luego de realizar la consulta nacional a sus copartidarios. Más de 900 convencionales panameñistas se reunieron ayer en los predios del hotel Éxodo, en Santiago, Veraguas, para ratificar y proclamar a los 15 miembros de la nueva junta directiva electos el sábado, que encabeza Varela. El diputado Francisco Alemán ganó el cargo de secretario general del partido, con 732 votos, por encima del ex ministro de Salud José Terán, quien obtuvo 530 sufragios. Fue notoria la ausencia del presidente saliente y aspirante a la reelección, el ex legislador Marco Ameglio, y del otro candidato a la presidencia del partido, el joven de 19 años José Varela Beteta. "Ameglio mandó una nota excusándose por su ausencia, pero ¿dónde está Varela Beteta?", preguntó Varela.

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