In May 2019, Panamanians elected a new president, Laurentino “Nito” Cortizo. Time will tell what the new president will accomplish, but such a change is an exciting opportunity for the country.
Cortizo beat his competitors with support from his party, The PRD, winning 33 percent of the vote. Throughout much of the election, Cortizo was far ahead of his competition in most polls. Yet, the final ballot counts ended up making it a much closer race than anticipated. In the end, Cortizo finished only two points ahead of the other frontrunner, Romulo Roux.
Want to know all about Cortizo and his initial plans for the country? Read on as we catch you up on the facts! From there, you can form your own opinions and projections about what these changes could mean for Panama.
Experience and Background
Cortizo was born in Panama but attended college in the United States. Here he studied both at Norwich University and the University of Texas in Austin.
After working for many years in Washington D.C., he returned to Panama.
In Panama, he was a member and eventually president of the National Assembly. Here he held the position of Minister of Agricultural and Livestock Development. In 2006, Cortizo resigned from his post as a minister. This was in protest over concessions made in the negotiations of the US-Panama Free Trade Agreement.
Cortizo has been married for 32 years and has two children and two grandchildren. He is a self-proclaimed aficionado of both soccer and football.
Nito Cortizo’s Campaign Platform
As a member of the centrist Democratic Revolutionary Change party, Cortizo rallied support with his promise to combat inequality. An issue that many citizens were concerned with.
Panama’s economy had seen growth over the past several years. Yet, the benefits of this growth were not equally distributed amongst all residents.
Panama’s economic boom has left the rich richer and the poor poorer. As a result, Panama continues to have one of the highest inequality rates in Latin America. This unequal distribution of wealth is especially evident in indigenous rural areas. As much as 86 percent of the population there is said to be living in poverty.
In his campaign, Cortizo promised to work tirelessly to rectify this inequality. He vowed to build a University of Panama campus in the impoverished comarca of Ngabe-Bugle. Along with several public institutions aimed at improving education, employment opportunities, health care, and public services in Ngabe-Bugle and other marginalized communities.
Cortizo also campaigned on a promise to rid Panama’s political system of widespread corruption. Panama’s old presidents, Juan Carlos Varela, and Ricardo Martinelli were both involved in corruption. Such allegations along with the Panama Papers and tax evasion by the hyper-wealthy have left many wary of politicians.
Cortizo aimed to build trust with the public by taking a firm stance on institutional corruption. He did so by proposing reforms such as the removal of the statute of limitations on corruption-related charges. He also promised to stop companies with alleged corrupt practices from receiving government contracts.
An uphill battle
These ideas may sound good on paper. But, Cortizo will face an uphill battle to convince the general public that he is different. Nonetheless, many applauded his transparency and ideas to improve Panama during the election.
Cortizo released a simplified list of 125 priority actions to improve Panama that he planned to execute. These prioritized actions were organized into four categories. All which focus around improving the government, legal systems, the economy, and combating poverty and inequality.
Cortizo also has a robust economic plan for Panama focused on continuing to spur growth. All while generating more jobs for Panamanians. He has proposed a learn-by-doing initiative that will support young people with job training. As well as an incentive for businesses to hire young workers and support them in developing marketable skills.
As far as investments go, Cortizo plans to invest in science, innovation, and technology. With the aim to bring total investments in these areas up to 1 percent of the total GDP by 2024.
Additionally, Cortizo has big plans for construction and infrastructure across the country. His plan includes proposals to build up to 100 bridges across the country to improve accessibility.
Within the capital, Cortizo wants to improve the quality of roads and add infrastructure for the Metrobus. All these initiatives aim to tackle two issues. Improving Panama’s infrastructure, and generating jobs across the country as these new projects come to fruition.
Looking Toward the Future
Although Cortizo won the election, he only earned votes from one-third of Panamanians. His ability to gain support from a wider swath of Panama’s population will depend on his ability to hold promises. Given recent corruption allegations and widespread discontent, the public are feeling disillusioned with government p[olotics altogether.
There is hope that Cortizo is the leader who will be able to make Panama a just and prosperous nation for all. But, only time will tell if he will be able to rebuild the Panamanian faith in government by fulfilling his many promises. We’ll have to wait to find out!