Martin Torrijos of Panama inherited a basket case four years ago when he was elected president of Panama, with the ratio of national debt at 76 percent of the economy, unemployment at nearly 40 percent and a social security system on the brink of bankruptcy.
Today, as he nears the end of his five-year presidency, Mr. Torrijos has overturned all of those gloomy statistics. The leader of the center-left Democratic Revolutionary Party reversed Panama’s decline with conservative economic policies that Ronald Reagan would have liked.
“As I approach the end of my administration, I can proudly say that a great deal has been accomplished and that our strategy has worked,” Mr. Torrijos told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington this week.
He cut government spending, fought corruption, promoted international trade and created jobs - which reduced poverty, increased government tax revenue and saved the pension system. He said his government also kept the expansion of the Panama Canal on schedule and under budget.
“Although I don’t like to dwell on past problems, looking back four years ago, our administration faced an enormous challenge,” he said. “I’m not exaggerating.”
Now the national debt stands at 47 percent of the gross domestic product. Unemployment dropped to what he called a “historic low” of 6.3 percent. The economy grew by 11.2 percent last year. The expansion of the Panama Canal is expected to enrich Panama by $6 billion by 2025, nearly triple the current revenue raised on shipping through the passage.
Mr. Torrijos also used his address to promote the U.S.-Panama Free Trade Agreement, now stalled in Congress by Democratic opposition.
“We view globalization as a challenge, rather than as a threat,” he said. “We believe in trade.”
The new U.S. ambassador to Honduras is due to present his diplomatic credentials Friday to President Manuel Zelaya, who refused to accept his documents at a scheduled ceremony last week in what he said was a show of “solidarity” with anti-American governments in Bolivia and Venezuela.
Ambassador Hugo Llorens met Tuesday with Foreign Minister Edmundo Orellana Mercado to arrange for the meeting with Mr. Zelaya.
“I’m very happy. We had a very amicable meeting,” Mr. Llorens told reporters in the capital, Tegucigalpa.
Mr. Zelaya delayed the ceremony last week after Bolivian President Evo Morales expelled U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg, claiming he was undermining his government, and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez kicked out U.S. Ambassador Patrick Duddy to show support for his Bolivian ally.
Mr. Chavez recalled his ambassador, Bernardo Alvarez, and the State Department expelled Bolivian Ambassador Gustavo Guzman.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy sent President Bush a letter expressing “profound and heartfelt solidarity” with the United States on the “somber anniversary” of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
He praised the “courage, strength and determination” of the people of New York in their response to the destruction of the World Trade Center and loss of nearly 3,000 lives.
Their actions “remain a standard for all in the world who share in the values of freedom and democracy,” he said in the letter released by the Italian Embassy.
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