Conservative supermarket tycoon Ricardo Martinelli resoundingly won Panama’s presidential election Sunday with more than 60% of the vote. Already Martinelli is pushing for a free trade deal with the United States. Heritage fellow Ray Walser puts the victory in context:
The Martinelli victory breaks the Latin Left’s 2009 electoral winning streak of Venezuela, El Salvador, and Ecuador. The average voter in Panama is betting on a dynamic and productive relationship with the U.S. and has demonstrated confidence in continued strong ties between the two nations. It is incumbent on the Obama Administration to reach out quickly to President-elect Martinelli in order to develop an agenda of close cooperation and mutual benefit. Specifically, the Obama Administration should do the following:
- Establish a timetable for submitting the 2009 Trade Agenda agreement for Congressional approval;
- Act quickly to strengthen regional law enforcement and counter-drug cooperation with Panama and make sure that Panama receives its full share of Merida Initiative funding; and
- Embrace President-elect Martinelli’s interest in combating corruption and strengthening the effectiveness of government institutions by working with Panama on rule of law and anti-corruption measures.
Panama is an important U.S. ally in the Americas. President-elect Martinelli’s victory now offers the opportunity to strengthen this relationship—to the benefit of both countries.