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Panama: Government Alliance Breaks

The governing period of Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli has been turbulent. The president of the republic and founder of the CD (Cambio Democrático, or Democratic Change) party came to power with 60% of votes (a historic event for Panama) in an alliance of opposing parties while also receiving strong backing from the traditional Panameñista party, also known as the Arnulfismo party.

The “Alliance for Change,” the name given to the joining of four parties, intended to reach the 2014 elections in which the current Vice-President Juan Carlos Varela would run as the presidential candidate. But true to his volatile and indecisive style, Ricardo Martinelli changed course a few months ago, stating that his party (CD) would run with its own candidate and if the Arnulfismo wanted Juan Carlos Varela to run with the Alliance, there should be inter-party primaries. The president would later retract his words, attributing it to a “light burn,” a term used in Panama to refer to infidelity between couples.

Citizens and the press watched the breakdown of the Alliance for Change in a series of events that reached its climax when registration opened up for the pro-government party this past weekend. The nation’s president reiterated that they would run with their own candidate, as he announced through his Twitter account (@rmartinelli):

Cambio Democrático ira con candidato propio a presidente en el 2014. Si hubiera una alianza se escogeria en una primaria interpartidaria

Cambio Democrático will run with its own presidential candidate in 2014. If there is to be an alliance it would be chosen in inter-party primaries.

Juan Carlos Varela, from OEA-OAS on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Members of the Arnulfista party said they would also run with their own candidate but decided to maintain the alliance for governing. Nonetheless, yesterday afternoon the president called for Juan Carlos Varela to step down as Secretary of International Relations, a position he has held since coming to office 26 months ago. El Panamá América [es] reported:

El pedido a Varela es a título personal y no significa el rompimiento de la alianza de gobierno. El comunicado de la presidencia advierte que  ”Varela descuidó su función de Canciller por tener 4 sombreros, canciller, vicepresidente, presidente de un partido y candidato”.

This was a personal request made to Varela and does not mean the governmental alliance has broken. The president’s report warns that “Varela failed in his role of Chancellor because he was playing four different roles: Chancellor, vice-president, party president, and candidate.”

The reactions on Twitter didn’t take long to appear. The hashtag #siyofueravarela [es] (if I were Varela) was created almost immediately, where Panamanians commented on what they would do if they were the dismissed chancellor. Manuel A. Perez, (@ManuaPerez), for example, wrote:

#siyofueravarela dejaria que el loco me destituya pa que el pais veaa que esto es solo un capricho politico y no una alianza

#ifiwerevarela I would let that fanatic dismiss me so that the country would see that this is just a political whim and not an alliance.

Hermes Ramirez (@TotoPunx) also commented on the issue referring to the principal opposition party PRD [Democratic Revolutionary Party]:

#SiYoFueraVarela me uno al #PRD y demuestro que aun existe gente de palabra en Panama, y que los sucios no llegan a ningun lado #Martinelli

#Ifiwerevarela I would join the #PRD and show that there are still people of their word in Panama and that people that play dirty don’t get anywhere #Martinelli

Juan Carlos Varela (@Jc_Varela) himself began a series of messages on Twitter. He first clarified that the President had not yet personally requested that he step down:

En este momento el Presidente de la Repulica , no me ha solicitado personalmente la renuncia a mi cargo de Canciller.

At this time the President of the Republic has not personally requested that I step down from my role as Chancellor

He later noted in a series of Tweets:

El tiene la facultad de destituirme como Canciller de la Republica.

He has the ability to dismiss me as Chancellor of the Republic.

Soy respetuoso de las opiniones de el Presidente, pero sera en su momento el pueblo el que juzgara mi actuacion como Canciller.

I respect the President’s opinions but it will be up to the people to judge my work as Chancellor at the appropriate time.

He would later allude to the controversial granting of a piece of property the past week as a possible cause for his dismissal.

Debo reconocer serias diferencias con el Presidente la última semana por el manejo de el terreno de Paitilla.

I must recognize serious differences with the President last week for the way he dealt with the land in Paitilla.

Panamanian blogger Joao Q writes on the topic in his blog Medio Cerrado [es], in which he points to Varela himself as being responsible for his dismissal, saying that Varela did not know how to value himself first as a presidential candidate and later as a vice-president.

El hecho de tener una alianza no significaba que Varela tenía que permitir tantos vilipendios. El solo hecho de que el Partido Panameñista fuera por primera vez en la “historia democrática” sin un candidato propio a las elecciones del 2009 ya era todo un escándalo y su alcahuetería, su silencio y su poca valentía (vuelvo y repito, por no decir otra cosa) lo han hecho merecedor al la destitución

Having an alliance did not mean that Varela had to allow himself to be so humilliated. The mere fact that the Panameñista Party was in “democratic history” for the first time without its own candidate for the 2009 elections was a real shock and his gossiping, his silence, and his lack of courage (I say it again to not say something else) caused him to bring about his own dismissal.

Varela assured in a press conference that that the governmental alliance had ended and promised to remain in his role as vice-president, but now as the opposition, which causes concern among Panamanians. The dismissal consequently also brought about a series of resignations from state secretaries and assistant secretaries of the Arnulfista party, as the La Prensa [es] newspaper informs:

“Creo que es claro: la alianza terminó”, dijo Varela a la prensa local a su salida de la sede del Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores -entidad que dirigió por 26 meses-, donde estuvo acompañado de los ministros Alberto Vallarino, de Economía y Finanzas; y Carlos Duboy, de Vivienda y Ordenamiento Territorial, funcionarios que presentaron su renuncia al cargo tras conocer de la destitución de su copartidario.

“I think it’s clear: the alliance has ended,” Varela told local press while leaving the Department of Foreign Relations headquarters-the organization he directed for 26 months-as he was accompanied by Alberto Vallarino, the Secretary of Economy and Finance, and Carlos Duboy, Secretary of Housing and Land Regulation, officers that had presented their resignations upon learning of the dismissal of their fellow party leader.

The Presidente (@rmartinelli) has not made any statements to the media but has only issued a few sentences on Twitter:

Lo que nos toca a todos es seguir trabajando MAS por un mejor Panamá. Paso la página.

What we all must do is work MORE towards a better Panama. The page has turned.

And later he posted:

Me he dado cuenta en estos dias que es cierto que la politica es el arte de hacer falsos amigos y verdaderos enemigos.

I have realized these past days that it is true that politics is the art of making false friends and true enemies.

The political situation undoubtedly continues to generate reactions and uncertainty over the repercussions that will follow this breaking of the alliance.

Erasmo Prado Rosas, in his blog Retrato del ser [es], sees an outcome that may reflect the sentiment of many Panamanians:

¡Gracias Sr. Presidente por dejarnos sumergidos en esta incertidumbre, en esta inestabilidad política, gubernamental y económica. Este país no es su hacienda privada, no es su supermercado, ni ninguna de sus cuentas millonarias. Recuerde siempre que este país no olvida y en algún momento usted pagará por todos estos malos ratos que nos hace pasar!

Thank you Mr. President for leaving us wallowing in this uncertainty, in this political, governmental, and economic instability. This country is not your private home, your grocery store, nor one of your millionaire bank accounts. Remember that this country never forgets and one day you will pay for all the bad things you’re putting us through!

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