This post is also available in: Spanish
By Jacob Ehrler
The two words Why Panama combined must be one of the most-repeated catch phrases in English-language writing on the isthmus. Here is yet another take.
Metro Secretary Roberto Roy shared an anecdote with a group of British businesspeople gathered at The Bristol Hotel earlier this year: “We have been in the logistics business since Vasco Nuñez de Balboa first crossed Panama to see the Southern Sea [Pacific Ocean] in the name of the King of Spain 500 years ago. We are looking forward to another 500 successful years.”
To a certain degree, this has been true since the isthmus rose to part the oceans. Ancient societies used the isthmus as a place to meet, gather, trade and celebrate eons before the world would meet here in a modern context. The Great Liberator Bolivar had the same idea, that Panama would be the seat of La Gran Colombia, the northern block of South American nations that would have used Panama as its strategically-located capital.
Welcoming to foreigners
Property ownership and many business opportunities are enjoyed equally among nationals and foreigners, creating a steady influx of those who make Panama a true melting pot. Its banks are also replete, due to a perfect parlay of a dollar-based economy, welcoming legislation and constant political and economic disruptions throughout Latin America that provide a constant entry of monied immigrants.
Corazon of the Caribbean
Panama is also at the heart of the Caribbean, with its Colón Free Zone on the Atlantic side, the largest free zone after Hong Kong, and serving a market of 300 million people. Panama has long been a rich country due to its strategic global position. Contadora Island, where the Shah of Iran spent the latter years of his life, gets its name from the word “accountant,” as this was the spot where the Spanish counted the gold and silver harvested from the Incan Empire before its journey to the King’s coffers.
Today, 13 years after Panama took over its canal from US occupation, the country has burst, thrust and re-wired its way through an intense growth spurt. Copa Airlines has built the Hub of the Americas at the Tocumen International Airport. Today it serves six million passengers yearly around the Americas and the Caribbean. Projections extend this figure to 18 million in coming decades. Expansion plans of Tocumen, S.A. for the country’s main international airport are both idealist and precise.
The Panama Metro is President Martinelli’s signature project. Each government historically leaves public works as proof of its good management of the nation. His achievement is complemented, rather than overshadowed by the $5.25 billion-dollar canal expansion project that will allow for passage of post-Panamax mega-ships carrying beyond double the capacity of the ships that presently fit through the interoceanic waterway. It opens in April 2015.
Future’s so bright
The future of Panama is looking very bright. Tourism is one of the new dreams of the nation, and is still “under construction.” Growth in hotel rooms has reflected the spurting booms in real estate construction of late. The best is yet to come as the canal inauguration makes headlines worldwide and helps to revive economies on the eastern seaboard of the United States and speed things up in Europe as well.
Whatever government wins the May 2014 elections is by default party to the construction of the world class Amador Convention Center on the Pacific banks of the Panama Canal next to Panama City, the shimmering new-world metropolis whose essence is often compared to Dubai and Singapore.
In a post-9/11 world where South American travelers have reduced access to visas permitting travel to Miami, the former mecca for Latin Americans, Panama is emerging as the destination for shopping, business and a growing convention tourism market. Panama is the safest country in Latin America and is opening its doors to the world.
National air connectivity
Air Panama’s expansion to its fleet with two Boeing 737s is aligned with the Civil Aeronautic Authority’s expansion with new air strips in strategically-located tourist areas. These include the recently-refurbished Enrique Adolfo Jiménez Airport International Airport in Colón on the Caribbean side to serve the business community and cruise ship passengers at the Colón 2000 Home Port. Expansion also took place at Enrique Malek International Airport in David, Chiriquí to allow jets to land.
Sun-seekers will soon be able to land direct at the beach with the soon-to-open Scarlet Martinez International Airport in Rio Hato at the epicenter of Pacific beach resort developments. Another leading Panamanian tourism destination, Bocas del Toro is served by a specially-selected fleet of Fokker jets. And just across the canal from Panama City, in the London & Regional project Panama Pacifico, the Howard Afb Airport was also reactivated in recent years.
A brisk exit from the national market in 2012 by the Central American airline Aeroperlas, part of the El Salvador-based Grupo Taca [now united under Colombia’s Avianca], solidified the position of Air Panama as the country’s “other national airline.” Analysts suggest that history may be repackaging itself in the fact that the early years of Copa reflect the present operations of Air Panama in solidifying its base with national aero connectivity.
Air Panama’s hub is located at the Marcos A. Gelabert International Airport in Albrook, in the former US Canal Zone. This permitted the construction of Grupo Roble’s flagship MultiPlaza Pacific Mall on the site of the former Paitilla International Airport, now snugged between the towers of Punta Pacifica and the San Francisco district, where a large plot currently houses Panama’s present-day meeting space, the ATLAPA Convention Center.
Connection via Air Panama between Albrook and Tocumen, at opposite end of the metropolis, allows for movement of passengers to and from their destinations inside and outside of Panama.
Praise from the press
The New York Times is hip to the Panama trend, having rated it the #1 tourism destination for 2012. This month alone the daily has featured three reports about Panama – features ranging from a fantastic real estate offer in Casco Antiguo to the “End of Narnia” islands in the far-reaching independent Indigenous Territories.
VIP guest list
Panama would have hosted US Vice President Joseph Biden on a September visit related to his visits to US ports including Baltimore if he had not been distracted by action threatened by the US in Syria. In Baltimore Biden delivered $10 million of the $30 million dollar Tiger Grant to be spent on transportation improvements to facilitate the larger ships and more expected cargo due to the canal widening. Projects include more rail links, improving road access and continual dredging of the Chesapeake Bay.
Now, Panama awaits a visit by King Juan Carlos of Spain in mid-October to open the Ibero-American Summit of Heads of State and Government. His Excellency’s visit to the isthmus coincides with the celebration of his Patriarchy’s 500 years of well-marked presence in the territory.