19 July 2011

Latin Singapore = Panama + Edu + Transparency

The Economist spotlights Panama's geography, politics, society, and economy in A Singapore for Central America?
"Latin America’s fastest-growing country has set its sights high. First it needs a government as impressive as its economy. [...] In one of the poorest parts of the Americas, somebody seems to have misplaced a chunk of Manhattan. The 50-storey skyscrapers of Panama City jut out of the jungle like nowhere else in low-rise Central America. Panama’s smart banks, open economy and long queues of boats at its ports have caused many to compare it to Singapore, another steamy success story. Panama’s president, Ricardo Martinelli, made his country’s first state visit there in 2010 and later said, “We copy a lot from Singapore and we need to copy more.” [...] Panama will soon overtake Costa Rica and Venezuela in GDP per head. Accounting for purchasing power, it is one of the five richest countries in mainland Latin America. [But] the “Latin Singapore” remains deeply un-Singaporean in two more ways. One is education, where Panama’s spending has not yielded good results. [...] More serious are weak institutions. Singapore is reckoned one of the world’s least corrupt countries. Panama, in contrast, is not even the cleanest in Central America, according to Transparency International, a pressure group. [Punchline?] The biggest long-term worry is that the Panama Canal Authority, an autonomous state agency admired for its efficient operation, could be captured by the government and run as a short-term cash-cow. Pemex, Mexico’s creaking state-owned oil monopoly, is sometimes cited as a cautionary tale. Unless Panama cleans up its government, it runs the risk of becoming the next Mexico rather than the next Singapore."
Well now! I'd love to see Panama wear its rightful laurels as a top Latin entrepôt -- and to be more connected and engaged with neighbors Costa Rica and Colombia and beyond. Will the leadership do what it takes to be First World instead of Third?

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