THE ELECTION of Juan Carlos Varela in 2014 was seen by many as a harbinger of a “Panama Spring” after four years of authoritarian rule by Ricardo Martinelli a successful local oligarch who assumed, like President Donald Trump, that running a country was like running your own business.
The Martinelli era (2009-14) was a time when corruption soon topped that of previous administrations, and within days of taking office the man in a hurry had introduced direct contracting, sidestepping competitive bidding, in the interests of “getting things done.”fast.
It also opened the doors wide to increased corruption, cronyism and the power of an unelected inner circle of Martinelli business associates who were thrown the keys to the Aladdin’s cave of government contracts.
Over 40 of the thieves have since faced corruption investigation, and many have fled the country, including Martinelli and his two sons, who, along with some of the other exiles, are on Interpol’s red alert list.
The supporters of the former administration, cheer led by Martinelli’s former spin doctor, Eduardo Camacho have adopted the “political persecution”, mantra which is like condemning the farmer with a shotgun for taking aim at foxes raiding the chicken coop.
With the arrival of Varela, hope was in the air that the long era of incoming governments ignoring the misdemeanours of their predecessors was over, and the new leader was broadly welcomed.
Some of the spring optimism began to wain as the president was sometimes slow to take action when facing challenges and gained the image of a tortoise among political commentators cartoonists.
Other shadows were cast with The Panama Papers leaks involving advisers close to the administration, followed by the Odbebrecht scandal, as the government continued the long standing cozy relationship with the Brazilian construction giant, raising concerns among erstwhile supporters.
But the latest cloud over the presidency is ironically related to an attempt to be more open, by publishing on a website details of those who have benefitted from handouts from the anachronistic custom of discretionary payments from a taxpayer funded treasure chest.
But the site has also shown that, being in the current inner circle has its rewards additional to well paid sinecures.
There is a growing outcry among civil groups and the revelations have provided daily fodder for Martinelli owned media.
With parties already oiling the machinery for the next election, it may be time for the tortoise to realise that the opposition hares are not sleeping.