News / Americas

Panama's President-elect Plans Price Controls on Basic Foods

Juan Carlos Varela of the Panamenista Party (PP) shakes hands with supporters during his first public presentation as the elected president of Panama outside the Virgin of Carmen church in Panama City, May 5, 2014.
Juan Carlos Varela of the Panamenista Party (PP) shakes hands with supporters during his first public presentation as the elected president of Panama outside the Virgin of Carmen church in Panama City, May 5, 2014.
Reuters
Panama's president-elect will impose price controls on a range of basic foods to dampen rising costs, a step that will hit his bitter rival, outgoing president and supermarket tycoon Ricardo Martinelli.

Juan Carlos Varela, the Panamenista Party (PP) leader and winner of Sunday's election, told Reuters he is clear what his first policy will be when he takes office on July 1.

"Establish emergency price controls on 22 products in the basic basket to lower the cost of living by more than $600 million for the Panamanian people and avoid speculation in products," he said.

The measure would apply to basic foods such as rice, cheese and meat, Varela said, adding that huge profit margins were being put on basic foodstuffs.

"We feel that this is very unfair for the people," Varela, a 50-year-old U.S.-trained engineer whose family owns Panama's largest liquor company, said in an interview.

Martinelli, who Varela helped to win election in 2009 before the two fell out acrimoniously, owns one of Panama's largest supermarket chains. When asked if the controls would apply to Martinelli's stores, Varela said: "Without a doubt."

Panama's constitution gives the president power to intervene on prices, but Varela could quickly find himself at odds with Congress, where he and his allies won barely 20 percent of seats, according to a preliminary count from the elections.

At up to $624 per month, the minimum wage in Panama is high, but the country has a large informal economy and the cost of food has been running higher than overall consumer prices.

Annual inflation was trending lower last year and dipped further in 2014 to hit 3.3 percent in March. Food and drink prices have bucked that trend, and were up 5.1 percent on the year in March, up half a percentage point from December.

More Infrastructure

Varela won the presidential election with 39 percent support after he and his center-right alliance ran a campaign claiming credit for many of Martinelli's successful economic policies.

He has vowed to continue his rival's infrastructure spending and social programs, but in a more transparent way.

"I'm not going to raise taxes, my taxes are going to be on corruption," Varela said.

Panama's economy has grown at an average clip of 8.2 percent under Martinelli, one of the fastest rates in Latin America.

Varela said he expects it to post growth of around 6 percent on average during his five-year term.

Debt became an issue in the election as the public works boom and handouts for those outside the social security system have slowed the country's ability to pay it down.

Although debt has fallen, the strong growth has not led to significant fiscal consolidation, ratings agency Fitch says.

"We will use our cash flow to confront the debt, pay our creditors and also take on more debt and keep investing in the works that the Panamanian people need," Varela said.

During his term, he said Panama would invest more than $15 billion, mostly in big infrastructure projects such as at least two further metro lines in Panama City and social programs.

Although Panama's famous canal brings the government around $1 billion a year in revenue, the constitution prohibits politicians getting too involved in its administration.

Varela must, however, oversee a major expansion of the canal. Work was briefly suspended earlier this year by a dispute with the canal authorities and the building consortium.

Work ground to a halt again last month due to a nationwide strike over pay, raising more questions about the finish date.

Varela said he would seek to resolve the dispute when he takes office but declined to say whether the expansion would be completed by the current deadline of December 2015.

You May Like

Photogallery Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa More

Multimedia Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

Refugees receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed More

India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals puts it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Polls: Opposition Has Slight Lead in Brazil Presidential Runoff

However, business-favorite candidate Aecio Neves is struggling to retain momentum that gave him a slight advantage over Dilma Rousseff in recent polls
More

Photogallery Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa
More

Video Miami Woman Serves as Guardian to Children of Immigrants

In 2013, administration deported 240,000 undocumented immigrants, many leaving behind children born in US; Nora Sandigo has helped nearly 1,000 of them
More

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Researcher says converting Latinas see Islam as positive; 'Koran becomes this guidebook that tells you exactly what to wear, what to eat, how to wash, how to behave, when to pray”
More

Hurricane Gonzalo Pummels Bermuda

Hurricane scores direct hit Friday night into Saturday, but causes no deaths and only minor injuries
More

Thousands March in Mexico Over Feared Student Massacre

Protesters in Acapulco demand answers about fate of 43 missing trainee teachers, who authorities fear were killed by police in league with gang members
More