Panama Canal

The Panama Canal. (AP)


LatAmFocus: What's on the Economic Agenda for Panama's Next President?

By Ragnhild Melzi

As an unpredictable May 5 election nears, INDESA’s Felipe Chapman tells AS/COA’s Randy Melzi the next government faces a series of “fixable” problems.

Just a few months ago, former President Ricardo Martinelli (2009–2014) was the frontrunner in the race to win back his old position in Panama’s May 5 elections. But a money laundering conviction led to the elimination of his candidacy. Now, eight rivals—including Martinelli’s stand-in, ex-Foreign Minister José Raúl Mulinoface each other in an uncertain race. And with no runoff, a candidate can win just by getting the largest piece of the voter pie. That victor will face challenges such as the future of the mining sector, water scarcity’s impact on the Panama Canal, and the sustainability of national finances.

Felipe Chapman

“The interesting thing is that nobody is denying or ignoring the major problems that we face,” said Felipe Chapman, chairman and managing partner of economic and financial advisory firm INDESA and former chairman and CEO of Panama’s Stock Exchange. “And nobody’s actually anti-system.” But differences exist between the candidates. As Chapman said: “What are the fiscal plans? What are the economic plans? And who is going to be in the team that’s going to be with that president?”

With these issues in mind, Chapman spoke with AS/COA Vice President Randy Melzi about how the next government can build on the country’s “economic success story.” One topic the government will need to resolve? The unclear fate of First Quantum’s Cobre Panama mine, which became the focal point of massive protests last year. But Chapman noted that Panama’s economic future doesn’t depend on the mine. “Even if the mine doesn't operate going forward, we are expecting an acceleration of economic growth,” Chapman said.

A bigger worry, he told Melzi, is making sure the Panama Canal can continue to operate at capacity, not to mention take advantage of other opportunities. “If you don't have the resources of the Canal, Houston, we have a real problem,” he said.

This is the third episode in our special series focused on 2024 elections in Latin America. The first explored Nayib Bukele’s global reach, while the second looked at Mexico’s youth vote. Get additional coverage in our 2024 Election Guide.

Latin America in Focus Podcast

Subscribe to Latin America in Focus, AS/COA's podcast focusing on the latest trends in politics, economics, and culture throughout the Americas.

This episode was produced by Executive Producer Luisa Leme. Text by Chase Harrison, who co-produced the episode. Carin Zissis is the host.

The music in this podcast was "Cadenza con pajarillo,” performed by Eddy Marcano & Trío Acústico for Americas Society. Find out about upcoming concerts at:

Send us feedback at: 

Opinions expressed in this podcast do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Society/Council of the Americas or its members.