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Panama’s President: flying low

Thursday, December 1, 2011

WHAT President Ricardo Martinelli's popularity is plummeting, as Panamanians express their anger over allegations of large-scale bribery in his administration.

WHY Judicial authorities in Panama and Italy are investigating alleged bribery in a $333 million dollar Panamanian purchase of helicopters and other equipment, made by Italian state-owned Finmeccanica, following an agreement last year by Martinelli and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

WHAT NEXT Martinelli got high marks from the public during the first two years of his administration, as investment poured into the country to finance canal expansion and other infrastructure projects, as well as a booming real estate market. At the same time, widespread poverty means that many people resent perceived abuses, which serve only to widen the gap between rich and poor (the contamination last week for the second time this year of much of capital's drinking water did additional damage to the President's image). If the Finmeccanica scandal extends to him personally, Martinelli can almost certainly forget about a second term - assuming he can get around constitutional obstacles to re election - or even helping to elect a pliant successor, who would continue his policies.

For more information, please contact Esteban Alvarez at [email protected]