William & Mary Law School Welcomes Panamanian Ambassador| February 23, 2010
On January 14, Jaime Alemán Healey, Panama’s ambassador to the United States, gave a lecture at William & Mary Law School about the development of democracy in Panama over the last 20 years. The lecture was sponsored by the Human Security Law Program.
Alemán began his comments on a personal note. He told the audience that his appointment as ambassador to the U.S. had special meaning for him because he had moved to this country with his family when his father held the same diplomatic post. “I always wanted to go back to Washington and follow in my father’s footsteps,” Alemán said.
His lecture presented a first-hand perspective on Panama’s evolution from military dictatorship, which ended in 1989 with the United States invasion and arrest of dictator Manuel Noriega, to eventual democracy. The 1984 presidential election was among the milestones, he noted. Although the election was manipulated by the military, “it was a first step forward for democracy.”
Since the 1989 U.S. intervention, Panama has evolved into a democracy without the election riots that have plagued other Central American countries, the ambassador said. He added that Panama’s citizens are engaged in politics—about 78% of the population votes—and elections are run very efficiently. Alemán said his country has a “vibrant democracy,” with universal health care, free education and subsidized housing.
Commenting on the recent arrest of former president Ernesto Perez Balladares on charges related to money laundering, Alemán remarked that “it shows the strength of our democracy that a former president has been indicted for corruption.” He said the country’s current president was elected with more than 60% of the vote, in part because people were fed up with officials using their offices for private gain.
Alemán noted that Panama still faces challenges in continuing to root out corruption, especially in the judicial system, but said that Panamanians are focused on “moving forward and making progress.” He added, “We are very proud of what we have been able to achieve in the past 20 years and we work diligently every day to build a better country for our children.”