Los Islotes Hosts Panama’s President Varela

Last week Los Islotes sponsored a lunch for Panama’s President Varela and his entire cabinet at the mayor’s office in Mariato, the capital town of the district where Los Islotes is located. The president and his team were in Mariato for an official state visit that appears to be a launching point for improving services and infrastructure along our Azuero Sunset Coast.

Los Islotes is honored to have been the only developer in the region invited to participate in this very special and first-of-its-kind event in this part of this country. I sat with President Varela for lunch and met privately with several of his ministers, including his minister of tourism.

People came from far and wide across the district to be in Mariato for the day, and the scene was chaos. Hundreds were lined up along the road south of Mariato hoping for rides into town. The hundreds who made it into town weren’t disappointed. President Varela spent a good hour in the street speaking with people and shaking hands, while a government band played at a makeshift bandstand next to the mayor’s office.

As the largest active developer along this part of the coast and really the only one that has made an effort to support the municipality, the mayor invited us to sponsor lunch for the day. It was an offer we couldn’t turn down, so Gary Moseley, Gary’s wife Karen, and Gary’s team went to work organizing everything from chairs and tables to a caterer and flower arrangements. Gary even donated flowers to the school across the street from the mayor’s office where the president was to make his official speech for the visit so that everyone could put on the best possible showing.

The president arrived in a fleet of black Ford Explorers and was immediately surrounded. Everyone wanted to shake his hand but also to put something in his hands. People were giving him envelopes and folders all presumably containing some request or data for a project they wanted his support for.

We watched the scene from the second-story balcony. Lunch was scheduled for 1 p.m., but it was after 2 p.m. before the president was able to make it to the mayor’s office. We’d prepared lunch for 75 people, but maybe twice that many crowded into the room. Gary was worried about the integrity of the floor!

Eventually we were able to clear out the room save for the 75 who were meant to be there for the lunch. I was able to speak personally with the president and give a short speech for the room describing what we’re doing at Los Islotes, our work in the community, and some of our needs in the region.

Kathleen was able to take the obligatory photo of me with the president before he left to go give his speech at the school across the street.

Lief and President Varela

Lief and President Varela

Gary and I were able to speak with maybe a dozen high-level officials, including the minister of tourism, the diputado (Senator) for our area, the director of AMPYME (the Small and Medium Sized Business Authority), and the director of ANAM (the Environmental Agency).

Every government official we spoke with referenced the same talking points. We’re all on the same page. They know as well as we what’s needed in the area. They spoke about following through on the road improvement plan that was approved several years ago, and they spoke of the critical need for three-phase electricity in the region. I spoke with President Varela about this specifically. His response was, “Union Fenosa is on it.”

The minister of tourism brought up the idea of building a road at the bottom of the peninsula to connect the two sides creating a ring road that would allow tourists to enter the peninsula on one side and loop around to the other side without having to drive back up to the Pan-American highway…a Ring of Kerry for the Azuero Peninsula.

The ministers also talked about healthcare and education. In fact, the mayor received a project book from the government that outlined a hospital for Mariato.

While we generally take government talk and infrastructure promises with a grain of salt, the effort put forth to bring all the pertinent ministers and department heads to Mariato so they could see what needs to be done for themselves and meet with local officials and developers like Los Islotes in person indicates that this government is serious about making improvements along this coastline.

It makes sense from a political perspective. The president was very strongly supported in this area, and the mayor and the diputado are from the same president’s party. Further, Mariato is a region where this government can make its mark and have a serious impact, generating dramatically increased tourism dollars. In fact, the minister of tourism expressed interest in following up with us on particular projects.

We’ll see what actually gets done, but I think it’s fair to say that the Azuero Sunset Coast is on this government’s radar…to the delight of all of us who’ve already invested here.

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