Ricardo Martinelli, the multimillionaire owner of a supermarket chain, was inaugurated as president of Panama on Wednesday. National Assembly President Jose Luis Varela performed the swearing-in and placed the presidential sash on Martinelli, a pro-business conservative who in May defeated a candidate from the ruling center-left party.
The citizens of Panama want things to be done differently, Varela said at the inauguration. An attitude of change starts today. In his first speech as president, Martinelli promised a smaller government budget but raises for public workers.
Public safety, an issue that the outgoing administration of Martin Torrijos struggled to maintain, will be a priority, Martinelli said. Our prisons will be rehabilitation centers, not schools for criminals, he said.
Martinelli promised invest a billion US dollars in a metropolitan rail system to modernize Panama City and create jobs. Panama is currently involved in the expansion of the Canal which is scheduled to be concluded by 2014 and has created over 5.000 construction jobs.
“We are celebrating 20 years of uninterrupted democratic system and values” said Martinelli in direct reference to the ousting by US invading forces of former military strongman Noriega.
Martinelli also promised Panama will work closely with Mexico and Colombia to combat drug trafficking in the region. Both conservative presidents, Alvaro Uribe and Felipe Calderón participated of the inauguration ceremonies.
The incoming president considers these two countries as essential partners for Panama both in trade and investment terms.
Among the dignitaries at the inauguration was deposed Honduran President Jose Manuel Zelaya, Mario Funes from El Salvador, Oscar Arias from Costa Rica and Ma Ying-jeou from Taiwan.
The son of Italian immigrants, Martinelli, 57, is a self-made businessman who is chairman of the Super 99 supermarket chain, one of the largest private companies in Panama.
The US-educated president previously served as minister and chairman of the board of directors of the Panama Canal Authority and formerly was director of social security for Panama, according to his Web site.
Martinelli won the presidency with 60% of the votes in a race against ruling-party candidate Balbina Herrera.
Although under outgoing president Martin Torrijos the Panamanian expanded sustainedly and poverty was cut considerably, still 30% of the population figure in that category and 13% in extreme poverty.
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