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Martin Torrijos Unveils Ambitious Plan to Expand Panama Canal Business if Elected

If he wins the May 5 elections, former Panamanian President Martín Torrijos intends to expand the Panama Canal’s business beyond merely crossing ships, to generate more income for the Central American country and create jobs, he said in an interview with AFP.

At 60 years old, Martín Torrijos governed between 2004 and 2009. This is the first time he has aspired to re-election, in a country that prohibits it for two consecutive terms.

According to polls, he ranks second in preference among the eight candidates, tied with opposition lawyer Ricardo Lombana, and behind right-wing candidate José Raúl Mulino, who replaced the disqualified former President Ricardo Martinelli.

His main plan is to expand the canal’s basin, through which 6% of world maritime trade circulates, through the development of a logistics industry that adds value to the cargo passing through the interoceanic waterway.

To that end, he wants to build highways that connect ports and airports to facilitate the transport of goods around the canal, on whose banks he intends to install new companies.

“The geographical position is our greatest asset, the development of the country is linked to logistics capacity, the canal that today only crosses cargo and passes ships, [we want it to] become the canal that generates new business opportunities for Panamanians,” he said.

“It is practically equivalent to developing another canal,” added the former president, after a walk on Saturday with supporters through Nuevo Tocumen, a peripheral neighborhood of Panama City. “We have potential.”

The Panama Canal, 80 kilometers long, connects the Pacific Ocean with the Atlantic. Its main users are the United States, China, Japan and South Korea.

The main business of the waterway is container transport, although the transport of liquefied natural gas between Asia and the United States has gained prominence. The canal contributes an annual average of 6% of Panama’s GDP and at least 20% of government revenue.

“On the banks of the canal, companies can be established for data centers, development zones can be created, with a highway that goes to the border with Costa Rica […], we have the potential to be the most important logistics hub in the Americas and that is what we have to focus on in the coming years,” he said.

The Panama Canal faces a crisis due to lack of rainfall, which has forced a reduction in ship transit. Therefore, Torrijos considers it necessary to “expand the basin” of the waterway to obtain new water resources. “Difficult not to do anything.”

Martín Torrijos is the son of General Omar Torrijos, who in 1977 signed with then U.S. President Jimmy Carter the treaties that allowed the handover of the canal to Panama at the end of 1999.

A year ago, he broke with the PRD, the ruling social democratic party founded by his father, and set out to seek the presidency with the support of disillusioned ruling party members, independents and a small Christian Democrat-oriented group.

“After making an analysis and seeing the conditions of the country, it was really difficult not to do anything, it was not an option not to try to fix it, it was a decision of conscience,” he said.

The presidential contest is open after the favorite, former President Martinelli (2009-2014), was disqualified. Martinelli remains in asylum at the Nicaraguan embassy to avoid a prison sentence for money laundering.

Martinelli “has a legal problem with Panama and he has to face his problem in Panama,” Torrijos said. “Neither China nor the US”. On international matters, he promised not to take sides with any of the great powers.

“Panama has its own personality, of course, we do understand the level of tensions in the relationship between China and the United States, but we are Panama, neither China nor the United States,” Torrijos declared, echoing his father’s phrase “neither with the left nor with the right.”

He said that his country must be “above ideology” and play a role as mediator and facilitator of Latin American integration. “Panama has to play its role again, have an international presence with our own characteristics, with our own vision of the world and contribute to bringing goals closer,” he added.

However, he also pointed out: “We have a relationship with China and we have to try to take advantage of it for the benefit of Panama.”

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