09 de Dic de 2022


A Day of Great Expectations!

The world is more dangerous than ever, and an international depression is in the wings. So, on President-elect Obama’s Inaugural day, wi...

The world is more dangerous than ever, and an international depression is in the wings. So, on President-elect Obama’s Inaugural day, with all of these worries, why is my heart and mind singing the spiritual “Oh, Happy Day”?

OK, I’ll fess up?I’m a ‘softie’. Despite, having reached my sixties and experiencing some curmudgeonly moments, I am an unabashed optimist. And, at noon today, the new American President, who is to politics what Muhammad Ali , is to boxing, or Jackie Robinson was to baseball, will officially become the 44th President of the United States. Oh, happy day!

“Oh, Happy Day, when Jesus washed?” Yes, today, America made a start on washing its sins away. Oh happy day! Yet, we know this gifted man cannot walk on water, cannot turn toxic loans into assets, and most of all, he cannot meet all of the world’s expectation of his success. But he’s making a good start. And, let him catch all the flowers thrown his way today? the pots will follow, tomorrow.

Here in Panama, Obama’s Inauguration is being carefully followed by our new lady ambassadors from two of the largest free countries in the world, Canada and the United States. The Honorable Canadian Ambassador Patricia Langan-Torrell , and American Ambassador Barbara Stephenson have much on their respective plates that can give Panamanians a brighter future. Add to that the upcoming Panamanian elections, and we have a 2009 filled with opportunity and promise.

Both ambassadors represent new administrations in their home countries. Both have been very proactive in showing their desire to work in partnership with Panama. And, both have inherited a free-trade mandate that will change Panama, forever. It is all but certain that the Free Trade Agreement to be worked out will be much better than the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) worked out almost two decades ago between Canada, the United States, and Mexico.

The upcoming agreement will build upon the recently-enacted free trade deal between the United States and Peru. A deal that Congressional insiders tell me was ‘mid-wifed’ by House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She and other House members worked tirelessly to insert real sanctions into the trade deal to give it teeth in protecting workers’ rights and the environment. The lack of enforcement power is a well-known failing of NAFTA.

We are also fortunate that our two new ambassadors are Foreign Service careerists and not political appointees rewarded for raising cash or for their friendship with the administration.

The Best Ambassador to Panama?

The best Panama I can remember was Jack Hood Vaughn , a career civil servant, who’s posting overlapped my own career as an Army Medic in the early ‘60s. I’ll always remember him as the boxer who stared down President Kennedy.

Jack was the U.S. Ambassador to Panama (1964-66) and Colombia, in 1966, the second Director of the Peace Corps, the president of Planned Parenthood, and, the director of the foreign language programs of Sesame Street. He was Montana-born, a Golden Gloves boxer, and a company commander in the Marines.

Jack lives in Tucson, Arizona and at 83 is as spry and active as ever. His card says it all, "Writer, consultant, environmentalist, and more things than you can shake a stick at."

I remember Vaughn as an athletic, straight-talking, idealist who loved meeting people. He had an independent streak that rankled many of his fellow snobbish Ambassador ‘helplings’ It is said that President Kennedy didn’t like Vaughn’s mustache and told him to shave it off if he wanted to head the Peace Corps. Jack refused and got the job, anyhow.

So, how do I compare our new American Ambassador Barbara Stephenson with Jack?

Personally, it’s too early to make any fair comparisons, but, I do think she is doing pretty well, so far. At least she isn’t going around making speeches in Panama decrying Panama’s ‘culture of corruption’ (as was the wont of her predecessor. Panama corruption is like shoplifting, compared to U. S. corruption, a Wall Street and Main Street institution. I appreciated seeing Ambassador Stephenson at the Veterans Day services along with the Canadian and British Ambassador. This was the right gesture to make. By supporting Panamanian and American residents at these kinds of grass-roots events, the Ambassador is showing she wants to create a true partnership with all residents