Panama's Foreign Minister, Janaina Tewaney Mencomo, 38, believes that relations between her country and Europe need to be relaunched, a plan in which Spain is key.
"We have come with the purpose of strengthening intimate and endearing relationships," she stated in Madrid on March 16.
The foreign minister, who has been in office since October last year after two years serving as Minister of Government, made this trip before the start of the Ibero-American Summit, which is being held this Friday and Saturday in Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic).
What position does Panama have regarding the invasion of Russia in the Ukraine?
The Panama Canal, based on international law, must remain neutral;
it must have its passage open without interruption.
It has always been like this: since it existed, when there has been some kind of conflict, the Canal has never closed.
Despite this, Panama is not neutral and we have raised our voices against any invasion or aggression.
The responsibility is very great.
Have you sent aid to Ukraine?
Each country has its strength, its mission and its potential.
The best support that Panama can give Ukraine is its effort to promote dialogue and end the conflict.
We welcome any attempt at peace.
Does the tension between China and the US affect you?
The commercial exchange between China and the United States benefits the Panama Canal.
Its increase contributes to the route;
its deterioration would affect it, since our relationship with the globalized world is close and direct.
We maintain constructive relationships with all countries, and while China is a relevant and global player, we understand that our relationship with the United States is unique, intimate, and special.
Has the activity of the Canal declined?
The Panama Canal maintains record levels of exchange.
Obviously, the pandemic affected it, but now the global dynamics are fascinating.
Suddenly, the transport of gas and hydrogen has increased on the route;
the Canal has not lost relevance, quite the contrary.
In addition, we are constantly modernizing: by 2030 we plan for the Canal to be carbon neutral.
Not only are we a very desirable route, but we also save emissions for the entire world.
What do you expect from the Ibero-American Summit?
This summit is very timely.
Although Europe's relations with Latin America are symbiotic and based on a historical exchange;
a relaunch is necessary.
More now that global dynamics are completely different from what we were used to [before Russia's invasion of Ukraine and after the pandemic], it is more necessary to deepen that intimate relationship between the two continents.
What role does Spain play?
Spain has been and is a great support for us;
a very organic interlocutor with the European Union.
Right now, the relationship is at its best.
One of the Spanish proposals for the summit is the promotion of a Charter of Digital Principles and Rights.
Digital disruption is a priority issue and very little regulated.
We are going through the fourth industrial revolution, which implies a change due to the impact of technology on our lives.
It is something that is essential to regulate in terms of human rights, but also access, opportunities and protection of democracies.
In this area, as in many others, Europe has made enviable advances in human rights and organisation.
Recently, there have been several accidents in buses that transported migrants in your country, what happens with migration and with the passage of the Darién?
Panama is the only country that welcomes migrants and provides them with basic coverage, which is not granted by any other State for people in transit.
Last year, the country, which has the presence of 19 UN agencies, dedicated 50 million dollars (46.5 million euros) for their attention;
for a population that does not pay taxes in Panama and that does not stay there, because it goes to another place.
The investment does not matter because human life is priceless and priceless.
But we must regulate migration through the Darién.
Last year, 240,000 people passed through this sacred, ancestral, protected and dangerous jungle.
For this year it is projected that there will be 400,000.
Something must be done not only because of the human consequences, but also because of the significant environmental damage that this transit generates in the ecosystem.
Panama is very committed to the environment.
Even more now that we have just managed to protect our oceans: 54% of our marine surface has been shielded, levels that no other country has achieved.
Panama, with four million inhabitants, is holding elections in 2024. Is the environment polarized?
Our country has definitely started a pre-electoral process, although I tell you that Panama has been characterized as a balanced country.
We must manage our democracies with a new governance in which inclusion is key.
In this way, society is not polarized.
And if it polarized, we could reach a meeting point.
Inequity is a challenge facing our continent.
In Panama, the greatest inequalities occur in our indigenous territories;
the president, and this government, understand that this poverty also has the face of a woman;
especially indigenous women.
We are a country with a high income, and yet, with a lot of social inequality.
As a Government, that is our challenge.
How are you tackling it?
With the support of the UN, we created the Bicentennial Pact a few years ago, a model of citizen governance.
Through a platform called Ágora, citizens can participate, tell what they aspired to and how they saw the problems in their country.
We have also worked with participatory budget models in which the investment in a project, or part of its development, was decided by the citizens.
Only with the empowerment of the territory, of the local authorities and organizations, will we be able to develop a strategy as a country.
Doctrines cannot be sent from the top down;
the mandate comes from the bottom up.
On the other hand, I am obsessed with using foreign policy for local development.
In this matter, international support, especially from Spain and the EU, has been essential.
Do you work for a feminist government?
I would like to tell you with great pride that this government, that of President Laurentino Cortizo [of the center-left Democratic Revolutionary Party], has marked out a feminist route, which is going to be very difficult to reverse and which it is going to be up to women to defend .
I am going to give you several examples: the Women's Ministry has just been created;
It is the first time in the history of Panama where there is such a presence of women in the Cabinet, both ministers and vice ministers;
and in the Supreme Court we have a female majority, something that has never happened before.
There are experts who talk about Latin America being in turmoil, do you agree?
More than convulsed, the region is going through a reorganization, where countries are regrouped with a similar ideology.
We should understand that the difficulties we face in Latin America are collective and that we have to function and work as a continent.
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