José Raúl Molino takes over as Panama president amidst major challenges

Panama City – José Raúl Molino took office as president of Panama on Monday with the challenge of controlling the migration crisis in the harsh Darién jungle and reviving the national economy.

“I swear to God and the country to faithfully abide by the Constitution and the laws of the Republic,” Molino, a 65-year-old lawyer, said as he took the oath before the new president of Congress, Dana Castaneda, who was then appointed. The white presidential sash is marked with blue and red.

During an event held at the Atlapa Convention Center on the Pacific Bay in the Panama capital, Molino received the presidential sash in front of several invited leaders from the region.

Molino, as one of his government’s first actions, plans to sign a memorandum of understanding with the United States to begin closing the border to Immigration From South America to North America.

Panama’s President-elect

Panamanian President-elect Jose Raul Molino greets the press as he arrives with his wife for the opening ceremony at the Atlapa Convention Center in Panama City, Monday, July 1, 2024.

AFP PHOTOS / Agustin Herrera

Migration crisis

The new Panamanian leader considers this migration flow, which has been ongoing for more than a decade and has increased dramatically in recent years, to be an “unbearable” humanitarian crisis that affects Panama’s environment and economy and leads to serious human rights violations of the people who migrate, many of whom are women and children.

More than half a million people used the route last year, most of them Venezuelans, followed by Ecuadorians, Colombians and Chinese. More than 190,000 have done so so far in 2024.

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The deal with the United States, whose immigration issue is gaining more prominence ahead of November elections, aims to help the North American country pay for flights from Panama to return migrants who cross the Darien River without documents.

The United States will indeed cooperate in Panama’s efforts, Foreign Minister Javier Martinez Acha said Sunday, but the amount of money needed to put the operation into effect has not yet been determined. This came at the end of Molino’s meeting with US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who is attending the inauguration.

“closing the lanes”

The plan also includes closing paths or routes that migrants use when traveling on foot through the forest.

“As a key issue on his agenda, Molyneux promised to end illegal immigration across the Darien Gap,” said Michael Shifter, an associate professor at Georgetown University in Washington. “The New president “He seems very committed to this idea.”

“But it will not be easy to implement this policy; conflicting groups and interests can be expected,” he added. “The important issue is the role of the United States in such an effort.”

“The United States should pay for the deportation flights,” Shifter added, referring more to the “repatriation” process.

Molino will be sworn in shortly after noon during an event at the Atlapa Convention Center on the Pacific Bay in the country’s capital in front of several invited leaders from the region, including the presidents of the two border countries, Colombia’s Gustavo Petro and Costa Rica’s Rodrigo Chavez.

The president-elect’s press office said Molino and Petro met before the inauguration and agreed to hold a meeting with the United States to address the migration crisis. No date has been set. The Colombian president, according to the report, indicated that if Venezuelan migration was stopped, the problem would be minimal.

A lawyer specializing in maritime law from Tulane University in New Orleans, Molino won the May 5 election with more than 30% of the vote promoted by the Achievement Goals party of former President Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014), who was unable to seek a second term because he was disqualified by the electoral court.

Molino faces other major challenges, such as rushing to promote a solution to a water crisis that is jeopardizing the future operation of the transoceanic canal, and completing the closure of a copper mine that sparked the largest protests in decades in Panama and which was shut down at the end of the year. In addition to impacting an economy that is set to contract in 2024, the past year has left the country vulnerable to major arbitration claims. “There’s a lot of uncertainty around” these issues, Shifter noted.

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fountain: With information from Agence France-Presse / AFP

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