The day I met the president of Panama

It’s not every day you get to shake the hand of a president.

And considering the throng of those interested in a few seconds with Panamian president Ricardo Martinelli today I was lucky. Here is Mr Martinelli showing his Italian heritage with some effective arm gestures during a speech today.

Martnelli_hands.JPGThe occasion was the official announcement of the latest expansion of Panama City’s Tocumen International Airport. This is a big deal for Panama which is building up a reputation as a transportation node that is not simply notable for having a famous waterway.

Now Martinelli is a gregarious chap as far as I could see and his ease with people helps explain why he swept to victory in Panama’s elections in May with a majority of someone told me 60% of the popular vote.

I was at Tocumen by accident really as I am visiting Panama’s Copa Airlines and Tocumen airport officials on my way to the ALTA Airline Leaders Forum in Cartagena this week.

It just so happened the announcement of Tocumen’s expansion was today – so I went with Copa CEO Pedro Heilbron to witness proceedings at first hand.

Flores.JPGThe event started with airport general director Rafael Flores (left) telling us about the expansion plan. That will see another pier being built adding 12 gates. This will give the airport 34 gates altogether. It should be finished in 15 months or so and will cost some $60 million.

This will position Tocumen very nicely with plenty of capacity for Copa to grow into and you never know even welcome a few other carriers.

Mr Martinelli, with one eye on tourism, was keen to encourage international carriers to serve Panama.

He particularly nudged Copa to think about serving Rome. Remember Mr Martinelli’s Italian heritage.




After the formalities the party made for a specially prepared area where the new North Pier will connect with the existing terminal.

But not on foot for Mr Martinelli for he spied the electric cart that Vice President Juan Carlos Varela was using. Now Varela wasn’t being lazy: the poor chap had injured his foot tumbling down some steps after a late night press briefing and was on crutches.

Mr Martinelli jumped into the driving seat and escorted his number 2 to the next stop.

golf cart antics.JPG

Bemused travellers watched as a procession that included woman dressed in ethnic dress, a band, plus a crowd of press, moved to the unveiling.


After pulling the rope on a visual that showed what the new pier will look like Mr Martinelli grabbed the mike and dived into the press scrum to take questions.


This kind of thing takes a long time so I grabbed a snap of Pedro Heilbron (right) with Copa chairman and prominent Panamian business figure Stanley Motta. The Motta family founded Copa and still holds a significant interest in the publically quoted carrier.


Now that was a fun day out in Panama!


Some links:

Airline Business cover interview with Pedro Heilbron.

Airline Business citation for Pedro Heilbron’s 2009 Airline Strategy Award.


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