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What Obama missed by skipping Panama in Latin America tour

Panama is investing $20 billion to boost itself as a global hub. President Ricardo Martinelli's vision provides a glimpse of the US's newest trade partner as a bilateral free trade agreement works its way through Washington.

President Martinelli has grand ambitions for Panama, including relocating traditional fishermen away from the Terraplen pier in Panama City in order to modernize it.


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Ricardo Martinelli is a supermarket tycoon. And as president of Panama, he is unapologetic about managing this nation as if it were another franchise in his Super 99 grocery chain.

President Martinelli wants Panama to be known as the next Miami as a shopping and airline hub; the next Chile for copper exports; the next Dubai as a business and real estate capital; the next Rotterdam as a shipping hub; and the next Singapore as a global logistics center.

"We are seeking our own path in the world, but we have to copy the good things that other countries have done, for example what Singapore has done and what the Dominican Republic has done in tourism," Martinelli told the Monitor following the recent investors conference, "Panama: Where the World Meets."

Martinelli's vision provides a glimpse of America's newest trade partner as a bilateral free trade agreement works its way through Washington – even if US political relations with Panama are not as cozy as they used to be. The choice of President Obama, during his first visit to Central America, to visit of El Salvador instead of other right-wing allies on the isthmus could be viewed as a snub to Panama, especially after leaked US cables labeled Martinelli a "threat to Panamanian democracy" for his "lack of commitment to the rule of law" and "his exaggerated presidentialism."


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