Former Minister Ricaurte Vásquez was appointed this Friday as the new administrator of the Panama Canal for the next seven years, a period in which priorities will increase the competitiveness of the interoceanic route and ensure the supply of water for its operation.
"It is going to be our responsibility to consolidate not only what has already been done, but to take it much further, not only through the Panama Canal, but especially through Panama", the 66-year-old economist said in an appearance.
Vásquez, who will take office on September 4 when the term of the current administrator, Jorge Luis Quijano, was sub-administrator of the channel between 2000 and 2004 and held various positions in public administration, including that of Minister of Economy and Finance in the government of Martín Torrijos (2004-2009).
The new administrator was chosen unanimously from a score of candidates by the board of directors of the Panama Canal Authority (PCA), which is composed of 11 members and by law is responsible for designating and removing the administrator.
This meeting generated great controversy because it had members appointed Tuesday night by Juan Carlos Varela, these being the vice president and chancellor, Isabel De Saint Malo; to the Minister of the Presidency, Jorge González; and the ambassador in the United States, Emanuel González Revilla, who must now receive the approval of the Parliament, which has an opposition majority.
The main opposition forces expressed their uneasiness over the designations and warned of the possible risks of "politicizing" the management of the Panama Canal, built by the United States at the beginning of the last century and transferred to Panama on December 31, 1999.
Ricaurte will be the third Panamanian to independently direct the canal and declared that "two extraordinary leaders, Alberto Alemán and Jorge Quijano, precede me. There is a much more difficult goal to fulfill at this moment, but in them we will find the inspiration to be able to move forward", admitted Vásquez.
Alemán had to "show the world" that Panamanians could efficiently manage the water route and Quijano had the opportunity to expand the canal "to continue occupying the space we have in world trade", he recalled.
The challenges ahead of the interoceanic route
In Vásquez's opinion, the challenges of this new stage are "more diffuse" and they happen to be a "reliable" route, for which it is necessary to maintain competitiveness and guarantee water.
"The insufficiency of water is not only a problem of the canal, but also of Panama", he admitted, referring to the problems of drought that the country has had in recent years.
The interoceanic road, which passes about 6% of world trade, operates with lock systems at different levels, which require 202,000 cubic meters of water each time a ship passes.
Designation of Ilya Espino, the tinmonel of the extension as the Subadministrator
Along with Vázquez, the board of directors also appointed Ilya Espino de Marotta as deputy administrator on Friday, who currently holds the Vice Presidency for Transit Business and is the woman who occupies the highest post in the history of the canal.
Espino de Marotta, who will assume the post in December when his predecessor, Manuel Benítez, retires, was also the main person in charge of the works of expansion of the canal, a project of more than 5,500 million dollars inaugurated in June 2016.
These are two appointments of utmost importance, since the canal is the most important company in the country. Last year had an income of more than 3,100 million dollars and delivered to the Panamanian treasury historical contributions of 1,703 million dollars.
Satisfaction in logistics and the economic sectors for designations
The new appointments have been very applauded not only in the guild, but also among public opinion, because they are two people with experience in the canal and with knowledge of the logistics sector, one of the pillars of the Panamanian economy.
For the economist Adolfo Quintero, "it is the best decision that has been taken" from the technical and administrative point of view, because both engineers have "a clear point of view" of what the canal needs.
In the same sense, the president of the Logistics Business Council (COEL), Enrique Clement, said in a statement to Acan-Efe that the new direction should focus on ensuring the water supply, but also on expanding the port capacity around route.