tv This Is America With Dennis Wholey PBS January 15, 2012 10:00am-10:30am EST
>> our guest is mario jaramillo, ambassador of panama to the united states and former chairman of the panamanian association of business executives and vice chairman of the national council of private enterprise. mr. ambassador, thank you for being with us. >> thank you for having me here. >> the agreement recently signed between panama and the united states, what does it mean? >> the first thing it means is that with the 300 votes we got, which is the first time in history of the united states
that a treaty gets 300 votes, i think it means a lot for panama, for the united states and for the whole world. for panama, it makes it clear what the importance of our country to the united states for the world. for the world, it makes it clear that everybody wants to better world trade. and the united states, they get together after other things, the two political parties could get together on something invoked, 300 congressman for the treaty. >> what is at the heart of the economy of panama? is it services, agriculture or? what is at the heart of it? >> it is service. we are not and agricultural country. we are mostly services. our canal is one of them. our country is close to $1 billion a year to the
government. we have tourism, banking and of the maritime sector. >> americans always when they think of panama, they know about the canal and there is a big project going on right now. talk a bit about the panama canal -- spain had the dream, france tried it and the united states did it. is that right? >> exactly. the panama canal is now going through an expansion, what is really a second canal, with an investment of $5 billion. we will be able to accommodate ships that carry up to 12,000 containers. right now the ships can carry up to 4,000 containers.
these ships are called post- panamax ships. about 80% of the ships being built now are those and they will be able to go to the canal and will be a big help for world commerce to be able to carry on these big ships and make for better distribution. >> we're talking about going from one ocean to another and going through the canal. years and years ago, this word "isthmus"-- in the old days, they headed by foot, horses, donkeys and then they built a railroad and then they came along with the idea of the canal. how long is it from one ocean to the other? how many miles is that? >> it takes about eight hours. >> to go through one of the
locks, go through the lake can come up the other side? >> right. you can drive from the atlantic side to the pacific side in one day. when the americans first opened the canal, they had a slogan which i think the environmental sector may not like -- dividing the land, uniting of the world. that is what it was. it made it so much easier to unite the world and make a better logistically than ever before. >> so it's about 50 miles across? >> yes. it's an area of about 800 square kilometers. >> panama has always been key to trade. the whole spanish idea was to
get cold from one place and get it moving across panama and back to europe? >> right. the portobello trade fairs, we were that. now it's even better. the canal turned over to panama in 1999. we were able to get the most out of those areas, more airports, more facilities that its services to the ships. it is a completely different vision than when the americans had it. initially it was to get ships across and now it is protected and we can take a lot of those areas and to more services and everything in order to have more commercial.
>> panama as a huge trading hub. >> the american troops and administration, to take some of those bases which are airports and new technology, to make more ports and airports and now we are a big hub not only with the ships, airplanes, trains and trucks, but with technology. we were the first country to have wifi throughout the country and we have hotel servers. they are full, especially after 9/11.
>> we are talking with the ambassador from the republic of panama to the united states. his name is mario jaramillo. we're going to take a break and be back on the other side. >> "this is america" is made possible by the national education association, the nation's largest advocate for children and public education. the american federation of teachers, a union of professionals. the singapore tourism board -- there's something for everyone. singapore airlines, a great way to fly. poongsan corporation, forging a
higher global standard. the ctc foundation. afo communications. the rotondaro family trust. >> if anybody is taking notes, it was 1904 through 1914 that the canal was built. the united states controlled until 1999 and now they turn it back over to the authority of the government. >> it is not politically correct to say -- the mission was different. now it is from all lot different. >> what does it cost to take a
ship through the canal? >> about $250,000. now is three times that for the bigger ones. >> it could be $750,000 because of the number of containers. the americans had another division. it's not that we raise tolls, but we changed -- they were made when there were ships that prepared grain and it was not built for containers. they were just charging for the ship going through. but the panamanian administration did a redesign to where you pay for the cargo.
that is why the incumbent a lot higher. >> so now they are charging by the tonnage. let's talk about some of the basics. what is the population of panama. >> 3 million. and 2 million tourists. >> many tourists from the united states, i would imagine. >> the tourists go for days and the residential tourists, they buy a house and retire there. probably 200,000 from that u.s. >> 200,000 from canada? what is the ethnic makeup of the country? >> we have low indigenous compared to other countries in central america.
it is a mix of spanish and african background that came to build a canal. >> and the chinese came. >> the chinese came. >> the language is spanish -- is english also used as well? >> spanish, but a lot of english. we did it 10 years ago a lot promoting call centers. then we found out we did not have that many people and had to stop the call center. a lot of english or spanish, it was like first level english for tourists. >> the capital city -- what is it to the north and what is to the south? >> colombia and costa rica.
we will be the first country in the history of the world to have seized more than 100 tons of cocaine -- we're the country with highest economic growth and we have the money to do that. since we did that, we are doing great and most of the consumption is here. since we did that, the traffickers are going to other places. they are entrepreneurs so now costa rica and honduras and other places -- costa rica for regional security, they can go from columbia -- to panama.
we stopped them from going there. >> you said twice in the last sentence or so, you alluded to panama as a fast-growing economy. the fastest? >> we grew 8% last year and we're going to grow 11% this year. then three more points -- that is guaranteed. >> is it spain and has the most historical impact on modern-day culture? is that a fair thing to say? for 300 years it was under spain. would you say that's the predominant cultural influence? what is there about the culture that you can tell us? what are the characteristics of the people? >> they say the characteristic i would say is outgoing, and --
>> a good a sense of humor? >> yes. >> the spanish, i say this -- in latin music, even the sad songs are happy. >> i don't want to get too deep into that. we inherited the education system from spain. we have a bad education program because the spanish teach you how to follow orders. now we need somebody to be creative and now we change and to our whole thing on the education system. the education system -- we have never had inflation because we have all of these people coming from outside. we have been a country of zero
inflation. >> no. 4 -- a very low unemployment rate. how do you deal -- i want to talk about social challenges. i there's a good one on that can answer you. we have some differences between rich and poor. >> poverty is big -- class -- what we did a few years ago -- >> [unintelligible] all of those projects that came
out, no matter what government is in power will be financed with 35% income from the new canal. a country with so much growth and so much difference that we get another chavez like venezuela. >> you want to take people who are in poverty and bring them up? >> yes. in poverty and the money from the state and the city -- because of the difference between rich and poor and because they live too far away from where everything is happening. >> talk about if you would -- what would you say is the relationship between that united states and panama? i want to say good, bad and a so-so. going back to 1903 when the united states engineered
independence from colombia through the late '60s, through the late '80s, and then the invasion by the united states -- now democracy, a thriving democracy. their relationship has been good, bad and a so-so. >> right now it is very good. very good in all respects. in trade, politically, what we are doing on security because of the demand for drugs in the united states. >> you have alluded to that twice. we are the consumers. >> definitely. >> isn't that sad? >> that's difficult. the united states have shown us that they feel they owe us this. they have shown us what they're doing and they're working on projects for prevention and the new way of saying say no to
drugs. that is hard to solve because there is so much involved. >> if people are unhappy and out of work and feel oppressed. if people are living in poverty, if people are uneducated and have a sense of hopelessness, they will resort to try to kill the pain. >>also, there is a way through real-estate and insurance -- if you can stop the way that money can get out, that would better -- a lot of it has to do with arms. it is a lot of things involved, but controlling the demand
would be the solution -- there are so many opinions because -- it's hard. >> panama had some dark days. that comes into my mind because recently noriega was in prison in miami and france and now back. will that change the complexion of anything? he is 70 some years old and he is there in prison -- does that have any effect? >> not at all. >> how do people look at him today? >> as a criminal and narco trafficker. a you person who goes back to jail for having killed a lot of people. nobody is worried about that. >> you have a president today,
what are his goals and ambitions? i know the expansion of the canal is a huge one but what else is on his pocket there? >> he is a socially-oriented person, which is good. when i met senator mccain, who was born in panama, by the way, we were explaining to him and his staffers of the programs and said we're building the first metro in latin america. i said what does that have to do with social because most of the labor in panama has to wake up at about 4:00 in the morning to wake up at 8:00 because of the transportation system and then get back and they don't spend any time with their kids, so, with this metro, it is going to end. people can get to work on time. >> the metro is a huge and the
expansion of the canal. >> all kinds of social, like raising $100 per month for everyone over 70, raising policeman salary, building a lot of hospitals. a lot of social work which we can't do now that we have this great economic growth. >> your background, you were the chairman -- don't be modest about this -- you were picked out of 92 people to be the head of this group that tried to bring people together, the national coalition for development. >> unanimously -- was the word that you used? >> unanimous.
the idea was to try to bring the people together and talk about the problems and see what needed to be done? >> based on the of millennium goals and the projects, to measure in this area, after they get out of school, 80% don't comprehend what they read. we want to lower that 80% to 40%. 10% of the children died before they were 1 years old. everything has to be measured because -- >> you were also the chair of the panamanian association of business executives. you are a businessman. as ambassador here, is one of the things you put as a priority to seek investment in panama by u.s. companies?
>> yes. i have been doing it for many years. we are doing it now as a matter of fact. in the new treaty, it allows what is called retail sales of different services like department stores. that could not be done only by panamanians. now a lot of the u.s. stores like wal-mart will be able to open. we are going to become like the miami for latin america. more people who come to panama shopping like they already do. we can farm all year round in our country because of the temperature. a lot of the american chain stores will also farm in panama
to export to some of the other stores. i have been doing this work for foreign investment. an average of 1.4 billion a year. >> we are at the end of our time, ambassador. i want to thank you for coming on and educating us. but i also want to leave you with 30 seconds or so -- what one thing which you like people to take away from our conversation that they should know about panama? >> right now in the last 80 years, more than 200,000 americans have picked panama to retire. the same figure with canadians and europeans. we are the security and panama is very good, is no problem with security right now in
panama. we also have a big fight against drugs with great results. we have been the first country in the world to seize more than 100 tons of cocaine in the last 12 months. we are the country with the highest economic sustainable growth in the world and we have taken care of the social problems between rich and poor and social inequities. we have continued progress, not only economically, socially. >> good to have you here. >> for information about my new book and online video for all "this is america" programs, visit our web site. thisisamerica.net. >> "this is america" is made