Traveler Group Warns of Corruption and Business Risks to Americans
BLUE SPRINGS, Mo., Oct. 14, 2021 /PRNewswire/ - As travel restrictions start easing up, many Americans are renewing their passports and looking for their next escape. For those looking at Central America as a destination, Panama has recently relaxed its entry requirements due to a declining number of Covid-19 cases and increased vaccinations in the country.
The North American Travelers Association (NATA) is a collective of travel enthusiasts who have come together to create a resource that helps to guide outward-bound travelers, especially as thy venture back to destinations that may have shifted their rules, regulations or customs over the past few years. Its objective is to encourage people to travel freely and safely, exploring the world and everything that it has to offer.
Most recently, the NATA team has found that one of the greatest destination-shifts in terms of safety and security can be found in Central America. A popular pre-pandemic destination for Americans, Panama is not the friendly host that it once was.
Panama is the top receiver of foreign direct investment in Central America and had been one of the fast-growing economies in the Americas. The Ministry of Economy predicted a 4% growth in GDP in 2020 (up from 2019's 3%). However, the pandemic reversed the growth trend as government revenue plummeted while spending on unexpected expenditures increased, increasing borrowing. That's why a recent ease in travel entry aims to offer the now-struggling economy some relief, but reports indicate that the efforts to keep cash in the country have not always been above board.
Most famously, the Panama Papers, and the recent Pandora Papers, exposed the rogue offshore finance industry connecting well over 100 politicians and public officials to offshore holdings linked to corruption and illicit activity.
As a result of the Panama Papers, current President Laurentino Cortizo ran on a platform to fight against corruption. Two years into his term, little has changed. Since taking office, he has lost numerous cabinet members, including security, social development, housing, and health ministers, resulting from suspicion of corruption. During this time, he has made attempts at constitutional reform which led to significant public opposition and protests. In addition, he proclaimed public-private alliances as part of a cornerstone of his economic policy. These alliances led to mistrust both publicly and within his own party. (source: https://www.centralamerica.com/opinion/panama-president-first-year/)
In late August 2021, the Panama Chapter of Transparency International called out the Government of Panama to release Cabinet Council minutes, circumventing transparency laws. "We demand the immediate transparency of all documents related to public assets and resources of the State, in addition to once again urging the Comptroller General of the Republic and other control authorities to fulfill their role as a counterweight to the executive power," said Transparency International.
One specific story, widely publicized in Latin American press, tells of a businessperson who was enticed my Panama's apparently friendly policies to invest, and even to live part-time in the picturesque locale. The dream destination turned out to be a nightmare when his assets were frozen and he was forced to leave his country. To add insult to injury, Forbes has reported that his cars were not only confiscated, but have been used, or sold by local officials, all without any formal charges being raised. (source: https://www.forbes.com.mx/sin-orden-judicial-vehiculos-de-empresarios-mexicanos-en-panama/0)
While Panama may present itself as an enticing destination in photos, the NATA group warns that it isn't the only ones raising red flags about Panama. In fact, in the latest US Travel Advisory the US State Department listed Panama as "Level 4: Do Not Travel. Exercise increased caution due to crime. Some areas have increased risk." (source: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/panama-travel-advisory.html)
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SOURCE North American Travellers Association