President Juan Carlos Varela of Panama visited Washington, DC this week, where he presented development-focused proposals for dealing with security challenges in Central America that differed sharply from the enforcement-centric approach proposed by the administration of US President Donald Trump days earlier.
Panama's former President Ricardo Martinelli has been arrested in Miami and may now be extradited to face multiple criminal charges in his home country, at time when the future of US-Central America cooperation in fighting impunity remains uncertain.
Deceased Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega was said to have turned his country into one of the most emblematic examples of a "narco-state" in Latin American history, and his dealings with Colombia's biggest drug bosses laid the groundwork for Panama's role in the global drug trade for decades after his 1989 arrest by US troops. We explore why Panama remains a drug trafficking haven for the successors of the Colombian criminals that Noriega helped make rich.
Panama may be moving away from a softer approach to its gang problem toward a more firm-handed and potentially violent strategy resembling those of its Northern Triangle neighbors, at a time when the sophistication of local criminal groups could make such confrontation with the state significantly more dangerous.