In 1989, during the Carter Center's first election monitoring mission, a delegation led by President Carter declared the Panamanian presidential elections fraudulent, marking both the start of a new era in that nation's democracy and the launch of the Center's pioneering role in global election observation for decades to come.
In January 1989, Panamanian officials asked the Carter Center's Council of Presidents and Prime Ministers of the Americas to monitor the voting process for elections to be held on May 7, 1989. Gen. Manuel Noriega was confident of victory, but when it became clear that his candidates had lost badly, he nullified the results. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter denounced the election as fraudulent and encouraged the Organization of American States to mediate a solution. Eventually, Noriega was ousted by U.S. troops. This election was the first election observation mission undertaken by The Carter Center.
In May 1994, Carter Center observers were invited back to Panama to witness the presidential elections and help with an orderly transition. Unlike the 1989 election described above, President Carter praised the 1994 elections as "a model of organization," citing excellence in "training of officials, performance of party observers, and knowledge of voters about the procedures to be followed."
President-elect Pérez Balladares requested assistance from The Carter Center for a national dialogue, sponsored by the U. N. Development Program, to help forge a consensus on a national agenda. This was the first Panamanian experience with an orderly transfer of political power after a democratic election.
In 2014, The Carter Center sent three small, high-level delegations of staff and members of the Friends of the Inter-American Democratic Charter to assess the sociopolitical conditions of the May 4 electoral process, which included a closely fought presidential contest. The March delegation included President Carter, who served as a witness of honor to the candidates' Ethical Electoral Pact. The program later issued a public statement recommending greater transparency in campaign finances and media access, and better control over the use of state resources and partisan involvement by governmental authorities. It encouraged the government and key players to consider reforms that would make the process more equitable.
In January 2015, a delegation from the Center traveled to Panama City for the inauguration of the National Commission on Electoral Reform. The commission's job is to assess the electoral process and propose electoral reform, and the delegation met with commission members to discuss ways the Center can provide assistance during the process. The Carter Center is recognized by the Electoral Tribunal as one of the two international institutions providing advice to the commission.
The Carter Center's Council of Presidents and Prime Ministers of the Americas was a group of current and former heads of government from the Western Hemisphere who united to promote democracy and the peaceful resolution of the region's conflicts. Former Panama Presidents Ernesto Pérez Balladares and Nicholas Ardito-Barletta were members.
Former Panamanian President Nicolas Ardito-Barletta was among leaders from across the hemisphere who came to The Carter Center May 4-5, 1999, to evaluate specific anti-corruption efforts and seek commitments from other governments to implement similar strategies in their own countries. The gathering was part of a multiyear initiative of The Carter Center and its Council of Presidents and Prime Ministers of the Americas to work with governments and civil society in the Americas to develop concrete strategies for fighting corruption and ensuring transparency in government transactions. Transparency can improve investor confidence, spur economic growth, provide better public services to the population, and increase public confidence in democratic institutions.
President Carter led a 29-member U.S. delegation to the 1999 official ceremony handing over the Panama Canal to Panama, ending almost 100 years of U.S. administration of the canal. At the Miraflores Locks, where the canal meets the Pacific Ocean, with Panama President Mireya Moscoso, President Carter – who had negotiated the transfer treaty while in office in 1977 – called it a "historic occasion, perhaps one of the most significant that has ever occurred in this hemisphere. A new relationship now begins between your country and mine. Today we come together with a spirit of mutual respect, acknowledging without question the complete sovereignty of Panama over this region."
Although Latin America spends relatively less on defense than most other regions, expenditures on expensive weapons systems divert scarce foreign exchange from more effective investments, including education. They also compel neighbors to spend more on defense and, by doing so, generate international tensions. Concerned about an arms race in Latin America, the Carter Center's Council of Presidents and Prime Ministers of the Americas urged governments in the region to pause before embarking on major arms purchases. Between April 1997 and March 1998, 28 current and 14 former heads of government signed a written pledge to accept a moratorium of two years on purchasing sophisticated weapons. Among the signatories was Panama President Ernesto Pérez Balladares.
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Size: 75,420 square kilometers
Population: 3,657,024 (2015 est.)
Population below poverty line: 26 percent
Life expectancy: 78 years
Ethnic groups: Mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white), Native American (Ngabe, Kuna, Embera, Bugle, other, unspecified), black or African descent, mulatto, white
Religions: Roman Catholic, Protestant
Languages: Spanish (official), indigenous languages (including Ngabere (or Guaymi), Buglere, Kuna, Embera, Wounaan, Naso (or Teribe), and Bri Bri), Panamanian English Creole (also known as Guari Guari and Colon Creole), English, Chinese (Yue and Hakka), Arabic, French Creole, other (Yiddish, Hebrew, Korean, Japanese)
Source: U.S. Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook 2016