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Former Panamanian president Dr. Nicolás Ardito Barletta speaks to students about Panama’s role in Latin America. The Huntsman Program hosted him.

Photo: Petra Phang / The Daily Pennsylvanian

While Panama is well known for the Panama Canal, the country also has the fastest growing economy in Latin America.

Former Panamanian president Dr. Nicolás Ardito Barletta attracted nearly 200 students to a Huntsman Hall classroom Wednesday night. The current Director of the Executive Board of the Bank Superintendence of Panama briefed the students on the Panamanian economy and its role in the increasingly globalized world economy.

Not only is the country connected to the rest of the world through the Panama Canal, Dr. Barletta said, but Panama is also an open trade economy that focuses on service markets. He explained that it has such a stable and prosperous economy because its currency is pegged to the dollar.

He explained that the Bank Superintendence performs close surveillance of the 91 local banks so something like the recent financial crisis does not occur.

Dr. Barletta, who was president in the mid-1980s, negotiated the details of the 1977 Panama Canal Treaty. He is now involved in a canal expansion project expected to be complete in 2014. Cargo ships will be able to carry 12,600 cargo boxes as opposed to the existing 4,500. The new locks will be able to recycle 65 percent of water.

Although Panama’s economy grew 9.5 percent in the last year, it has a 28 percent poverty rate. The Panama Canal expansion project will create employment but officials are still seeking social policies that will not hinder Panamanian growth.

“We need to be careful and cautious of international situations,” Barletta said. This is especially true since “we’re living in a globalized economy where integrated markets … and increasing trade in Latin America are part of the economic future.”

Alex Hercot, a freshman in the Huntsman Program , came because “it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to get the insight from such an eminent figure.”

Wharton freshman Bastien Lacassagne said “it was the speaker that drew me to the topic.” And for students studying finance, “it was a great presentation,” he said.

Huntsman sophomore Benjamin Charbonnel was very impressed by Barletta’s successful career and admired how well Barletta dealt with difficult questions.

Huntsman sophomore and Panamanian native Julio Arías brought Barletta, current Panamanian ambassador to the United States Mario Jaramillo and the Panamanian consul Georgia Athanafópolof to Penn.

“Wharton is a great venue to expose Panama and what it has to offer,” Arías said.

In the past, Arías has brought other figures like former ambassador Jamie Alemán and will be bringing the Administrator of the Panama Canal, Alberto Alemán Zubieta, to the 2012 Wharton Latin America Conference.

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