On Thursday April 11th, President Ricardo Martinelli of the Republic of Panama spoke at Cornell. Officially, President Marinelli was supposed to talk about the importance of education as he has recently started a student exchange program with Cornell University. However, the President gave an entertaining and inspiring speech that focused mostly on his achievements in office as well as general lessons on success.
Before being elected to presidency, Ricardo Martinelli was a successful businessman. He established the “Super 99” grocery store in Panama, which grew to become one of the largest store chains in the country. However, he also wanted to influence politics. He eventually ran for president, where he received 60.3 percent of his countrymens' votes.
As a successful businessman, President Martinelli has much in common with traditional Republican Party values. “I wouldn’t hire any politicians to work for my stores. [And I] certainly wouldn’t hire any politicians to the run the country, telling businesses what to do.” Prior to running for office, President Martinelli believed that the government, through its overburdening control, was diminishing Panama’s ability to be economically successful. The only way to change this, according to Martinelli, was to enter politics and enact his own policies.
While in office, President Martinelli has lowered the personal income taxes for all individuals, as well as corporate taxes, to stimulate economic growth. Furthermore, the President remains focused on eliminating government corruption and limited regulatory effects on the economy. He has also signed free-trade agreements and agreed to global taxation laws to eliminate tax shelters in Panama. As Martinelli stated, “No more hanky panky.”
But besides his conservative policies, Matinelli also assumed a populist outlook. For example, he signed a major government project on education and infrastructure, and granted legal status to all illegal immigrants in Panama. However, these policies are moderate in comparison to the free-market initiatives that the President has focused on throughout his term.
President Martinelli also gave some advice on achieving one's goals. First and foremost, the President promoted the importance of education. Martinelli stated that becoming educated is critical in being successful in all areas and professions. Even in government, the President said, “Government is important…this is not the job for your dumb cousin.”
Running for president as a businessman was difficult for Ricardo Martinelli. “Businessmen are seen as wanting to grab and have everything for themselves," he said, "it makes things difficult.” But Martinelli was able to overcome this common bias and eventually achieve success in politics. He left us with this message: “Whatever you want in life, you can accomplish. We all make mistakes and all have downfalls. But you always want to fight one more round.”