An unexplained changing of the guard for Panama’s foreign policy

Her Excellency
Minister of Foreign Relations Erika Mouynes, who was promoted from vice minister for multilateral and cooperation affairs. Photo by MIRE.

Sudden double resignation of the foreign minister and
vice minister prompts more speculation than answers

by Eric Jackson

On the afternoon of December 7 Panama learned from a presidential announcement that Foreign Minister Alejandro Ferrer and the vice minister under him, Federico Alfaro Boyd, had resigned.

Replacing Ferrer is Erika Mouynes, who has served in various diplomatic posts in a career that also included four years as a corporate lawyer with the New York law firm of Shearman & Sterling, where she worked on the financing of projects, and another four years as chief legal officer for a New York hedge fund that’s by most available appearances part of another hedge fund. She studied law at USMA and business administration at ULACYT. then got LLMs at NYU and Berkeley, and a postgraduate finance degree at NYU.

Replacing Alfaro is Dayra Carrizo, a niece of Vice President Gabriel Carrizo and veteran diplomat. An USMA law school grad, she got an LLM in European Union commercial law at the Paul Cezanne University in Marseilles. Working in diplomatic posts in Europe, she has represented Panama in various negotiations aimed at getting or keeping Panama off of international financial blacklists for being a money laundering center and tax haven. Ms. Carrizo is from a PRD extended family, with members sprinkled across a number of government posts with the current administration and legislature.

So, why? The Presidencia has not told us. Nor have the outgoing or incoming officials.

One common rumor is that it has something to do with the former minister disagreeing with some policy of the vice president, who runs the Cortizo administration’s economic team and as such wields expansive powers that intrude into many other bailiwicks.

No particular evidence has been proffered for this, but think about it. If the vice president wields such power, what might it suggest about the health of the president? Organized labor has been bashing Mr. Carrizo for some time and it’s not only because he can be portrayed as this leftist stereotype of the evil banker, but more importantly because at the onset of the epidemic the government issued a large bond issue and gave a half-billion dollars to subsidize the banks while going well out of its way to skimp on food relief for working people and protective gear for our first responders.

Less discussed are a couple of salient facts that are bound to alter the main mission of the moment for the Ministry of Foreign Relations:

  • Panama is deeply in debt, with its external and domestic markets in serious straits. There is a great probability of a debt crisis that will bring dealings with foreign creditors to center stage. Domestic politics will affect such diplomacy, as the business crowd around Cortizo and Carrizo demand new subsidies, the political caste demands maintained and expanded privileges and the overwhelming majority of Panamanians who do not and will not get tickets to ride on these gravy trains may demand relief from their hardships. This sort of thing is and will be a regional phenomenon that will also affect Panama’s relations with sister Latin American republics.                                                                                                                                              
  • There is not only a change in administrations to the north. There is a shattered US trade policy that can’t be entirely restored. The Biden administration will inherit a depopulated shell of the old US foreign service apparatus. By most outward appearances, the United States has declined as a world power. Biden is unlikely to send emissaries to bully Panama and other Latin American countries about doing business with China as Trump has done, but among the Democrats who helped him to power come old antiwar hippies and neoconservatives itching for new wars, backers of the coup that brought our region the corrupt death squad regime in Honduras and those who idealize Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy. There will be changes in Panama’s relations with the United States, but it’s not so clear what those might be.

So Panama has a new foreign policy team, one that will face a different set of challenges from the ones we have recently known.

Do we want to read the leaves from the morning tea? One of the first foreign policy acts with the new team was Panama’s reaction to the Venezuelan legislative elections, which the main opposition boycotted. Like the United States, the European Union and much of Latin America, Panama’s foreign ministry questioned the elections’ legitimacy mainly because of obstacles interposed to the opposition. But that statement did not mention the pretender president Guaidó, but rather called for dialogue within Venezuela and among Latin American nations. It was a sharp contrast with the belligerent declarations coming out of Washington. All very nuanced, but an evident  stride in the direction of the traditional non-aligned stands of the Omar Torrijos years. Or at least a diminished fear of being bullied by the Unites States for insufficient regime change militance.


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