Panama’s president Varela – What is he up to?

Panama’s president Varela – What is he up to?

Blog by Andres Lay

Last week we told you about our Mayor here in Boquete, Panama, and all the work he has taken on and what he is planning to do in the following months.

Well, he is not the only one. Now we would like to tell you about the new President Varela here in Panama.


Some background about the President:

Juan Carlos Varela R. was born in Panama on December 12, 1963. He completed primary and secondary level education in the Javier College. He graduated in Industrial Engineering from Georgia Tech University, United States. He is married to a journalist Lorena Castillo and is a father of three children.

In the private sector he led the growth of a Panamanian company that has over 100 years of history, which has created thousands of jobs in our country, called Varela Hermanos, SA. There he served as a director since 1985 and executive vice president until January 2008. With a large social view from the private sector, Varela supported and promoted projects for culture, sports, education, folklore and the environment.

He was elected Vice President of the Republic of Panama in July 2009 and in just two years in office in the Government, he met the social promises made during the campaign, including Program 100 to 70, the minimum wage increase, the Project Curundú and the Universal Fellowship, among others.

On March 17th, 2013, Juan Carlos Varela became the presidential candidate for the Panamanian Party and on August 25th of the same year, he was proclaimed candidate of the Alliance “People First”, formed by the Panamanian Party and the Popular Party, with the support of independent sectors. On May 4, 2014, Varela was elected President of the Republic of Panama for the constitutional period 2014-2019

What he has already achieved:

  • The province of Colon started the complete renovation of urban infrastructure and recovery of abandoned historic buildings and sites of national interest. This plan will benefit over 25,000 people from Colon by building up to five thousand units of housing, which will be complemented by other infrastructure

  • The Government achieved the most important price reduction in the last 10 years – the implementation of the Emergency Price Control of 22 products of the basic staple foods. This program has helped to stabilize food prices in general, facilitating public access and affordability of these basic staple foods at reasonable prices

  • In order to improve the infrastructure of public schools in Panama, and ensure transformation of culture and learning, through the Ministry of Education, the government has launched a series of initiatives, including “My School First”. Varela has formed public-private partnerships to carry out effectively and promptly the structural improvement of over 3000 public schools. Also, 754 teachers of the different schools and universities, as well as English teachers in public schools, have traveled to the US and Europe to improve English language skills and improve their teaching methodology. Through Law 14 of August 8, 2014, Varela increased the financial allocation for the Universal Fellowship. The objective of this initiative is to prevent and counter the dropout of students with socio-economic problems and engage guardians of these students to get involved in the teaching process

  • Ensuring development with equity and justice, and social inclusion and participation of all Panamanians, Varela is updating the existing latrines at a national level and improving the sewage system and access to drinking water. Currently 150 districts nationwide have been counted as being part of this. In August this year, orders were delivered to proceed and accept five bids for the improvement of sewerage and water treatment nationwide. Varela’s goal is to improve the quality of life of more than 1 million Panamanians with the construction of 300,000 clean bathrooms.

  • In one year Varela has created more opportunities to prevent and combat crime. In his first budget, resources are allocated to assign the security forces that can work effectively throughout the country. The government is running the Safe Neighborhoods Program with more opportunities for young people, who are at risk, to reintegrate into society. This initiative is starting to get some results with decreased crime rates, homicides are down and gang deaths have been reduced.

What has Varela planned for in the future?

  • Over 5000 families already have benefited with 600 houses allocated to them in all of Panama. The goal is to build over 50,000 new homes during his presidency
  • The construction of the 2nd line on the Metro which will result in over 5000 additional job opportunities
  • Designing and implementing policies, projects and programs to establish equality of care for all groups with problems of poverty and vulnerability in Panama
  • Updating of the bridge of Las Americas
  • Renewal and enlargement of the Panamerican Highway – the David to Santiago segment
  • Construction of the new aqueduct and sewerage system in Boquete
  • The continuation of the Panama Canal expansion


These are some of the future plans the president Varela has for Panama. Even though some people do not like him or what he stands for, his government has been doing some good work by catching the people that have been involved in corruption during past administrations as well as the things mentioned above. We look forward to the next 4 years of his presidency and also to see all the improvement he has planned for Boquete.


It’s always good to know what is happening locally when you are going to visit another country, especially if you plan to move there. It’s important to know governmental beliefs, how the government is treating their people and how happy the people of the country are and whether or not it’s somewhere you would indeed like to visit. Boquete, Panama is one of those “happy” places. So come stay with us here at Casa de Montaña Bed and Breakfast and we can chat some more about the latest changes in Panama!

Panama Education System: Does it prepare you for College or University? A spotlight on Boquete

By: Eliecer Andres Lay

nobes en escuelaI have studied in Panama and in the US and in my personal experience both are similar in education. Panama is continually improving its education system, and a person graduating from Panama schools will have the same knowledge as a person graduating from another country. Of course you and your child’s efforts are a key piece in the future of your child and his or her development. I am writing this article so that anyone interested in moving to Boquete area with their children has an idea about what choices are available to them for their child’s education.

The Panamanian education system is divided in two levels which are universal, free and mandatory. The Panamanian government funds the public schools and continues to invest in research related to improving delivery of public education as well as building and maintenance of school buildings. There are plenty of public schools around Panama, places where it is hard to get access to, all the indigenous regions, cities and more. For example if you are traveling to Panama and decide that you want to visit the indigenous regions, you will see a lot of indigenous kids are really into their classes wanting to have good education. Schools in rural areas are much more basic. Depending upon the number of children they may be just one room where often the numbers of children in each class can be high. It is hard to get teachers to work in remote areas as the facilities are not the greatest. There are many volunteer opportunities for teachers in this area. An increasing trend among expats who are living outside the main cities is to home school their children. On the other hand, private schools might be a better option for your kids if you come from another country. Private schools are all starting to provide bilingual education (Spanish & English) with a well prepared curriculum. There are four private schools in Boquete and a few public schools.

This is the brand new high school being completed in Boquete with over 400 registered students.

 escuelaThere are two levels of education in Panama:

Primary education includes:

  • Pre-school with two levels: pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. This is the only level where attendance is not compulsory.
  • Primary or Elementary School: This level lasts for six years.
  • Secondary School: Ends after three years with a school-leaving certificate.
  • High school: Lasts three years. At the end of high school students receive a diploma (Diploma de Bachiller) with a specialty (sciences, literature, business, technology, or agriculture and livestock).

Secondary or university education

The academic year of public Panamanian schools and universities begin during the last days of February and finishes at the end of December. Most private schools also follow this calendar, however, it is possible to find international schools that follow the Northern calendar (September-June school year).

From an article in Panama Education and Schools

Education in Panama was elitist until the USA took over the Panama Canal and began to influence matters. The policy prior to this was to offer the best education to those in the higher classes of society. Education became progressive under the US influence and numbers of children enrolling in primary school by the mid-1930s doubled. Levels of illiteracy among adults had been very high but dropped to below 50% in less than 10 years, dropping to less than 28% by the mid-1950s and levels are now less than 8%.

In secondary schools children are taught science, math, different languages and social studies for their compulsory years. In recent years, technology subjects have begun to be taught. Extra-curricular subjects at most schools range from languages to sports, with crafts and dance very popular too.

Government-run schools also follow a very similar syllabus for all subjects, so that the standards of education across the country can be monitored. A number of bilingual schools are now in existence in areas where the expat presence is high and there are schools where children can be taught through the mediums of French, English, Italian and Chinese, as well as Spanish.

Panama has several ‘Special Education’ schools for those children who have special needs. The cost of private education varies, depending upon the school and the location, but it can be around $6000 per year or more.

There are both American and British International Schools located in Panama City. The Balboa Academy (in the Clayton district), the Oxford International School (central Panama City) and the Crossroads Christian Academy (the Curundu district) all follow a standard US syllabus. The Oxford School, which can be found in the Edison Park area offers a British syllabus and an international examinations program. This gives children of expats the chance to earn qualifications which are widely accepted in their home country if they intend to go to university there.

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