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Former Panamanian President Varela banned from U.S. over ‘Significant Corruption’, Secretary of State announces

Juan Carlos Varela

Posted: Thursday, July 13, 2023. 8:31 pm CST.

By Breaking Belize News Staff: In a move signaling the U.S.’s ongoing commitment to combat corruption, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has announced a travel ban on Juan Carlos Varela Rodriguez, the former president of Panama, over allegations of significant corruption during his term in office.

According to Blinken, Varela, who served as president from 2014 to 2019, is accused of accepting bribes in return for awarding government contracts. “This designation reaffirms the commitment of the United States to combat endemic corruption in Panama,” Blinken said, expressing hope that this action would prompt Panamanian authorities to tackle corruption more robustly.

The accusations against Varela are part of the wider Odebrecht scandal that has implicated politicians in nearly a dozen Latin American countries. The scandal, named after the Brazilian construction firm at its center, involves officials allegedly taking bribes in exchange for lucrative public works contracts.

During his presidency, Varela was implicated in the scandal, with accusations arising that he accepted bribes from Odebrecht as “donations”. The allegations came from his former adviser, Ramon Fonseca Mora, in 2017. At that time, Varela denied any wrongdoing.

Varela, a member of one of Panama’s wealthiest families and known for its famous rum brand, had served as vice president under fellow conservative Ricardo Martinelli. However, Martinelli, along with his two sons, have also faced allegations related to the Odebrecht scandal and are due to stand trial. All three have been prohibited from leaving Panama.

In his press release, Blinken emphasized the detrimental effects of such corruption, noting that it deprives citizens of essential public services and diminishes their quality of life. “Corruption will continue to depress Panama’s prosperity, weaken its democracy, and prevent it from realizing its full potential,” Blinken wrote.

With this decisive action, the U.S. aims to demonstrate its commitment to supporting the rule of law and fighting corruption on a global scale.


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