July 3rd, 2014 (ISH) Juan Carlos Varela took office on July 1 as Panama’s president, pledging to finish a troublesome canal expansion, stamp out corruption and get more people out of poverty.
The 50-year-old rum maker donned the presidential sash in a ceremony at Rommel Fernandez stadium in the capital, which was attended by a handful of world figures, including United States Secretary of State John Kerry, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou.
“We’ve got plenty of laws. What we need are men and women who respect them; that’s what I am here for,” Varela said to large cheers.
Varela, who was elected to a five-year mandate in May 4 polls, replaced Ricardo Martinelli.
Topping Varela’s weighty agenda is finishing an expansion of the 80-kilometer (50-mile) long Panama Canal.
The vast construction project was to have been completed this year, but delays and cost overruns have pushed back the schedule to early 2016.
“We are blessed to have the canal, a major piece of infrastructure that serves our nation and world trade. As president, I will make sure the expansion is completed successfully, while protecting the state’s interest,” Varela pledged in his inaugural address.
The expanded waterway will be able to process 12,000 container ships in its first year of use, triple the current capacity.