The economy in Panama just keeps rolling along. I read somewhere that it grew by 8.5% in 2013 and is expected to increase another 5% in 2014 making Panama the fastest growing economy in Latin America. It’s noticeable even here on the Azuero where there is a building boom taking place to increase shopping choices. Whoot, whoot!
There are several projects under construction in Chitre and one of the newest stores to open is Riba Smith, in a plaza next to the new Wyndham Resort, Cubitá. The new store in Chitre is the sixth in Panama, others are located in exclusive areas of Panama City and Bella Vista, Punta Pacifica, Costa del Este and Coronado.
I’m not normally a shopper at Riba Smith. I’d only been in one for the first time when I was in Panama in February. Before this new store was built shopping at Riba Smith would have required us to travel a distance. With the convenience of the new store I think I could get hooked.
Why the fuss about a grocery store? For one thing they stock a really good variety of vegetables; the vegetables that North Americans and Europeans enjoy. I don’t mind what we can get around here but every once in a while it’s nice to have something different. Not only that they offer a really good variety of fruit, and most of these lovely items are grown right here in Panama, they just don’t make their way down the peninsula.
The other thing is that they stock a few North American products. I don’t really care about most of these items such as Greek yogurt for over $5.00 a container, but every once in a while it’s nice to have the option of a little treat. I even saw Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups on the shelf and had to stop myself from buying the box. I did stock up on several cans of diet soda; yes, I know it’s bad for me but I get tired of water and it’s for a treat. And it wasn’t just Diet Coke, but I had a choice of 7 Up, Dr. Pepper, Diet Pepsi, Sprite oh the choices, the choices. And it was less expensive than a can of Diet Coke in the pueblo or the supermarket in Las Tablas.
There is a method to the madness of why Riba Smith was attracted to the shopping plaza at Cubitá. The store is on the ring road in Chitre, between the communities of La Arena and La Villa de Los Santos. The items sold by Riba Smith caters to tourists from the Whyndam and expats alike who will find the convenience a major draw. And surprisingly, the prices aren’t very much different from shopping at some of the other grocery stores in Chitre.
Still on the topic of food; President-elect Juan Carlos Varela has promised to control the cost of basic food products as soon as he takes office.
Under the Panamanian constitution, presidents are required to step down after one five-year term and are barred from running for the two following terms. On Sunday, May 4th the elections were held and the former mayor of Panama, and Panama’s current Vice President Juan Carlos Varela was declared the winner. Polls indicated during the campaign that Varela was running in third place, which only goes to show, don’t put faith in polls.
Mr. Varela ran under the banner of putting towns first and leaving more money in people’s pockets. Among the items he campaigned for were lower food prices, potable water and better sanitation. Since being elected he has argued in favor of reinstating price controls and said that he would freeze the prices of roughly 20 basic food items. This could save families $58 a month on those goods that include meats, milk, eggs, vegetables, rice and lentils, among others. The price of the basic groceries including 47 items, ranges from $243.88 to $355.06 is some areas of Panama. The minimum wage is $475 to $625 a month; I don’t know that most of the people in our district earn at the higher end.
Mr. Varela left the 2009 presidential campaign to support the current President Ricardo Martinelli. In 2011 he was stripped of most of his Vice Presidential and Foreign Minister duties after a falling-out with President Martinelli; reportedly over his refusal to back a plan to change the constitution to allow president’s to serve consecutive terms a la shades of Noriega.
Mr. Varela studied engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and is a member of one of Panama’s richest families, owner of the Varela Hermanos rum/seco distillery. The former President Martenilli’s campaign promise in 2009 was to cut the price of food. In the last four years the price of the basic food basket has risen by 25%. And some Panamanians think it is suspect given that the multi-millionaire owns one of the largest supermarket chains in Panama. Varela’s proposal to freeze prices on basic food stuffs will impact Martinelli’s business.
Mr. Varela has not suggested any new taxes or a cut in social programs. In fact he was the architect of the $100.00 per month stipend that seniors get if they don’t qualify for any other pension. It will be interesting to see in the coming years how Panama will complete its big infrastructure push while trying to turn its attention to building more social safety nets for the poor; and where Panama ends up in the standings for the Social Progress Index next year.Read more here: Panama’s New President and Government US adviser helps candidate win Panama presidency Rising food prices? See if you Can Outsmart That! 5 Things You Can Do Now to Cut Food Costs Real-life hunger games: Soaring food prices trigger unrest across the globe