Nicolás Ardito Barletta Vallarino
Nicolás Ardito Barletta Vallarino (born August 21, 1938 in Aguadulce, in the province of Coclé) was President of Panama from October 11, 1984, to September 28, 1985. He belonged to the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD).
From 1968 to 1970 and 1973 until 1978, as a University of Chicago–trained economist, Barletta was one of Gen. Omar Torrijos' trusted advisers as minister of planning and economic policy. He resigned that position to become World Bank vice-president for Latin America and the Caribbean. In late 1983, he was approached by president de la Esprella about running for president.
In February 1984, then president Ricardo de la Espriella unexpectedly resigned the office and was succeeded by his vice-president, Jorge Illueca, who did not enter the race. Ardito Barletta ran as the coalition candidate backed by the National Guard, and his candidacy had the support of the government. Opposing Ardito Barletta and the UNADE (Unión Nacional Democrática) coalition was the Democratic Opposition Alliance (ADO – Alianza Democrática de Oposición) and its candidate, the 82-year-old veteran politician, Arnulfo Arias, who had already been president three times, each of which resulted in his being ousted from office by a military coup.
The election was the country's first after 16 years of military rule, something that had been agreed to during US negotiations that led to the signing of the Panama Canal Treaty in 1977 (Ardito Barletta was among the negotiators for Panama). The campaign proved to be bitterly contested, with both sides predicting victory. Arias and his backers claimed that Ardito Barletta was conducting the campaign unfairly. In addition, most of the media—television, radio stations, and newspapers—favored the government coalition. For example, only one of the country's five daily newspapers supported the ADO.
Voting day, May 6, 1984, was peaceful, but violence led by Arias's supporters broke out the next day in front of the Legislative Palace, where the electoral board was meeting. One person was killed. The opposition charged that there was electoral misconduct and fraud. The candidates for congress on both sides challenged the vote count at the district level, delaying the final count. Meanwhile, both sides claimed victory.
Despite this atmosphere, the initial exit polls showed Ardito Barletta with a narrow lead. On May 16, 1984, after ten days, the district results were finally tallied by the Electoral Tribunal and Ardito Barletta was declared winner by 1,713 votes, defeating Arias. However, the results continued to be challenged. The United States and Mexico were the first to recognize the results, followed by other countries.
Arias's platform emphasized the need to reduce military influence in Panamanian politics. Ardito Barletta's platform emphasized the reestablishment of democracy, economic development, and honest and efficient government. The US government declared that Ardito Barletta's victory must be seen as an important forward step in Panama's transition to democracy.
Ardito Barletta, a strait-laced and soft-spoken technocrat, took office on October 11, 1984. In his inaugural address, the newly elected president pledged to repair the economy, fight corruption, and unite Panama's political parties. He quickly launched an attack on the country's economic problems and sought help from multilateral institutions to support an economic restructuring program. He promised to modernize the government's bureaucracy and implement an economic program that would create a 5 percent annual growth rate.
On November 13, 1984, to meet IMF requirements for a US$603-million loan renegotiation, Ardito Barletta announced economic austerity measures, including a 7 percent tax on all services and reduced budgets for cabinet ministries and autonomous government agencies, including the Defense Forces. In response to massive protests and strikes by labor, student, and professional organizations, he revoked some of those measures ten days later. Ardito Barletta's headstrong administrative style also offended Panamanian politicians who had a customary backslapping and backroom style of politicking. During his tenure, the Defense Forces promised support to his program but were in effect undermining the negoatiations Ardito Barletta was pursuing with industrialists, labor leaders, and other business groups to achieve some economic reforms.
While Ardito Barletta was visiting New York City, government critic Hugo Spadafora was found brutally murdered and decapitated. Spadafora had revealed that he had evidence linking Noriega to drug trafficking and illegal arms dealing. Relatives of Spadafora claimed that witnesses had seen him in the custody of Panamanian security forces near the Costa Rica border immediately before his decapitated body was found on September 14, 1985. Ardito Barletta promised to bring the killers to justice and recommended an independent commission to investigate the crime. At a meeting at Defense Forces Headquarters between Ardito Barletta and the commanders, serious discrepancies arose leading to Ardito Barletta's resignation on September 27, 1985, after only eleven months in office. Ardito Barletta was succeeded the next day by his first vice president, Eric Arturo Delvalle, who announced a new cabinet on October 3, 1985.
The ouster of Ardito Barletta is considered to have been the beginning of the end for Noriega; Ardito Barletta had been considered the best hope for a trransition to democracy by Washington. Within four years, Noriega had been thrown out of office by American military intervention.
Later on, Ardito Barletta was General Administrator of the Interoceanic Region Authority (ARI) from 1995 to 2000, an agency in charge of resceiving, administrating, planning, and incorporating the former Canal Zone to national development.
- Panama: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1987. Sandra W. Meditz and Dennis M. Hanratty, editors.
|President of Panama
Eric Arturo Delvalle