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Heads up – Embassy 37

Champion for Panama

Ana Delgado is a very good sport. Quite literally. Panama's Ambassador to London was national junior champion in the modern pentathlon and has a string of sporting medals to her name.

She's also crossed swords with the best in the world, representing her country in the World Fencing Championships in Venezuela, Turkey and Poland.

And like any good sportswoman, her timing is impeccable, arriving in London as the Capital prepares for the 2012 Olympics. The Ambassador knows members of the Olympic team personally - she's even sparred with a couple of the fencers.

With those sporting credentials, she could probably be on the reserve bench for the Panamanian Olympic Team - but that is not why President Martinelli has sent her to London.

The Ambassador now gets her thrills from the cut and thrust of business and politics. Her father, Hernán Delgado, is a veteran pro-democracy campaigner, senator and businessman who was exiled in the dark days of military rule. In the 2009 elections the Ambassador helped him on the campaign trail when he won a historic victory in a seat that had been held by a single family for over a century.

He decided to throw his lot in with President Martinelli and the Alliance for Change coalition. “We believe in him because he’s a businessman just like me and my father,” explains the Ambassador.

Clearly Ambassador Delgado’s business instincts impressed the president, himself a supermarket magnate, so when a split in the coalition last year caused a reshuffle of the country’s top ambassadors, Delgado's name was very much on his radar.

"How could I refuse?” she smiles. “It’s a huge honour to come to the UK – Panama’s biggest investor – and to be an ambassador to the Court of St James’s in London, in the middle of Europe, the world’s financial and media centre.”

Keen to capitalize on the UK’s renewed interest in Latin America, President Martinelli wants his new Ambassador to focus on economic diplomacy.

“My president’s vision is for Panama to be the Singapore of the West – a financial services and logistical hub for the Americas,” she says, adding: “So my job is to promote Panama as a good, safe place to do business.”

It’s familiar territory for the Ambassador who prior to this posting offered legal assistance to companies wanting to invest in Panama. And it’s is not a hard sell, with its famous canal linking the Atlantic to the Pacific (which when widened will have even more capacity); the largest free trade zone in the Americas; a flourishing financial and professional services sector; and a hard-negotiated free trade agreement, making it the gateway to the US.

While these factors have contributed to Panama’s impressive 8 per cent GDP growth, the President is also keen to ensure the proceeds of this growth filter down to Panama’s poor – with free education and resources for the young and financial help for pensioners, adds Delgado, who has witnessed some of Panama’s most deprived communities through her voluntary work that she does with her mother’s charity, Fundación La Providencia.

Another key aspect of the Ambassador’s work will be as Permanent Representative to the IMO where she plans to keep the Panamanian flag flying high and its shipping register full.

“We are very active in the IMO and it is a big responsibility because all the rules that are approved by the IMO directly affect Panama,” says Delgado.

She’s also been very fast out the blocks in boosting the work of the Panamanian consulate: “I want to encourage the law firms to come to the consulate and use the Panamanian flag and to restore its status as one of the most important in Europe. We have a good reputation but we cannot be complacent,” she says.

And while Panama has benefitted from being a transport and financial hub, it cannot afford to be complacent about the negative effects of globalisation either, adds the Ambassador, who works closely with SOCA and Scotland Yard on security cooperation, especially concerning drug-related crime and money laundering.

The country was also proactive in tightening up its banking laws to get on the OECD’s ‘white list’. With more than 100 banks represented in Panama, Delgado will also be keeping a watchful eye on any regulations to come out of the EU that may have an impact on the financial services sector.

Tourism is another emerging industry for Panama and Delgado is lobbying hard for direct flights to Panama.

Next year is the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the South Sea and the Embassy is planning a series of cultural and tourism events to put Panama on the map – with a gastronomy festival and perhaps even a fashion show, promoting Panama’s creative young designers.

In fact, when she presented her credentials, the Ambassador (who would not look out of place on a catwalk) wore an all-Panamanian ensemble, including a stunning Panama hat (pictured) by by Moisés Sandoya, dress by Gaby Valenzuela and necklace by Tradiciones Panama, Frine Ducreaux.  

Clearly Ambassador Delgado is not only a champion on the sports field, she’s a great champion for Panama.

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HE MS Ana Delgado

“My president’s vision is for Panama to be the Singapore of the West – a financial services and logistical hub for the Americas. So my job is to promote Panama as a good, safe place to do business””

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