The Summit of the Americas, that has just taken place in Panama, saw the first official handshake between Barack Obama and Raúl Castro. It is not a coincidence that it was held here. The geographical junction between the two Americas, a vital artery of global shipping and a crossroads of international finance, Panama, the quintessential hub, is also a booming country, boasting one of the best rates of economic growth in the region.
The success of this “Dubai of Latin America” is not, however, without its dangers. Panama is now the country of all the excesses and the follies, financial and architectural. The main issues are the Canal, whose pharaonic expansion work will increase the transport capacity by threefold but is marred with delays and budget overruns, a real estate bubble inflated by Colombian and Venezuelan drug money, and a bloated and opaque finance sector notorious for money laundering that has led the OECD to single out Panama as a tax haven.
Paolo Woods and Gabriele Galimberti have been ‘embedded’ in this new Panama. From the swimming pool on the 66th floor of the Trump Tower to transiting the Canal on a Chinese Panamax ship, from the offices of lawyers specialized in incorporation to the beach parties of the new élites, they present a country where, in all ways, the Americas meet.