Spanish version

DIPLOMACY

US ambassador pledges to fight corruption

John Feeley held his first press conference Tuesday.

Spanish version

In his first public speech, the new US ambassador to Panama John Feeley said that although he will not intervene in local policy issues, he will monitor "everything that is happening here." He also applauded the fight against corruption in the country.

In addition to meeting with journalists, Feeley also submitted his credentials to President Juan Carlos Varela Tuesday.

In 2008, Feeley was appointed to a position at the embassy in Panama, but when he was about to move, he became ill.

"The dream of reaching Panama had to be cancelled at that time," the new ambassador said. "Eight years later, I come here as the representative of President Barack Obama."

Feeley, a military retiree who until last year was the undersecretary for the Western Hemisphere, said some of the areas he will focus on are assisting American citizens in Panama, cooperating with the Panama government in the strengthening of democratic institutions, working with judicial institutions and exposing Panama to the world as a potential place of business.

He also gave a boost to freedom of expression.

"I want to highlight the importance that not only myself but my government places on freedom of expression. What you are doing, journalists, is essential for any democracy in the world," Feeley said.

He also called on the country to establish a "level playing field" that would allow countries from the US to compete for contracts. He said such transactions must be transparent and free of corruption.

"The country can improve its climate for investment," he said. "Corruption is a cancer, not only for business, but for democratic systems. The issues of domestic politics are not my field, but in terms of the strengthening of institutions through the fight against corruption, we are behind the president 100 percent."

Asked about the possible extradition of former President Ricardo Martinelli, Feeley said that the US government will not interfere on matters of local policy, but said in general terms that "the fight against corruption is a priority." Martinelli, who faces charges in Panama, is thought to be living in the US.

Asked about the local examination being conducted into the 1989 invasion, Feeley said that: "In general, the United States and I think that light and truth are the best disinfectant, and that any people have the right to know about their past."

Feeley formerly worked at the US embassy in Mexico and was also the director of Central American Affairs and deputy director of Caribbean Affairs for the State Department. He is the 26th US ambassador since relations were established with Panama in 1903.

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