An interview with Enrique Alberto Thayer Hausz, the ambassador of Panama in Berlin

‘A new renovation area is starting for Panama and all of its citizens.’

September 20th, 2021

On the 20th of September, Marta Lamanna, Emmanouela Gogou, and Alienor Bonjour, members of the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy, Berlin, had the pleasure of conducting an interview with the ambassador Enrique Alberto Thayer Hausz.

Your excellency,

What is the main focus of your work as the ambassador of Panama here in Berlin?
We have everyday work. For example, today, we had to deal with a small crisis. There were auctions held with Panamanians, Mexican, Peruvian, and Guatemalan artefacts which we think might be illegal. We try to solve these kinds of issues on a daily basis.

We also have very specific projects. Right now, the most important project for us is the educational support in Panama. Panama is a beautiful country with a lot of economic success, but we think that we could have a lot more success with an improved educational system.
We feel that Germany can help us in establishing a more effective educational system. For that purpose, we have a very specific action in the field of ‘dual education’. This type of education means that you can simultaneously work and go to school. We are very eager to learn from this type of education system and apply it in Panama.
We are willing to make changes in order for young people to have access to an educational system that allows them to learn from their job as well as in school. We strongly believe this would improve our efficiency, which could help young people to get a job as soon as they finish school, be more productive, and probably to make better choices in higher education. 

How would you characterize cultural diplomacy, and how significant is it for Panama and Germany to strengthen their relationship?
One of the main components of diplomacy is the exchange of ideas. In order to have a better exchange, people must understand each other through languages but also music and dancing for example. Even if we are a small country, we still have a history that most of the time is not well-known. We try to bring a little bit of Panama to Germany so the Germans can see more of who we are and what we stand for. Panama is for example only one out of three countries in the world that is carbon negative. These are things that we are proud of, and we think that the purpose of cultural diplomacy is to make sure that people know each other better despite numbers and stereotypes. We want to defeat these and hopefully get people more engaged with each other.

Are there any specific projects that are going on at this moment that could be helpful in this direction?

On November 3rd, we will celebrate our National Day, which commemorates Panama's separation from Colombia. Another National Day will be honored on November 28th, commemorating the 1821 independence of Panama from Spain. If the pandemic allows it, we will have a small gathering to celebrate Panama’s independence and will also project a painting exhibition with Panamanian artists which will be available online.
As a result of this terrible pandemic, we felt compelled to modernise our country. An interesting comparison we can make would be to what happened in Germany in 1945: the  “Stunde Null”. After World War II, the Germans had to make a decision between democracy and dictatorship. They chose to become a democratic country that would live in peace with its neighbours. This was a very conscious decision that Germany made and likewise, Panama wants to have a new beginning after the pandemic, with the supervision of the United Nations.
This new beginning is called the “Bicentennial pact”. under the UN’s supervision. Everything in the country that needs to be modernized is in this pact: our constitution, health-care system, the justice system, education system, etc. We want all Panamanian citizens to have the ability to make a proposal on how they would like to improve those important matters in the country.
There were six panels for which every citizen could make a proposal. The United Nations will then analyse each of these issues by category. By the 28th of November, we will have a pre-election for the assembly, so perhaps, everything will change. Afterwards, it is the culmination of the Bicentennial process. Some proposals could go to the national assembly for voting and it is possible that there might be votes for a new constitution, requiring the entire country to go vote again. So as I said earlier, we really are processing a possible renovation of the whole country.

Would you say that there are certain tensions between the importance of culture and tradition and this current effort for a renovation?
Absolutely, this is why the entire country was engaged. Panama recognizes gay rights, we also place a high value on the role of women in society and in respecting different religious groups' beliefs. Panama has been less conservative than some other Latin American countries. It is also one of the most successful in terms of economic activity per capita, but also still very unequal. This inequality is exactly what we want to change, which, in my opinion, is 99% caused by our totally inadequate education system.

This model of direct consultation of citizens seems very innovative. Could this also be transported to Europe and be successful? Perhaps with a mutual exchange between Europe and Latin America?
I think that every country has its own needs and difficulties. We are living in a time of a disinformation crisis. Panama cannot avoid it either, but I think that we are suffering less than other countries. You have to make sure that the entire community is well informed. It may then be easier for Panama to have the entire population decide on something.

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