San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Blades: Panama Became Nation With Canal

MADRID – Music star turned Tourism Minister Rubén Blades, best known for the salsa classic “Pedro Navaja” (Pete the Razor), says that “Panama was truly born as a republic” when U.S. jurisdiction over the canal that links the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans came to an end eight years ago.

An emphatic and passionate Blades said in an interview in Madrid that when the United States ceded control of the waterway in 1999, Panama obtained a “territorial identity” that ushered in a new era for the country.

The Harvard-educated lawyer also noted that former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos once said, “Panama’s success in administering the canal destroys the argument that a third-world country cannot successfully manage its own resources.”

Blades said he is amused and even annoyed that he is looked upon as, “the minister who was a musician or the musician who became a minister.”

“It’s a problem people have; I’m the same person,” said Blades, who insisted that he has never turned his back on music but instead has given his “yes to the country” to work with the government of President Martín Torrijos, “a noble man,” he said, who has “the dual problem of running and reforming the country.”

“It’s a government with good intentions and that’s why I’ve been in this for three years; if it were a government of thieves and scoundrels I wouldn’t be involved in this,” Blades said, adding that he is convinced that there is still much left to do.

Referring to the Latin America of today, the minister said that “there is cause for optimism” and noted that in his boyhood –Blades is now 60 – “there were 17 military dictatorships” in the region.

The Panamanian said he believes Latin America is immersed in a “continual process of change” and that, despite the “strengthening of democracy” and greater participation by the people, there are still many unresolved problems.

With regard to music, Blades, one of the giants of salsa, is known for producing songs with urban and social content.

Born in a boarding house, Blades said, “The fact of my being born in a humble home never made me give up on anything; my mother died without having a vacation, we were a family with limitations, but that didn’t mean that we were spiritually poor.”

Despite his passion for music, however, he does not appear to miss being on stage or in front of a band, saying, “The tourism minister can’t be going out there singing.”

But he said that when he finishes his time in office he plans to return to what he likes the most: “To my music and my movies, to paleontology and to archaeology, which interest me a lot, and maybe to write about my experiences. I’m not condemned to do just one thing.”


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