Panama’s New President-Elect Laurentino Cortizo Is of Greek Descent

Laurentino (Nito) Cortizo and his supporters. Photo by Wikipedia

Panama‘s new President-elect, Laurentino (Nito) Cortizo, is a 66-year old center-left politician with a diverse genealogical background, since his father is Spanish and his mother has direct Greek descent.

Cortizo, who leads Panama’s Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), has won thirty-three percent of the popular vote and is at least two percentage points ahead of his main center-right rival Rómulo Roux.

The official results are yet to be announced, but the country’s electoral tribunal has declared that Sunday’s election has a winner with a clear lead, and that is Cortizo.

Cortizo takes office at a crucial time for Panama.

Thirty years since the last American invasion of the country, Panama still faces great challenges, and Cortizo has pledged to tackle economic inequalities and widespread corruption.

The newly-elected President’s background is diverse, as many people in Panama have ancestors from other parts of the world, particularly Europe.

His father was born in Galicia, Spain, and later emigrated to Panama with his entire family.

Cortizo’s mother, Esther Cohen, was a successful teacher and a construction manager. She was the daughter of another immigrant, this time from Greece.

The new President’s Greek grandfather married a local Panamanian and integrated to Panamanian society, as many Greeks have continued to do throughout the years.

The Greek community in Panama has a strong presence, as the first Greeks went to live in the beautiful central American country in the late 1800s.

Most of them were lured by jobs related to the construction of the Panama Canal, one of the largest construction projects in history.

As time went on, more Greek immigrants who originally had planned on settling in the United States decided to try out Panama, as the US was experiencing a financial depression during the first decades of the twentieth century.

The Greek community in Panama has always been active, and Cortizo is not the first president of the country to be of Greek descent.

Demetrio Basilio Lakas Bahas, the 27th President of Panama, who served from December 19, 1969 to October 11, 1978, was also Greek. Bahas was the son of Greek immigrants.

“He was the President in a very delicate time for Panama. He did some incredible things. He always kept his eye on his fellow Greeks,” says Evangelos Koumanis, a close friend of the former president and the owner of the famous “Parillada Jimmys.”

Along with the Greek community, the Greek culture and language are thriving in Panama.

The Greek language and culture have found their way through businesses and schools in the Spanish-speaking country.

One of the greatest examples of how the Greek culture, history and language are thriving in Panama is the story of the Greek school called “Instituto Atenea.” There, over a thousand students, mostly Panamanians, can study and celebrate the Greek culture and language with the local people.