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By: Erin Smith

Victor Cedeño Caballero, founder of the Polytechnic Bilingual Institute Goshen of Panama, addressed faculty, staff and guests at Bladen Community College on Monday and spoke about the impact of the Panamax on the economy. Cedeño is a civil and industrial engineer in Panama. Joel Andrade De Leon, an attorney who is traveling with Cedeño, was unable to attend the event due to an illness.

Cedeño and several of his friends began to notice that many Panamanians were being left behind in their education and unable to compete in a global marketplace. The reason this was occurring, according to Cedeño, was due to a lack of financial resources to help them pay for their education. Cedeño and his friends decided it was time to open a school that would hopefully change that and modeled it after the United States. The school is named Polytechnic Bilingual Institute Goshen of Panama.

The school offers opportunities such as a specialized high school in which students can learn trades such commerce, industry, science, mathematics, etc. There is also an adult education program available for those that were “left behind” by the system.

“This is the most needed one (program),” said Cedeño.

He said Panama has a system of schools and colleges but they are not as dynamic as the United States’ system. There are many opportunities available for investment and for economic development in Panama if one has the ability and skills.

Cedeño said that the Panama Canal was originally contracted about 100 years ago and that changed the complexion of things in the country. He said the French began construction and the United States completed the building. Cedeño said the market has changed and the need was there to expand the canal. He said the old canal could pass 8 to 10 boats per day, but the newly expanded canal can handle even more traffic. As the canal grew so did the size of the boats passing through the canal and there was a greater need for more highly skilled workers.

Cedeño said that the expansion of the canal and the move to larger boats, has impacted North Carolina’s ports. The ports in North Carolina have made expansions to their facilities to accommodate the new larger Panamax ships. US Highway 74 was upgraded and the CSX constructed a hub in Leland and Edgecomb County due to the expansion.

Cedeño said due its geography, Panama is a place of importance to the United States. He said that the US has made investments in the country and this is one reason he and his friends felt that some of the Panamanians were being left behind. He said the reality is, to be competitive, the Panamanian people needed to learn English. While the country is known for being bilingual—English and Spanish are the official languages—there are still a majority of those who cannot speak English, said Cedeño.

He said that his organization is concentrating on those who don’t have the opportunity to learn English. Cedeño said that those that don’t have many opportunities for learning will often end up in gangs or on the streets in Panama. He hopes to change this through his school. Cedeño said those that can afford to pay the tuition do and those that cannot pay are allowed to attend anyway. 

Cedeño said there are a total of 31 ports in Panama. Fifteen of those ports are government owned and the remaining 16 are privately owned. He said that due the number of ports, there are concerns about drugs and other things that might come into country through the ports. He said this why a strong relationship with the United States is important. Cedeño said that US officials can teach the Panamanian officials how best to deal with those issues.

Cedeño said renewable energy is also a concern for Panama. Again, Panama is looking to the United States for an example of to utilize these resources. He said that the school is looking for areas it can offer educational opportunities such as electronics and technology.

Panama is also an area that offers opportunities for tourism. Again, the need to be able to speak English is important to be able to assist the tourists.

Cedeño and his friends are touring the United States in the hopes of learning more about our education system and our business opportunities.  He took to recognize many at Bladen Community College that reached out and helped to make the visit possible.