President Ricardo Martinelli Visits Campus
Panama President Ricardo Martinelli points out his name on Senior Walk to his wife, Marta, while touring the University of Arkansas campus Friday.
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The President of the Republic of Panama His Excellency Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal had a happy homecoming of sorts when he returned to his alma mater for the first time since his 2009 inauguration. Martinelli previously visited the University of Arkansas in 2002, when he was honored with a Citation of Distinguished Alumnus from the Arkansas Alumni Association.
While on campus, the University of Arkansas honored Martinelli with the establishment of the Ricardo A. Martinelli Berrocal Scholarship, to provide financial assistance with preference given to students from the Republic of Panama. Chancellor G. David Gearhart announced a resolution by the Arkansas Alumni Association to create the first international alumni organization – Alumni Abroad, Panama – which will be presented to the board of directors for ratification at their Feb. 26 meeting.
Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan presented Martinelli with the “keys to the city,” a lapel pin given as a ceremonial gesture and a token of friendship. Also, Maria Haley, the director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, presented Martinelli with an “Arkansas Traveler” certificate on behalf of Gov. Mike Beebe. Arkansas Travelers are considered to be honorary ambassadors for the state of Arkansas, authorized and commissioned to serve as ambassadors of goodwill to other nations.
“We are honored to welcome His Excellency Ricardo Martinelli back to Fayetteville and the University of Arkansas,” said G. David Gearhart, chancellor. “Not every university can count a nation’s president among its alumni, and we are proud that President Martinelli is one of us. We follow the politics and progress of the Republic of Panama, perhaps with a higher degree of eagerness and excitement, knowing that a friend is in office.”
Martinelli earned his bachelor of science in business administration degree in 1973. Following graduation, he returned to Panama and started his own supermarket chain, Super 99, which yielded $100 million in sales in 2008. Martinelli assumed the office of president in July 2009 after winning the spring election by the largest margin in Panama history, earning 60 percent of the votes. His win demonstrates a huge rebound from his first attempt at the presidency of the Central American country in 2004.
Since becoming president, Martinelli has sought to strengthen trade relations with the United States and Arkansas, in particular, through work with the Arkansas World Trade Center.
Martinelli fielded questions from reporters before the news conference adjourned to a private luncheon.
Later in the day, Martinelli was scheduled to throw the ceremonial first pitch at the Razorback baseball team’s game against Ball State.
The University of Arkansas’ relationship with Panama began in 1951 when an agricultural teaching, research and extension program was established. It was the first foreign agricultural mission started by a U.S. land-grant institution, and it helped to create a lasting bond between Panama and Arkansas. Paul Noland, a professor of animal science in the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences, worked in Panama from 1955 to 1957 to develop the program. The program helped stimulate the growth of Panama’s agriculture and strengthened the academic ties between the two countries and would eventually pave the way for Panamanian students – including Ricardo Martinelli and his brother, Mario Martinelli, B.S.B.A.’74, – to attend the University of Arkansas.
Last summer, Noland traveled to Panama with a delegation of university and other officials where he was honored with the “Vasco Nunez de Balboa” award, the highest civilian honor given by the Panama government for distinguished service. In 1997, he was recognized with the country’s highest honor given to a non-Panamanian, the Manuel Amador Guerrero award.
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