Panama refutes Petro’s claim of Panama Canal “drought”

The Miraflores Lock at the entrance of the Panama Canal. Photo: David Stanley.

In an enigmatic one-liner, Colombian President Gustavo Petro took to X (formerly known as Twitter) and asserted, “Drought closes the Panama Canal.” The Government of Panama promptly defended its iconic waterway and refuted the statement of the leftist leader. “Mr. President of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, The Panama Canal continues to operate and maintains free passage to facilitate global mobility and trade,” reads the official statement.

Setting off yet another international dispute with a Colombian neighbor, this time Panama, Petro bolstered his claim with a video depicting apparently stationary vessels at sea. “The information circulating on social networks is not accurate and distorts reality,” the Panamanian government added in its message directed at the Colombian President.

On Monday, Mexican President Andrés López Obrador addressed a “distinctive” situation encountered by the Panamanian route during a morning press conference, citing the impact of water scarcity caused by an ongoing drought. The Panama Canal, which consumes approximately 200 million liters of freshwater for each vessel traversing its waters, grapples with dwindling water levels in Gatun Lake – part of the extensive 80-kilometer waterway – due to the El Niño weather phenomenon.

Although “drought” might have been an ill-fated term chosen by the Colombian President to champion his climate agenda, the Panama Canal Authority has been compelled to reduce the daily number of passing vessels from 40 to 32 due to the situation, leading to substantial queues of ships at entry points in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The typical waiting count of approximately 90 vessels has surged to around 120 ships. The Authority also emphasized an “unyielding” commitment to continue being “a dependable and sustainable choice for the global maritime community.”

As if the official explanation from the Government of Panama and the Panama Canal Authority wasn’t enough to allay concerns of an imminent disruption of global trade, President Petro then recanted his initial claims, once again taking to “X” and stating, “I’m not the only one to say so.” His Tweet was accompanied by a Spanish headline from the Spanish-language news division of the German network Deutsche Welle. “Unprecedented Crisis at the #PanamaCanal. Experts indicate that restrictions due to #drought and #climatechange on this vital maritime route could potentially disrupt global supply chains,” screams DW en Español.

President Petro’s pick-and-chose of international media – many dubious, others less so – to forward his narratives, has angered the governments of San Salvador and Peru, to the extent that the Peruvian Congress declared the Colombian President a “persona non grata.” The latest diplomatic squat over a domestic issue that concerns the Panamanian Government, once again proves that Petro’s social media is impulsive, largely uninformed, and above all, a threat to the credibility and intelligence of his fellow citizens.