Interview with

Edison Broce

Edison Broce is one among the youngest parliamentarians in Panama. He won as an independent candidate (no party affiliation). Edison is a passionate environmentalist and an advocate of youth and education. Born in 1990, he is part of the ‘Son of Democracy’ generation. From a student leader to a young politician, his journey is inspirational.

What is your inspiration to join politics?

I am convinced politics is a means to pursue a purpose, to bring to the national discussion the voices of the unheard and effect profound change in society. I promote what I call “Cause-based Politics”, meaning – a clear purpose to fight for, based on a principled ideology, and one that goes beyond political parties and alignment. For instance, my main cause has been environmental protection and I am willing to work with whoever is committed to saving and protecting the environment, regardless of their party affiliation. 

Can you share some important milestones in your political journey?

I have successfully run multiple campaigns that have given me significant experience in working well with others, pursuing collective goals, coordinating campaigns and organizations, and sharpening my leadership skills. 

My first contact with politics started as a university leader. I ran and won two major elections, as president of the Law School, and as the President of the University’s Student’s Federation. I also won an election as president of the U.S. Embassy Youth Advisory Council, and developed a recycling community project that impacted several communities at that time, which gave me tremendous experience and which was a first step that ultimately culminated in me sponsoring the first Recycling Law in Panama.

In 2014, I won as a Suplente Member of Parliament (alternate MP) along with the main Member of Parliament on a dual ticket, helping galvanize the youth vote. Later, I ran and won as president of the Suplentes Members of Parliament, and was the spokesperson for the 71-member alternate MP group. 

When I entered the University of Oxford, I was elected as a Student Representative of the Blavatnik School of Government in the Oxford Student Union, and the Social Science Division. This further helped me expand my network and perspective by engaging with leaders from very different backgrounds.

In 2019, I ran for Diputado Member of Parliament (Main MP), and successfully won as an independent (not affiliated to a political party). It was a difficult election, since I conducted a lean campaign without large money backers, and won on a grassroots movement, supported by the people. 

In Parliament, I am currently the head of the Investigation Committee that is investigating the illegal deforestation in Darien, one of the most important forests in the region. And most recently, I became the president of the Panama-UK friendship parliamentary group, which is focused on expanding inter-country partnerships and connecting political and business leaders.

In sum, every step has given me crucial experience to further develop skills as a change maker.  Through all of this, I have been blessed with incredible people that have supported and believed in me, and who have helped me achieve what seemed impossible at the time. 

How does it feel to be one of the youngest parliamentarian? You are also called ‘Son of Democracy’. Please share your comments on the same.

I entered parliament in 2014 when I was 23 years old, as a Diputado Suplente Member of Parliament (alternate MP), along with a Diputado Member of Parliament (permanent MP). Although the Diputado (permanent MP) belonged to a political party, I did not affiliate to any, and I remained independent. The duty of a Diputado Suplente (alternate MP) is to replace the Diputado (permanent MP) when he/she is absent. I was the youngest at that time in parliament, and the first member of my generation (“Son of Democracy” – born after 1990) to be elected in office. 

In 2019 I ran as independent Diputado (permanent MP), and I am among the youngest of the National Assembly (29 years old). It is the first time that my constituency elects an independent Diputado (permanent MP), which has been a new trend in Panamanian politics, as people are disillusioned about entrenched parties and more independent candidates are starting to win offices.

Going from a university student leader to a parliamentarian was a significant difference, which in my opinion, motivated young peoples’ involvement in politics in Panama. Five years later we experienced a wave of young folks competing as candidates and some got elected. 

Having young people in politics helps in both motivating youth participation and creating awareness on what goes on in the political arena as there is a greater connection to the young electorate when they find decision-makers who speak the same language and share similar values/causes. 

I feel honored to have the opportunity to be on the forefront of this movement of youth participation in politics, and want to make sure that I do what is right for the future of young Panamanians.

You have taken up several environmental initiatives. You have also been a student activist in this regard. Where do you see the gap in public policy of the day in this regard?

My major proposal when running for President of Law School was to raise environmental awareness through starting the university environmental group. Ten years later I still consider the lack of environmental education to be one the most important challenges in many societies. 

I consider the following as tremendous challenges when it comes to environmental policies: 1) most politicians work for the headlines instead of real change, and working on environmental laws does not create exciting PR – it takes time; 2) most policies are technical and not easy to convey simply; 3) environmental consequences are gradual and not evident at a glance, so many people view it as a vague negative consequences in the distance, and not something that will affect them; 4) there is a lack of long term view. Both traditional politicians and many people expect to see immediate change; 5) fighting for the environmental protection is fighting against powerful business interests. 

One goal I have is to help educate the population in this area, so they realize how crucial it is for Panama’s economy and its future to have a stable and a clean environment. 

I am aware that educating the people in this field is not an easy task, but it is not an impossible one. For instance, in 2017 I started the “No Straw Campaign” (“Sin Carrizo Porfa”) to make people avoid using plastic straws and to help them understand the challenges of a world and oceans full of plastics. I started the campaign on social media, and it became viral. A joint effort of environmental NGOs, media, restaurants, businesses, and especially young people, made it possible to see tangible change in both people and hundreds of restaurants who would not offer plastic straws anymore. The fundamental behavior and economic change required is substantial, but we have made great progress towards eliminating single-use plastics.

What is your vision for Panama?

I envision Panama as a country that not only connects the world through international commerce but also influences global decisions and contributes to the world’s growth. 

In order to get there we need to take a number of significant steps:

  1. Improve the quality of our education through a merit-based system that can provide international opportunities such as scholarships, research, and professional exchanges, so our people can explore the world, learn from others, get inspired and become more competitive.
  2. Embrace core principles and values in both the public service and the society, such as meritocracy, transparency, rule of law, strong work ethic, innovation, adaptability, and family values.
  3. To protect our natural environment and resources, so the new generations can also have a life where they can dream of making improvements in the world instead of caring about a damaged environment where water, air quality, and food security are at stake.
  4. To take a more active geopolitical role that can influence the region on improving democratic values, strengthening institutions, pushing a free market economy, promoting human rights, so their stability can also have positive externalities to our country (international trade, adequate immigration, foreign investment).
  5. I want a Panama that grows along with its people, where free market rules are respected so all individuals have a fair chance to compete under a fair economic environment and rules, as well as consume goods and services fairly (no price speculation). I want to help strengthen and expand the middle class. 

In conclusion, a better run economy balanced with a better quality of education can be the engine for individuals to have better outcomes in life, to be more competitive and ambitious, and help build prosperity for all. 

What is your message for youngsters/youth?

I would advise all young people to harness time and use it very efficiently. Life goes by quickly – opportunities to learn, to take action, set and achieve goals will reduce over time. It is important to make well thought-out decisions, set clear goals, and take deliberate and disciplined action to achieve your goals.  It is important to bear in mind that success doesn’t come overnight – education, hard work, perseverance and innovation are ways to make it happen. Last but not least, never think you have already learned too much, a learning mindset is key to grow, adapt, or reinvent. 

How do you see your family background and their sacrifice in shaping your personality?

My family is the biggest blessing of my life. I was privileged to be born in a household where values, discipline, and education were the core of our upbringing.  As every family, things were not always perfect, we had economic pressures and difficulties from time to time. Nonetheless, that was an opportunity for me to grow. For instance, as my parents weren’t able to reward me with every academic success, they were creative in rewarding my academic achievement: I would only get a present if I brought home ten (10) “A” marks in tests/exams. Additionally, my mom kept me busy since I was young. She pushed me to participate in many extracurricular activities such as sports, foreign languages, oratory, and others which helped me win a 50% scholarship to continue my studies in an advanced school. Otherwise I would have had to continue at a Panamanian public school, where the education quality is a big challenge. My parents’ decisions taught me to multitask and to manage time efficiently. They have devoted their life to both my sister and me, with much love and I value and treasure that. Today, I feel deeply thankful to them and I wish to give the world what my family taught me. 

Vasudeva Kutumbakam is an Indian thought of one world family. It was mentioned at the UN General Assembly by Sri Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India. What are your views on this philosophy?

I believe the topic is often a debate between globalists and populists. Immigration has become a challenge in many societies, further highlighting the disconnect between two groups. Millions of migrants flee their countries because of totalitarian regimes, gang violence, corrupted institutions, systemic violations of human rights, lack of opportunities, fueling a new wave of migrants around the world. On the other side, economic advancement, educational improvements, aging populations, and changing demands of workforce are often necessitating immigration into developed countries to help fill the gaps in the labor force.

Often, elites espousing populist and globalist views try to vie for influence over populations by demonizing the other side. The truth is, most people are primarily concerned about the well being of their families and loved ones, which is often contingent on economic and political security. We should strive to enable every person to pursue their dreams without having to immigrate across the world to find minimum wage jobs that pay better than professional careers in their home countries. It is in the best interests of us all to help our neighbors, our global family, and improve economic conditions in every country, while modernizing immigration laws to support real labor-based economic needs, humanitarian asylum, and opportunities to help the younger generation from disadvantaged countries obtain the type of education that can change those countries. 

We need more leaders who are genuinely committed to improving the lives of those they serve. And we need more leaders who recognize that helping others to have prospering, free, democratic societies, is in the best interests of our world community. 

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