It was love at first sight when he landed in Qatar as the youngest ambassador about two years ago. He felt so attached that he got married in a traditional Qatari way.
Oreste del Rio Sandoval, former ambassador of Panama to Qatar, finished his tenure a few days ago. A young, dynamic and studious man, he served as the youngest ambassador of his country.
Thirty-seven-year old Oreste’s engagement with Qatar lasted only two years but the personal bond he developed may last for a long time. He not only arranged his marriage ceremony in line with the local traditions here but also wrote a book about his experience of living in Qatar.
Community recently spoke at length with the ex-Panamanian envoy, who is also the youngest ambassador to receive the Al Wajba Medal.
Oreste, a martial art black belt, has been an active politician in his country. He carries a law degree and has a passion for reading and writing books.
“I grew up living with my grandparents. They have been my real inspiration and role models. I will always remember my angelic grandmother, who passed away on May 19, this year, the saddest day of my life. I have three sisters and a brother. I am the eldest. I specialise in corporate and immigration laws. I am pursuing my master’s degree in law in Spain,” he said.
“By profession, I am a lawyer but my vocation is politics. I think we can help more people through politics. I also do philanthropic work back in Panama and was the president of youth’s political parties in Latin America — we’re talking of 26 countries! The outgoing president of Panama assigned me ambassadorial duties in Qatar when I was only 35.”
That being his first appointment as ambassador — he is not a career diplomat — Oreste found it both interesting and challenging. “The first situation that I faced was the blockade of Qatar only 10 days after I came here. The Panamanians started asking about what was going to happen next. I will appreciate the Government of Qatar for how they handled the situation. I made my compatriots calm after I received calmness from the government (smiles).
“Since then we are living peacefully here. We brought students from Panama. During my tenure, the two countries signed five agreements of bilateral cooperation, including the fields of education and air services.”
According to Oreste, Panamanians often do not prefer moving to another country. “We are number one in economic growth in Central America and number two in all of Latin America. We’re a very safe country. We don’t immigrate a lot.
“As Qatar offers good opportunities, we have a good number of Panamanians. There are 120 of us here (smiles) — living in another country, that number is a lot! For example, in another country in the region, we do not have more than 50 or 100 expatriates. Most of them are working in the airline industry here.”
The ex-ambassador advises his fellow compatriots to conduct themselves like ambassadors of their country. “I always say that we are all ambassadors and that I only have official notes. We should behave the way we actually do as the Panamanians. The first good impression that we make with our smile is the first door that we open for the people to come and visit our country. We are happy and kind people and that is why I compare Panama with Qatar.”
Oreste counts his contribution towards improving bilateral ties with pride. “When I came here, my dream was to see Qatar Airways landing at the Tocumen International Airport, in Panama’s capital. It happened this April! In the same month, the first vessel of Qatar Petroleum crossed the Panama Canal. We got our first school in Panama entitled State of Qatar School.”
The Panamanian believes the two counties have much more to share in future. “When I first landed here, I fell in love with Qatar. We have many more similarities than dissimilarities. These similarities can help us build more bridges. The notion that we live in a far off part of the world is no more an excuse. We can work together and prosper together.”
The young ex-ambassador has already written two books. He has been a very good athlete as well. “I represented my country at the international level in martial art competitions when I was young.
“My first book is Letters on the Wall that I launched in Panama in August; it is a collection of articles — 66 in all — that I wrote for different Spanish newspapers.”
His second book — Warriors in Times of Sacrifice — is about Qatar. “I have been delivering lectures at different universities in countries namely, Spain, Argentina, El Salvador, and Panama. I have been speaking about my experience as a young ambassador in a country like Qatar. While lecturing the young students, I realised that I needed to write down my experiences.
“I am inspired by the national anthem of Qatar. I love the lines when they say ‘we are tough in time of peace and we are warriors in times of sacrifice’. As a resident of Qatar, I have been living under the unjust blockade. That is why I have given the title Warriors in Times of Sacrifice to my book. It is about where a great country comes from. It is about the future vision of a great country. I have got it translated in Arabic as well.”
The dynamic ex-envoy organised his marriage ceremony in Qatar fully tuned with the local traditions. “I met my wife Maria Fernanda Del Rio, a Mexican girl, in Turkey in 2018. I got married with her because it was maktoob — meaning already ordained. It is interesting that a Panamanian meets a Mexican in Turkey and they get married in Qatar. We got married three months after we met for the first time.
“The first reason for having the marriage in Qatar was that I had some important assignments to do here at the time. My in-laws, when they came here, also liked Doha. I think it became a historic marriage in Qatar. A lot of my Qatari friends gave me beautiful gifts. We wore Qatari traditional wedding dresses and had the sword dance. It proved to be an amazing and beautiful experience.”
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