Surse Pierpoint ran the Fundacion Libertad’s “Freedom Hour” in Panama City for several years before meeting the Bastiat Society’s founders at a Liberty Fund conference in Charlotte, NC in 2011. After discussing their respective programs, challenges, and what a network of like-minded business people could accomplish, the decision to franchise the Bastiat Society was made.
During that Liberty Fund weekend, Ben Rast (co-founder and board chair), Brad DeVos (soon to be executive director), and Surse sketched out a business plan for an “international society of principled business people.” He agreed to join the board of directors and co-brand the Fundacion’s monthly discussion group as the “Bastiat Society of Panama” — making his group the very first international Bastiat Society chapter.
Needless to say, Surse has been instrumental in growing the Bastiat Society from two chapters in 2011 to over twenty today.
He recently took a leave of absence from Colón Import/Export—where he was general manager since 1989—to accept a presidential appointment as the general manager of the Colón Free Zone (CFZ).
Chapter Leader Q&A
Q: When did you first discover the free market “movement” and classical liberal ideas?
A: I first started reading Solzhenitsyn and Arthur Koestler in high school for an assignment and discovered the reality of the Gulag system. A few years later after the fall of the Berlin Wall I saw how totalitarian states quickly dissolve into an unworkable mess. Recently, I discovered Albert Jay Nock in his book Memoirs of a Superfluous Man. I would say that Nock sealed the deal for me. One of my favorite quotes from Nock is “The positive testimony of history is that the State invariably had its origin in conquest and confiscation. No primitive State known to history originated in any other manner.”
Becoming the president of Fundacion Libertad here in Panama forced me to start reading a lot more within the free market movement to make up for all of the lost time.
Q: What attracted you to the Bastiat Society idea and how does it help you and your efforts in Panama?
A: At my first Liberty Fund event, I marveled at the concept of individuals coming together to discuss ideas and readings in a round table format. While there I wondered if there wasn't another way for like-minded folk to get together occasionally and learn the same ideas I was studying at the Liberty Fund event. Chris Talley, president of Liberty Fund, was an observer at the event and I asked him about this. He said, "You need to meet Ben Rast."
Soon he put us together by phone and we later met in Charlotte, NC to talk. There, with Brad DeVos, who is now the president of the Society, we hatched the idea together. Of course the Bastiat Society of Charleston was the first (and original) group, but I am proud to say that Panama was second—and the first international chapter.
Joining the Society has plugged us into an international community of scholars and business leaders that we have never had access to before. That, and the sharing of best-practices and ideas regarding how to engage the business community, is something we could never have created alone here in Panama.
Q: You now manage the Colón Free Zone—a large free trade zone at the Atlantic end of the Panama Canal—can you tell us a little about the Free Zone and what you hope to accomplish during your appointment?
A: The new government of Panama took office in July of last year. I was offered the position of Free Zone Manager, along with the opportunity to help implement a "dead letter" law dating from 1992 known as Colon Puerto Libre, which proposed to turn around the broken-down reality of this port town on the north side of the Panama Canal.
Right next to the hemisphere's largest free trade zone, created in 1948, the city of Colón suffers from all the ills of poverty and neglect. The idea is that with the right incentives, Free Zone merchants will invest in the city, and slowly re-invigorate what was once the country's principal commercial city.
Our plan is to expand commercial activity from the free zone into a retail zone within Colón by way of an outlet type concept for overstock goods from the Free Zone.
We are in the first few months of the process and fortunately, we have the support of the President in achieving this task as his primary contribution during his 5 year term.