Official headshot Lorena Castillo de Varela.jpeg

The First Lady of Panama Lorena Castillo



Born in Panama City on 31, July 1968 to parents Manuel J. Castillo and Moty Garcia, Lorena Castillo de Varela, studied at the Flint Hill School in Oakton, VA. She obtained a Bachelor´s degree in Journalism at Universidad Latinoamericana de Ciencia y Tecnología, ULACIT. (Latin American University of Science and Technology). Speaks English and French.

She worked as journalist for 17 years. Between 1991 and 2009 was a presenter and co-producer of news in Telemetro Reporta, television channel of the Medcom Corporation.

In 2002 she won the National Journalism Award given by the Forum of Journalists, with the report of Disabled Children in Cuba. In that same year she was awarded as the Presenter of the Year with the Victoria Prize, given by the Santa Maria La Antigua University. Was presenter of various Television programs, among them “The grandfather of my grandmother".

In 2003 as Executive Secretary of the National Committee of the Centenary of the Republic of Panama, she led the team responsible for organizing the celebrations of the Centenary of the Independency. Worked as a News Correspondent at the White House, United Nations, the Organization of American States OAS, and the Vatican.

In the exercise of her profession, Mrs. Castillo de Varela, toured the country.  Experienced poverty closely and was able to help hundreds of families who changed their quality of life. In 2007 she was the presenter of “Roofs of Hope”, a television program through which decent homes were built for the Panamanians who were forgotten by progress.

Committed on matters of humanitarian and social support, with The National Cancer Institute, Children and Santo Thomas Hospitals, and Nutre Hogar Foundation, a private organization created in l988 by Monsignor Rómulo Emiliani and a group of volunteers in order to recover and prevent severe malnutrition of children from the most impoverished communities in the country.

Genuine, natural, human, and charismatic, a woman committed to Panama, the Panamanians and the world.

In 1992 the First Lady married President Juan Carlos Varela Rodriguez.  The Varela Castillo marriage has three children: Gian Carlo, Adrian y Stefan.  Castillo Varela has combined her professional career as a journalist, her role as mother, wife, and her vocation of social service. Devotes part of her life to strengthen social solidarity and to the integral development of families.

As First Lady Mrs. Castillo Varela is committed to develop programs to benefit the most vulnerable sectors of the population and working to serve all Panamanians.

In her role as UNAIDS Special Ambassador for Latin America and Global Spokesperson for the Zero Discrimination Movement, in July 2017, the First Lady called for Zero Discrimination during the event "Panama sum of all" organized by the Alliance Pro-equality.

To promote, respect and defend the human rights of people with sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and / or HIV and its relatives, the Cabinet Council led by her husband, approved the draft law that establishes the legal framework for a comprehensive approach to "Infections of Sexual Transmission and Human Immunodeficiency Virus ".

This initiative, which was discussed and agreed upon at the National Commission for the Prevention and Control of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (CONAVIH), which the First Lady of the Republic of Panama presides, establishes the prohibition of requiring HIV testing in order to access benefits of private insurance or benefits associated with banking or credit institutions and strengthen the epidemiological surveillance system to allow permanent monitoring of the behavior of STIs at the national level. The document must be endorsed by the National Assembly of Deputies.

In June 2017, during her participation in the session of the UNAIDS Program Coordinating Board in Geneva, Switzerland, she called for the elimination of barriers to accessing quality health services for people living with HIV / AIDS, gender equality and women's empowerment to reduce new AIDS cases, increase investment and eliminate any discrimination against this sector of the population.

In this event where the policies and strategic lines of UNAIDS and its co-sponsors are defined to continue supporting countries in their fight against HIV / AIDS, Castillo de Varela reiterated that all women and young women should be empowered and they must be assured of access to sexual and reproductive health services, and all people must have access to health services without fear of being harassed, mistreated or rejected.

In addition, the First Lady of the Republic of Panama and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Kate Gilmore, agreed to work together to promote initiatives that protect and promote the human rights of all.

Castillo de Varela and Gilmore agreed to establish routes and mechanisms to jointly deepen the promotion of equality, the incorporation of human rights to development plans and the economic sphere and the elimination of discrimination.

Also, in June 2017, the Executive Director of the International Trade Center (ITC), Arancha González, communicated to the First Lady of the Republic of Panama the interest of the agency she directs to seek alliances and mechanisms to promote and encourage in Panama the economic empowerment of women.

González highlighted the efforts of the First Lady to empower women, said that the purpose of this initiative is to give women greater participation in international trade. The empowerment of women is one of the three pillars of management of the First Lady's Office from which work is done to generate better opportunities and improve the quality of women´s life so that they can transform their lives, those of their families and contribute to the economic and social development of the country.

Along the same lines, ratifying his commitment to gender equality and the empowerment of women, President Juan Carlos Varela sanctioned and promulgated in Official Gazette Act 56 of July 11, 2017, which establishes the right of women to access and the active participation in the decision-making of public and private entities of the country.

The new norm establishes the designation of at least 30% of women in all the positions in institutions of the Central Government, decentralized, public companies, financial intermediaries and those regulated by them, that have in their organizational structure a directive, a board of directors or similar bodies.

In June 2017, as part of an official visit to the White House, the First Lady of Panama and her United States counterpart, Melania Trump, held a meeting where they addressed different issues such as the importance of empowering women to eradicate inequity, education in all its stages and on bullying in social networks (cyberbullying).

Both First Ladies agreed to meet soon to continue to deepen in many subjects in which they can support each other for the benefit of both countries.

In April 2017, during a meeting in Rome, Italy, the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), José Graziano da Silva, expressed to the First Lady, Lorena Castillo de Varela, his interest in continuing to support Panama in the development of its food security programs.

FAO valued the achievements of the Biocommunity Project, an initiative launched since 2014 by the Office of the First Lady, Lorena Castillo, to reduce poverty and extreme poverty in Panama. This, after also the UNAIDS Special Ambassador for Latin America and Global Spokesperson for Zero Discrimination, shared the progress of this project that is currently coordinated by the Technical Secretariat of Social Cabinet, and through which work is coordinated with instances in the eradication of poverty, maternal and child mortality, empowerment of women, improvement of educational coverage and the quality of life of the residents of these 14 communities. In total 11, 594 people benefit.

From December 10 to 11, 2016, the First Lady and UNAIDS Special Ambassador for Latin America and spokesperson for Zero Discrimination participated in the forum "Laureates and Leaders for Children" convened in New Delhi, India by the Nobel Peace Prize 2014, Kailash Satyarthi. Within the framework of the event, which aimed to make Nobel Prize winners from all disciplines and world leaders use their leadership to uphold children's rights and fight against child labor, child slavery and trafficking. Panama joined the "100 million to 100 million" campaign led by the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize which aims to fight for The right of children and young people to freedom, education and health care.

This mission was followed up by his intervention in June 2015 in Geneva, Switzerland, at the High Level Panel entitled "No to child labor, yes to quality education", where she advocated the eradication of child labor and reaffirmed the commitment of the Government of the Republic of Panama to promote the progressive elimination of child labor.

On November 30 of 2016, as part of World AIDS Day, she reiterated her commitment to world leaders and activists at UN Headquarters to continue the progress in the response to HIV and raise public awareness of Zero Discrimination to achieve a more fair, inclusive and egalitarian society and to end the epidemic in 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Castillo de Varela participated on November 29 in Washington, at the headquarters of the Organization of American States (OAS) in the event "Early and Forced Marriage and Childhood in the Americas", as part of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women where she spoke in favor of the elimination of child marriage and the promulgation of policies and norms that guarantee the equality of girls and the consistent application of laws.

On November 14 of 2016, as part of the commemoration of the International Day of Tolerance, she shared in Mexico with the Mexico Vivo Foundation and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) the efforts being made in Panama and Latin America to end discrimination and the AIDS epidemic as a threat to public health.

Her work agenda included a visit to the Condesa Iztapalapa Clinic, recognized globally as a model of comprehensive health care for people living with HIV and key populations.

On September 13, 2016, in the framework of the Cabinet Council held in the community of Valle de Antón, in the province of Coclé, she participated in the launching of the campaign "India Dormida Despierta Conciencia", as part of the related activities to the prevention work in the fight against cancer, under the motto “Today we celebrate life, fighting together”. This campaign that Castillo de Varela supported, and whose initiative came from a group of creatives, aimed to raise awareness in rural areas, where there is an increase in cases, to insist on the importance of preventing this disease in time.

On June 9 of 2016, she participated at the United Nations Headquarters in New York at a High Level Meeting on HIV / AIDS where she proposed to the member countries of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) the creation of the Organization of First Ladies of Latin America and the Caribbean against AIDS (OLAFLAC). In her speech at the end of AIDS Financing Panel: the window of opportunity urged leaders of developed countries to allocate economic resources to developing countries to deal with the epidemic.

On May 23 of 2016, together along with Ministry of Health authorities in Geneva, Switzerland, she attended the World Health Assembly, where she presented in the panel Empowering women and girls in the response to HIV, vertical mother-child transmission and presented the vision of the government of the Republic of Panama in the fight against HIV. She also held a working meeting with the Executive Director of UNAIDS, Michael Sidibé, with whom she reviewed the progress of the Zero Discrimination Campaign, a global initiative of UNAIDS of which Castillo Varela is the main spokesperson.

On April 19 of 2016, in the presence of representatives of the business sector, diplomatic corps and authorities of the United Nations University in Tokyo, Japan, she presented her work as UNAIDS Special Ambassador for Latin America in the presentation titled "HIV AIDS in Latin America: Progress and Challenges. "

On November 16 of 2015 she was officially designated as Special Ambassadress for the Joint United Nations Program on HIV / AIDS, UNAIDS for Latin America in a ceremony held at the Amphitheatre of the Presidency with the assistance of UNAIDS Executive Director who recognized the commitment of the First Lady in promoting efforts to expand health coverage to HIV testing and bring health services to the population.

In the framework of the 70th Assembly General of the United Nations, the First Lady presented on September 24 of 2015, at the University of Columbia, New York, United States, in the Panel called “Ending the extreme poverty, the Biocommunity project”, that her office motivates and by which she seeks to eradicate extreme poverty in 14 communities in the country to meet with the Sustainable Development Objectives (SDOs)

On 12 June of 2015 she participated in the High Level Panel: No to child labor Yes to quality education, as part of the 104 International Labor Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, where she highlighted that the Government of the Republic of Panama assumed the Regional Initiative in Latin America and the Caribbean free of child labor as a commitment of the countries of the region to accelerate the eradication of child labor.

As First Lady, she assumed the 5th of May of 2015 as Honorary President of the Panamanian Red Cross. She also chairs the National Comprehensive Care Council for Early Childhood and the National Commission for the Prevention and Control of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (CONAVIH).

On 15 April 2015 she participated in the Second Regional Forum of Migrant Children and Adolescents: "After the crisis actions undertaken and new challenges" held in Washington at the headquarters of the Inter-American

Development Bank, IDB. The wife of President Juan Carlos Varela addressed along with the First Lady of Honduras, Guatemala and delegations of El Salvador and Mexico, humanitarian approach initiatives implemented in the countries of the region in response to the problem of migration of unaccompanied minors to the United States of America.

On October 15 and 16 of 2014, she participated in the I Summit Alliance for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, Central America and the Dominican Republic in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. The First Ladies pledged to join efforts to promote strategies and measures aimed at preventing teenage pregnancy.

At the end of 2014, the First Lady of the Republic of Panama launched the artistic and social project "Solidarity Bonds" through which it seeks to generate awareness and raise funds for the fight against cancer in Panama, following the example of other initiatives taken out around the world to support social causes through art.