Alumni Spotlight

Meliton A. Arrocha '94: Serving People of Panama

By, Betty Lynne Leary

Fresh out of the Washington College of Law with a master of laws degree, Meliton A. Arrocha ’94 received an offer of employment from a Washington, D.C. law firm.

“I accepted,” Arrocha recalls, “then the very next day I politely declined.” A native of Panama, Arrocha’s wife wanted to return home, so Arrocha left the United States intent on developing his own law practice.

“I opened my own firm which was very small,” he explains, “but it has been growing steadily since then. Now we have 16 persons here which, by Panamanian standards, is a mid-sized firm.” With his practice— Arrocha and Company—underway, Arrocha found time for teaching at Santa Maria La Antigua University, where he earned his law and political science degree in 1992.

“When I returned from WCL, I wanted to teach in my former school so for two years I taught Introduction to Law and Political Science,” he says. “It was a good experience to give back a little of the knowledge I got from WCL. It’s always good to see that we’re giving back.”

Several years after opening his practice, Arrocha began a new chapter in his career by entering public service with the government of Panama. He has served in a variety of offices including the ministries of the Presidency, Treasury, Government and Justice, Trade and Industry, Agricultural Development, and the National Maritime Authority of the Republic of Panama. In July, Arrocha was named to his most prestigious post yet— as vice-chancellor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In November, Arrocha addressed more than 90 world experts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as they met at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama City. Arrocha expressed his country’s appreciation to the Smithsonian for convening the group in Panama. He stressed the dangers that Panama faces from sea-level rise and unprecedented flooding and he outlined the three major steps Panama is taking to address climate change: the Panama Canal expansion that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from huge oceangoing vessels by decreasing the length of key global trade routes; improvements to Panama City’s public transportation system; and Panama’s plan to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, which received approval from the United Nations.

Arrocha says he would like to stay in public service then eventually return to his private practice. But he also has a strong desire to return to Washington.

“In life you set milestones for yourself for the things you want to achieve,” he says. “Someday I will go back to D.C. and do some professional activity. I want to be close to the school and to the professors.” He reminisces about his days in law school, “when I didn’t have to work,” he says laughing, and recalls the diversity of the WCL community.

“Professors and students came from all over the world and the ability to bring all those cultures together was tremendous,” Arrocha notes. He crosses paths now and then with fellow WCL alumni including one in Costa Rica recently. He also entertained another alumnus from Chile who came to Panama for a visit.

“To live in D.C. was a tremendous experience. The professors gave me the best legal education I could get. At WCL, you not only study international law, you live it.”