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Cablegate: Gangs Garnering Public Attention, but Transnational And

VZCZCXYZ0001
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHZP #0517 0991622
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 091622Z APR 07
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0106
INFO RHMFIUU/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC
RHEFHLC/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHINGTON DC
RUMIAAA/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUEABND/DEA HQS WASHDC

UNCLAS PANAMA 000517

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SNAR KCRM PM
SUBJECT: GANGS GARNERING PUBLIC ATTENTION, BUT TRANSNATIONAL AND
TRAFFICKING LINKAGES MINIMAL

REF: A) Panama 505

B) Panama 245

1. (SBU) Summary: A deadly March 21 fire that ensued following the
outbreak of violence motivated the GOP to introduce anti-crime
legislation on April 4 that includes provisions for longer detention
of juvenile offenders (Ref A). Prominent media attention to
gang-related violence has raised alarm bells with the public.
Panama's major cities do appear to have seen a rise in gang
violence. However, there is little evidence of close ties to Maras
or other major gang organizations in Central America. In addition,
we estimate that major drug organizations do not use local gangs for
trafficking purposes. End Summary.

2. (U) On March 21, a gang turf battle led to a deadly fire in the
impoverished Curundu area of Panama City. A subsequent raid of the
area by police yielded the arrest of dozens of alleged gang members,
most of them under age 18. Media reporting of the next-day release
of all but one of the arrestees highlighted the weakness of local
laws regarding arrest and detention of juvenile offenders.

3. (U) In his March 29 address to the nation, President Torrijos
announced the imminent introduction to the National Assembly of an
anti-crime bill (Ref A). Among other provisions, this bill includes
a package of reforms aimed at combating juvenile and gang-related
crimes, such increasing the post-arrest maximum detention period as
well the ceiling for prison time for crimes committed as a minor.
Torrijos draft legislation was delivered to the National Assembly on
April 3, and the National Assembly, which has fast-tracked the bill,
will begin debate following Easter.

4. (SBU) Comment: The Embassy Law Enforcement Working Group
(LESWG) met on April 4 to discuss the gang dynamic in Panama and
concluded that, while small local gangs engage in regular criminal
activity, they did not have direct links to major gang entities in
Central America, such as the Maras. In addition, post estimated
that Panamanian gangs did engage in small scale drug selling, but
they were not regularly used by major trafficking organizations for
moving large quantities of drugs. The LESWG agreed to continue to
work closely with the police, however, in training and provision of
equipment to keep on top of the evolution of local gangs. Post will
continue to track the gang phenomenon in coming months and report
significant developments.

ARREAGA

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