Cablegate: Panama/Cuba Relationship: Libertad Act, Title Iii


DE RUEHZP #0834/01 1422211
R 222211Z MAY 07

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000834




E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/21/2017

REF: A. STATE 65523
B. PANAMA 02357

Classified By: Classified By: A/DCM Brian Walch for Reasons 1.4(b)(d)

1. (U) Post provides the following information in response to
Ref. A request. Responses are keyed to the specific
questions identified in Ref. A. Ref. B is Post's information
covering the May-November 2006 time period. Post's answers to
REFTEL A questions are based on information obtained from the
GOP's Comptroller General's offices, the GOP Ministry of
Foreign Relations, the administrative offices of the Colon
Free Zone, various industry and third country publications,
and conversations with various Panamanian business executives.

Nature of Panamanian Investments in Cuba

2. (C) Question 1: What are the nature of investments (and
names, if known) that host country businesses have in Cuba?

3. (U) According to an investment study prepared by Spain's
Society for Industrial Promotion and Reconversion (SPRI), of
the 43 foreign companies operating in Cuba, six are

4. (U) The SPRI study states that Panamanian companies
participate in 18 cooperative production projects in Cuba,
second only to Spain, which has 29 such projects.

5. (U) Panama-based Copa Airlines maintains offices in Havana
and has approximately 20 weekly non-stop flights from Panama
City to Havana. According to various business executives,
Copa Airlines is the only major Panamanian company operating
in Cuba.

6. (U) According to the GOP's Ministry of Commerce and
Industry (MICI), Panamanian exports to Cuba declined from a
high of $4.3 million in 1998 to $469,590 in 2005. Panamanian
exports to Cuba rebounded during 2006, totaling $1.0 million.
Principal exports to Cuba are cosmetics, beauty supplies,
juices, vegetable extracts, and aluminum.

7. (U) According to MICI, Cuban exports to Panama have ranged
from a high of $1,151,673 in 2000 to a low of $142,877 in
2002. However, during 2006 Cuban exports to Panama jumped to
$20.7 million; of which $19.9 million was clinker (the
principal ingredient in most cement products), principally
for use in Panama's booming construction industry.

8. (SBU) The bulk of Panamanian/Cuban commerce occurs through
Panama's Colon Free Zone (CFZ). According to the CFZ, of the
approximately 2,400 companies operating in the CFZ,
approximately 95 do business with Cuba. Cuban companies and
Panamanian shell companies owned by Cubans or the GOC use the
CFZ as a transit point to import U.S. and other goods to Cuba
to circumvent the U.S. trade embargo. As of 2004 (the most
recent data available), Cuban companies owed various
companies in the CFZ approximately $200 million for goods
previously delivered. According to the CFZ, approximately,
$195 million of goods were re-exported to Cuba during 2004.

9. (U) The GOP does not compile statistics on the amount of
foreign direct investment made by Panamanian companies in
other countries.

Bilateral Trade Agreements

10. (C) Question 2: Are there bilateral trade agreements
between the host country and Cuba?

11. (U) On January 27, 1999, the GOP, under then President
Ernesto Perez Balladares' Administration, and GOC signed an
Agreement for the Reciprocal Promotion and Protection of
Investments that, among other things, guaranteed that each
country would grant the other investment protections and
rights no less than those received by any other third

12. (U) On August 31, 2000, the GOP, under then President
Mireya Moscoso's Administration, and GOC signed an Agreement
Relating to Airlines Services between their Respective
Territories and Onward Destinations.

Exchange Programs

13. (C) Question 3: Are there any exchange programs between
host country and Cuba, including but not limited to:
scholarships for host country national to study in Cuba;
Cuban-paid medical travel for host country nationals; and
Cuban doctors working in host country?

14. (U) On February 16, 1999, the GOP, under the Balladares
Administration, and GOC signed an Agreement for Cultural and
Educational Cooperation.

15. (U) On March 17, 2006, the GOP, under current President
Martin Torrijos' Administration, and GOC signed a Memorandum
of Understanding eliminating the need for visas to travel
between Panama and Cuba for persons holding diplomatic,
official, consular or special passports. The Memorandum of
Understanding stated that the purpose of eliminating the visa
requirement was to facilitate travel and exchanges between
officials of both countries in order to contribute to an
expansion in bilateral cooperation

16. (U) The GOP actively supports the GOC's Operation Miracle
(Operacion Milagro) eye surgery program. According to the
GOP, approximately 4,000 Panamanians have been treated by
Cuban doctors in Panama and in Cuba. The GOC sponsors both
free travel to Cuba and free eye care. Operation Miracle has
received the personal support of First Lady Vivian Fernandez
de Torrijos, who has traveled to the airport to visit
Panamanians departing for Cuba. The First Lady, along with
the GOP Vice Minister of Health, Dora Jara, has supervised
and coordinated all Operation Miracle activities. The GOC has
two eye doctors working in Panama on a rotating basis. These
doctors perform pre-screening of Operation Miracle patients
at GOP health facilities. Both GOP and GOC officials
frequently discuss expanding the reach of Operation Miracle
in Panama. The GOP praised Operation Miracle, in presidential
speeches, by sponsoring full-page newspapers ads extolling
the virtues of Operation Miracle, and on the websites of its
various government agencies. The GOP listed Operation
Miracle as one of greatest accomplishments in a full-page
GOP-paid ad regarding its social development achievements.
On March 2, 2007, GOP FM Samuel Lewis Navarro and GOC FM
Felipe Perez visited the jointly-operated Panamanian-Cuban
Eye Surgery Treatment Center in Veraguas, Panama to highlight
the work of Operation Miracle.

17. (U) Panama and Cuba have student exchange programs. There
are currently approximately 400 Panamanian medical students
at the Latin American School of Medicine in Cuba.

Promotion of Democracy and Human Rights

18. (C) Question 4: Has the host country, in Post's opinion,
worked to promote the advancement of democracy and human
rights in Cuba? This can include: public statements or other
governmental actions, such as resolutions in the national
assemblies condemning human rights abuses in Cuba; statements
in support of democracy following the July 31, 2006 handover
of power from Fidel to Raul Castro; actions in support of
civil society in Cuba through host country's diplomatic
missions or other fora.

19. (C) The GOP has not made any public statements in support
of democracy or human rights in Cuba during 2007. The GOP
appears to have done little to support the advancement of
democracy or human rights in Cuba. The GOP is strengthening
its relationship with Cuba through increased
government-to-government contact and through exchange

programs such as Operation Miracle. The GOP does not support
any proactive steps to further democracy upon President
Castro's death or as a result of the transfer of power to
Raul Castro. While it claims to press the GOC in private to
facilitate democracy on the island, the GOP in its
conversations with USG officials emphasizes the need for
stability in Cuba and downplays encouraging democracy. The
GOP, however, advocates lifting the USG trade embargo on

Diplomatic Visits

20. (C) Question 5: Have there been any high-level diplomatic
visits between Cuba and host country in the past six months?

21. (U) The GOP and GOC re-established diplomatic relations
on August 20, 2005 after diplomatic ties were severed in
August 2004.

22. (U) Panamanian companies attended the 24th Annual
International Trade Fair in Havana, Cuba held October
30-November 4, 2006.

23. (U) On November 3-10, 2006, members of the Cuban Civil
Aviation Authority attended the Latin American Civil Aviation
Conference in Panama.

24. (U) During the week of November 13, 2006, the President
of Panama's National Assembly, Elias Castillo, visited Cuba.
He met with the President of the Cuban National Assembly
Ricardo Alarcon and signed an accord to reinforce
inter-legislative relations.

25. (U) During the week of November 20, 2006, Alarcon visited
Panama to meet with President Torrijos, FM Navarro and
members of the Panama-Cuba Parliamentary Group. Alarcon also
attended the Latin America and Caribbean Congress for the
Independence of Puerto Rico held in Panama, an event at which
President Torrijos called for placing Puerto Rico on the path
to independence.

26. (U) From January 2-6, 2007, President Torrijos visited
Cuba, ostensibly on a "private" trip, to highlight Operation
Miracle, visit Panamanian medical students and have his
middle child, Daniel, receive medical treatment for cerebral

27. (U) From February 27-March 3, 2007, the GOP hosted the
First Bilateral National Commission Panama/Cuba. GOC FM
Felipe Perez lead the GOC delegation. During the meeting
four bilateral agreements were signed regarding the transfer
of criminals, judicial cooperation, recognition of university
level degrees, and documenting and archiving historical
diplomatic documents.

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