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Cablegate: Panama-Venezuela: Chavez Not Visiting; Rosales

VZCZCXYZ0002
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHZP #0856/01 1442039
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 242039Z MAY 07
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0443
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 0334
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 1134
RUEHRI/AMCONSUL RIO DE JANEIRO 0041
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000856

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/23/2017
TAGS: PGOV PREL VE PM
SUBJECT: PANAMA-VENEZUELA: CHAVEZ NOT VISITING; ROSALES
VISITS


Classified By: Ambassador William A. Eaton. Reasons:
1.4 (b) and (d)

-------
Summary
-------

1. (C) "Chavez will not be coming to the General Assembly of
the Organization of American States (OASGA)," Panamanian
First VP and FM Samuel Lewis told Ambassador on May 23. A
relieved Lewis added that President Martin Torrijos would not
make a stop-over in Caracas on hi way to Rio de Janeiro.
(Note: Torrijos departed on May 23 for Rio de Janeiro, and
Lewis traveled with him.) Meanwhile, former Venezuelan
presidential candidate Manuel Rosales completed a four-day
visit to Panama City on May 23. Rosales met together with
former Presidents Mireya Moscoso Ernesto "El Toro" Perez
Balladares, and Guillermo Endara as well as opposition party
leaders and business leaders. Rosales also had significant
contact with the media conducting radio, television, and
newspaper interviews. Chavez's impending revocation of the
license of Radio Caracas Television (RCTV) served as Rosales'
touchstone for his public and private comments. Rosales'
criticism of Chavez's assault on Venezuela's democracy in
general and on press freedoms in particular received a warm
and empathetic reception. Yanny Jeanett, General Coordinator
of A New Time's International Policy Committee, underscored
that the purpose of the visit was "to underscore the
democratic deficit that threatens Venezuela." Relieved not to
have to weigh an invitation, Lewis asserted that Rosales had
not requested a meeting with him or any other GOP official.
Lewis explained that the message had been passed to Rosales
that he should not use Panama a as a "platform to launch a
campaign against Chavez," arguing instead that Panama could
play a more useful role as a "valid interlocutor" with
Chavez. Panamanian opposition leaders criticized Torrijos
for not receiving Rosales. End Summary

------------------------
Rosales' Jammed Schedule
------------------------

2. (U) On May 21, Mayin Correa interviewed Rosales on her
top-rated, morning drive time radio talk show. Following the
interview, Rosales met with the secretary general of the
following Panamanian opposition parties: Patriotic Union
(UP), Panamenista, Movement of Liberals and National
Republicans (MOLIRENA), and Democratic Change (CD). CD
Operations Chief Ricardo Quijano told POLCOUNS May 23 that
Rosales had greatly impressed these opposition leaders with
his clear and cogent presentation of Chavez's challenges to
democratic norms in Venezuela. "He left no doubt in our
minds that Venezuela's opposition deserves our support,"
Quijano said. Following his meeting with opposition leaders,
Rosales met with governing Revolutionary Democratic Party
(PRD) allies from the Popular Party (PP) and the Liberal
Party (PL). CD President (and presidential pre-candidate)
Ricardo Martinelli told the press, "It seems that Venezuela
is headed for a civil dictatorship lead by Chavez."

3. (U) On the evening of May 21, Rosales had dinner with
former presidents Endara, Perez Balladares, and Moscoso, who
undertook to lobby FMs who would attend the OASGA June 3-5 to
work to keep RCTV open. Moscoso told the press that what was
happening in Venezuela was "lamentable," noting Panama had
"suffered 21 years of dictatorship." Perez Balladares
commented to the press, "We are very worried about the
closing of RCTV, something that signifies a measure to limit
the freedom of expression, one of the most precious things we
have in a democracy."

4. (U) Rosales began May 22 with an interview on Luci
Molinar's top-rated television/radio morning talk show. At
11:00 a.m., he held a press conference at the Sheraton Hotel
during which a small group pro-Chavez demonstrators, mostly
from Panama's National Front to Defense Social Security
(FRENADESSO), clamored outside the hotel. Rosales then held
a roundtable with Panama's National Council of Private
Businesses (CONEP) and later met with the Panamanian
Association of Executives of Businesses (APEDE). In his
meetings with CONEP and APEDE, Rosales focused on "the
disrespect of the government of Venezuela for the norms and
promises of the Inter-American Democratic Charter."

-------------------------------------
Lewis: Rosales Never Asked to See Me
-------------------------------------

5. (C) Sensitive to criticism that no GOP officials met
with Rosales, Lewis asserted, "Rosales never asked to see me
or any other government officials." Lewis noted that he was
glad that he did not face a decision of whether or not to see
Rosales since he had never received a request. Lewis meekly
offered that National Assembly VP Jorge "Popo" Alvarado and
two unnamed PRD deputies met with Rosales. Lewis explained
that the GOP told Rosales that he should not use Panama a as
a "platform to launch a campaign against Chavez;" instead
Panama could play a more useful role as a "valid
interlocutor" with Chavez. At the same time though, Lewis
was happy to report that Chavez would not be attending the
OASGA. Lewis said that Panama had been successful in
convincing the Venezuelans that it would not be a good idea
to attend this largely ministerial-level meeting. He added
that Chavez had miscalculated the blow-back across the
hemisphere against his decision to rescind RCTV's license,
something that encouraged Chavez to stay away from the OASGA.
Lewis stated that Torrijos would not make a stop-over in
Caracas en route to Rio de Janeiro and said that Panama was
still withholding agrement for Venezuela's new ambassador to
Panama, a matter that was becoming a growing irritant in the
Panama-Venezuela relationship.

-------
Comment
-------

6. (C) Rosales' visit to Panama was a success: his case
against Chavez received a warm, empathetic reception and
resonated with a Panamanian public that still remembers
clearly its own 21-year dictatorship that ended in 1989.
From his vantage point, Lewis -- putting the Rosales visit
behind him and turning off the prospective Chavez visit --
also achieved success. Once again, Panama has navigated
uncomfortable political realities in its effort to sustain
its foreign policy of seeking friendly relations with all
nations that seek friendly relations with it, including
Venezuela and Cuba. While Lewis desires to continue to hold
Panama forward as a "valid interlocutor" with Venezuela, it
is not clear that there is much substance to any
Panama-Venezuela discussions. Ultimately, post assesses that
Panama will relent and grant agrement to Venezuela's proposed
new ambassador.
EATON

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