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Cablegate: Panama: Chavez's Closure of Rctv "Sovereign"

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHZP #0901 1511951
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 311951Z MAY 07
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0502
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 0336
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 1136
RUEHRI/AMCONSUL RIO DE JANEIRO 0043
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RUMIAAA/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000901

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/31/2017
TAGS: PREL PHUM ENRG ECON OAS VE PM
SUBJECT: PANAMA: CHAVEZ'S CLOSURE OF RCTV "SOVEREIGN"
DECISION, CANNOT "JUDGE"


Classified By: Ambassador William A. Eaton. Reason: 1.4 (d)

--------------------------------------------- ------
Decision to Close RCTV "Sovereign," Cannot be Judged
--------------------------------------------- -------

1. (U) "The decision to not renew RCTV's concession was a
sovereign decision of the Government of Venezuela,"
Panamanian President Martin Torrijos told the press on May 25
during a press conference in Brazil. "Neither Panama nor any
other country can judge whether or not the application of
other countries' judicial norms constitutes a violation of
human rights," First VP and FM Samuel said on May 30.
Continuing, Lewis added, "Determining whether the refusal to
renew a frequency concession constitutes a violation of human
rights is not something that is not the responsibility of
Panama or of the Organization of American States (OAS)."
Repeatedly, Lewis has stated that neither RCTV nor the issue
of press freedoms in Venezuela will be on "the agenda" of the
OAS General Assembly that Panama will host June 3-5.

--------------------------------------------- --
"We are the hosts . . . and need to be careful"
--------------------------------------------- --

2. (C) "We are the hosts of the OAS General Assembly, and
we need to be careful about how we handle the RCTV issue and
Venezuela," Lewis told Ambassador on the margins of a
breakfast at Lewis' residence on May 31. "We cannot put
Panama in the position of commenting on internal decisions
such as Chavez's with respect to RCTV. We cannot come out
and support RCTV." Lewis underscored twice that Panama was
striving to maintain the focus on the this OASGA's theme of
energy for development and opportunities in Panama. Panama
had managed preparations for the OASGA to avoid conflict
between the U.S. and Venezuela. By pursuing the theme of
energy for development -- especially with the inclusion of
discussion of alternative fuels such as ethanol, something
anathema to oil rich Venezuela -- Lewis asserted that Panama
had successfully diverted any pre-OASGA tension from a
U.S.-Venezuela dynamic to a dynamic in which Venezuela had to
wrestle with its own neighbors who had major interests in
ethanol, most notably Brazil. Pressed as to why Panama
embraced Chavez's action rather than tout its own experience
regarding the need to defend freedom of expression as it
emerged from dictatorship, Lewis said, "We cannot pat
ourselves on the head and say how attractive our daughter has
become." Should this issue arise during the Secretary's
press availability with President Torrijos, Lewis instead
asked that the U.S. draw attention to the important role
protection of freedom of expression had in Panama restoration
of democracy.

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

3. (C) Torrijos and Lewis have gotten themselves into a jam
with its remarks defending Chavez's closure of RCTV. We can
only speculate whether Torrijos' and Lewis' remarks were the
price that Panama agreed to pay to avert a Chavez visit to
the OASGA. Domestically, Torrijos and Lewis have taken a
beating as civic organizations, chambers of commerce, and
press associations in addition to political leaders from
across the opposition spectrum have roundly criticized them
for their fickle posture on this matter. Many such
commentators have questioned whether Torrijos' and Lewis'
lackluster defense of freedom of expression suggests that the
governing Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) has really
come that far from its dictatorial roots. This issue may
continue to resonate internally as opposition leaders raise
the specter of a "civil dictatorship" by the PRD that
dominates Panama's governmental institutions. Lewis clearly
is desperate for a successful OASGA to the point of vainly
hoping that the RCTV issue and Venezuela do not cast a shadow
across the OASGA's proceedings.
EATON

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