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Cablegate: Panama Post: Edition Vi

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DE RUEHZP #1226/01 2041231
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 231231Z JUL 07
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0845
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
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 001226

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/20/2017
TAGS: PREL PGOV PM
SUBJECT: PANAMA POST: EDITION VI

REF: (A) PANAMA 1197 (AND PREVIOUS) (B) PANAMA 1210

Classified By: POLCOUNS Brian R. Naranjo. Reasons: 1.4 (b) and (d)

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

1. (C) Dichter and Neira's latest poll (REFTEL B), published
by Panama City broad sheet daily La Prensa on July 16, set
the political tone for this week. Taking a significant dive
in the polls, Panama City Mayor and aspirant for the
governing Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) presidential
nomination Juan Carlos Navarro feigned pessimism about the
PRD's prospects. Were it forced to handicap the presidential
race at this point though, the Panama Post would have to give
the edge to the PRD. Meanwhile, opposition leaders jockeyed
for position in the run-up to opposition party conventions
and an overall consolidation trend in the opposition.
Allegedly possible PRD presidential nominee Balbina Herrera
might be "uncomfortable" with her front-runner status in the
polls. Finally, Bolivarian leftist groups voiced their
opposition to the U.S.-Panama Trade Promition Agreement
(TPA), but did so three days after the National Assembly
blessed the agreement. The following is a summary of this
week's headlines:

-- Panama City Mayor Juan Carlos Navarro feigns pessimism at
governing Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD)'s 2009
prospects;
-- Panama's Bolivarians call for "grand citizen's
consultation" on U.S.-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA)
. . . three days after National Assembly blesses agreement;
-- Former VP Billy Ford likely to be President of Patriotic
Union (UP);
-- Surprisingly buoyant, Panamenista Party President Juan
Carlos Varela sees opposition scenario simplifying and
consolidating;
-- Jose Miguel Aleman likely to be Endara's vice presidential
running mate; and
-- Minister of Government and Justice Olga Golcher dishes:
Pedro Miguel Gonzalez will not/not be President of National
Assembly, Balbina Herrrera uncomfortable being PRD
front-runner.

End summary

-----------------------------------
Navarro: PRD Going to Lose in 2009
-----------------------------------

2. (C) "The PRD is going to lose in 2009. These guys do not
realize how difficult it will be to keep the PRD in power,"
Panama City Juan Carlos Navarro asserted to Ambassador on
July 16. "We have to get to work and get serious if we are
to have a shot at hanging on to the presidency in 2009." The
mayor commented that he did not believe that fellow PRD
member and Minister of Housing Balbina Herrera would run for
president, though he conceded that, as any talented

politician, she had to at least be toying with the idea.
Navarro acknowledged that Herrera would have a decisive role
to play the PRD's internal maneuvering for the presidential
nomination and added that so to did President Martin
Torrijos. "Herrera and I are getting along very well," the
mayor said. "Torrijos and I have never had a better
relationship." Nonetheless, a resigned Navarro admitted that
Torrijos remained steadfast in his support for First VP and
FM Samuel Lewis despite his low poll numbers and the prospect
of moving up the PRD's internal elections, as Navarro
desires, were dim. Remarking that Lewis entered politics at
his urging, Navarro said, "I just need to find a way to beat
my cousin." Navarro said he believed that Ernesto "El Toro"
Perez Balladares was a spent force.

3. (C) The Panama Post was not sucked in by Navarro's
pessimistic, gloom and doom scenario for the PRD, but rather
continues to believe that the 2009 elections currently are
the PRD's to lose. Perhaps Navarro was attempting to portray
himself as a dark horse candidate. While outwardly
pessimistic about his party, Navarro seemed resigned to
current political alignment in the PRD and wishful for a
realignment of its constellation. Herrera, who out polled
Navarro in a recent poll, and Torrijos remain the two great
unknowns for Navarro's prospects in the PRD.

---------------------------------------
MP-UNA's Open Letter to Torrijos on TPA
---------------------------------------

4. (U) "(W)e demand a broad process of debate regarding the
Trade Promotion Agreement that culminates in a great
citizen's consultation that would permit all Panamanians to
decide" whether to accept this treaty, the People's Movement
- United for Our America (MP-UNA) declared in its July 14
open letter to President Torrijos published in Panama City
daily La Estrella This Bolivarian umbrella organization
complained, "(R)epublican and Democratic Congressmen
introduced modifications to the draft treaty that are
entirely unknown to our country." Continuing, the letter
stated, "What is at play, Mr. President, is the food security
of our people and the right of self-determination of
Panamanians regarding its own future." Asserting the need
for a public consultation, MP-UNA argued, "The political
parties represented in the legislative power have lost
credibility before public opinion," and added that Torrijos'
call for a special session of the National Assembly to
consider the treaty was "trickery." Finally, MP-UNA stated,
"It is our firm conviction, Mr. President, that, for the
sovereign interests of the country, the correct path toward
economic integration has to be with the other peoples of our
America. Therefore, our position is in favor of Panama
integrating itself as a member of ALBA (Free Bolivarian Area
of the Americas)." The letter was signed by the following
MP-UNA coordinators: Dr. Miguel A. Candanedo (Secretary
General of the University of Panama); Dr. Carlos Wong;
Professor Dania Batista; Saul Mendez, Secretary General of
radical Sole National Union of Workers of the Construction
Industry and Similar Industries (SUNTRACS); Gloria Castillo;
Javier Viquez; Silvestre Diaz; Manuel Prado; Eric Fernandez;
Tayra Stanley; and Carlos Nunez.

5. (C) Comment: Though published three days after Panama's
National Assembly had already acted on the TPA, the fact that
it was published at all was a minor success for MP-UNA .
Candanedo and Alternative Policy Party (PAP) President Omeldo
Beluche, an MP-UNA member, separately complained to POLCOUNS
that MP-UNA and other leftist organizations had little access
to the media as "oligarchic" interests "undemocratically"
barred their access. Established only about two months
earlier, this letter provides insight into MP-UNA's views:
(a) the traditional parties are out of touch and lack
credibility; (b) only a direct popular consultation (read: a
referendum) would provide a truly sovereign decision; (c) the
political elites in the U.S. and Panama are tricking the
Panamanian people; and (d) integration with Panama's
neighbors through ALBA is the preferred path to economic
integration. Floor managers of the TPA debate pressed to
conclude discussions of the treaty before MP-UNA, through
organizations such as SUNTRACS and FRENADESO (National Front
for the Defense of Economic and Social Rights), could mount a
significant protest.

--------------------------------
Billy Ford Apparent UP President
--------------------------------

6. (U) As widely anticipated, former VP Guillermo "Billy"
Ford is expected to be elected president of the Patriotic
Union (UP) party at its convention on September 16. Though
other candidacies may still be considered, former Solidarity
Party President Jose Raul Mulino's and former National
Liberal Party (PLN) President Anibal Galindo's withdrawal of
their own candidacies and endorsement of Ford on July 18
cleared the way for an all but assured victory for Ford.
Instead, Mulino and Galindo will accept UP vice presidencies.
Mulino told the press, "We are building a political project,
not simply an electoral party." Galindo added that, by
stepping aside to bring in Ford as a unifier, Mulino and
Galindo were demonstrating that UP "will never place personal
interests above those of the majority of the party or of the
country." Ford stated that he would accompany Mulino and
Galindo on a nationwide tour to engage the UP rank and file.

7. (C) Comment: Ford stood back and allowed others to
portray him as the best option for party unification while
preserving enough political space to accommodate Mulino and
Galindo. Ford, Mulino and Galindo will have their work cut
out for them though as they strive to energize UP bases and
fully consolidate the Solidarity-PLN marriage that produced
UP. For example, only eight percent of the registered
estimated 120,000 UP members participated in the party's
recent internal selection of conventioneers. Panamenista
Party President Juan Carlos Varela told POLCOUNS on July 18
that with Ford at the helm UP would not enter into alliance
with the governing Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) and
could be brought into "a grand opposition alliance" along
with the Movement of Liberal Republican Nationals (MOLIRENA)
and the Panamenista Party. UP is not expected to field its
own presidential candidate, but rather to enter into alliance
to support another party's candidate.

--------------------------------------------- -
Varela: Opposition Simplifying, Consolidating
--------------------------------------------- -

8. (C) Surprisingly buoyant -- his support dropped
two-thirds from about 15 percent to about 5 percent in the
most recent publicly available national poll -- Panamenista
Party President told POLCOUNS July 18 that the opposition
"scenario" was "simplifying" and the various opposition
forces were "consolidating." Acknowledging his own loss of
support, Varela said he was unconcerned as "strategically"
the dynamic in the opposition was increasingly setting up a
three-way presidential race in which the Panamenista Party
would necessarily be a dominate force. Varela was dismissive
that former President Guillermo Endara would be a force: "He
will not get the Panamenista support that is essential to
him," and "His continued presence in the race helps draw the
distinction between old dinosaurs and new fresh blood." As
stated above (para 7), Varela was very satisfied at
developments in the Patriotic Union (UP) party and believed
that they would bode well for an alliance. Varela said that
soon he and other leading Panamenistas like Jose Blandon, Jr.
would issue a call for the opposition to unify (of course,
around the Panamenista Party). Varela expected that
Democratic Change (CD) Party President Ricardo Martinelli
would steer clear from such an initiative. Martinelli,
however, would have difficulty sustaining his commanding lead
in the polls, presently at about 43 percent, Varela
suggested, particularly once opposition parties held their
formal conventions and candidates (likely to include Varela)
announced their runs for the presidency. Varela did not think
former presidential candidates Alberto Vallarino or Jose
Miguel Aleman would be forces in the coming campaign.
"Ultimately, I am very comfortable with the direction
opposition politics are developing," Varela said. He
continued to advocate for an inter-party opposition primary
-- a non-binding sounding in which opposition party members
and independents could participate -- as the best way forward
to consolidate the opposition. For now, Varela stated that
he thought there would a three-way race for president between
Martinelli, the PRD's candidate (most likely First VP and FM
Samuel Lewis), and a united opposition force's candidate.

9. (C) Comment: The Panama Post concurs with Varela that
currents in the opposition are simplifying the array of
opposition forces and encouraging consolidation, but is not
as convinced that everything may be breaking Varela's way.
There are still too many cards to be played in the
opposition's game of Texas Hold'em, and the Panama Post would
like to see a few more cards before placing any bets.

--------------------------------------------- --
Jose Miguel Aleman to be Endara's VP Candidate?
--------------------------------------------- --

10. (C) In last week's edition, the Panama Post reported
that Endara might have chosen his vice presidential nominee,
according to Endara's close advisor Menalco Solis. Well,
accompanying Endara and Solis to lunch with the Ambassador
next Monday (July 23) will be former Panamenista Party
Presidential candidate Jose Miguel Aleman. Separately, we
learned from Solis' son that Aleman would likely be Endara's
vice presidential running mate. Aleman is close to former
President Mireya Moscoso. Panamenista Party President Varela
seemed decidedly uninterested and unconcerned on July 18
regarding Aleman's political activities. Keep your eyes open
for next week's edition to see if the Panama Post has
anything further to report on Endara's vice presidential
choice and the impact that it might have.

--------------------------------------------- ---------
Minister of Government and Justice Olga Golcher Dishes
--------------------------------------------- ---------

11. (C) "Pedro Miguel Gonzalez will not be the next
President of the National Assembly," Minister of Government
and Justice told DCM on July 18. "Torrijos knows that that
would create problems with you and that the U.S. has strong
objections to Pedro Miguel." In lieu of National Assembly
Presidency, Golcher asserted that Gonzalez would be given a
seat on the PRD's Nationial Executive Committee (CEN).
Turning to the issue of who would be the PRD's nomination for
preident, Golcher said that Minister of Housing Balbina
Herrera was "uncomfortable" being the "front-runner" in the
latest poll. Concerned that voters tended to switch from one
party to another from election to election, Golcher explained
basically that Herrera did not want to lose by being caught
on the downswing as voters turned the PRD out of power. From
this perspective, Golcher said Herrera would be better off
winning the race for Mayor of Panama City and making a run
for president instead in 2014.

12. (C) Comment: The Panama Post has been putting the word
on the street for the past few weeks that installing
Gonzalez, a wanted fugitive for the 1992 murder of a U.S.
serviceman who is also ineligible for a U.S. visa on
terrorism grounds, as the next National Assembly President
would be a very, very bad move; the message appears to have
gotten through. As for Herrera, whether she wants to run for
President or Mayor of Panama City, time will only tell. This
week, driven by a "the PRD will be driven out of power" vibe,
Herrera may be more inclined to going the safe route and
running for mayor. Only one thing about Herrera is clear
though: she will have an important role to play in the PRD's
unfolding electoral strategy for 2009.
Eaton

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