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Cablegate: Panama: Cabinet Resigns, Pedro Miguel Gonzalez

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHZP #1440/01 2392209
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 272209Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1058
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RHMFISS/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RUCNFB/FBI WASHINGTON DC
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 001440

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/27/2017
TAGS: PREL PGOV KCRM KJUS PM
SUBJECT: PANAMA: CABINET RESIGNS, PEDRO MIGUEL GONZALEZ
MAY BE GIVEN CABINET JOB

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

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

1. (C) President Torrijos, entire cabinet composed of
fourteen ministers resigned on the afternoon of August 27.
Torrijos will now be free to accept and reject resignations
as he reorganizes his cabinet. This sudden mass resignation
is not only the culmination of months-long rumors of a
cabinet shuffle, but may also be designed by Torrijos to
resolve the political fate of National Assembly Deputy Pedro
Miguel Gonzalez, who is also a U.S. federal fugitive wanted
for the 1992 murder of U.S. serviceman Zak Hernandez.
Torrijos might offer Pedo Miguel Gonzalez (PMG), a &minor8
ministerial position as an alternative to PMG's election as
President of the National Assembly, First VP and FM Samuel
Lewis told Ambassador on August 25. End summary.

--------------------------------------------- -
Cabinet Resigns; Torrijos Free to Reorganize
--------------------------------------------- -

2. (U) Following a lunch hosted by Minister of the
Presidency Ubaldino Real, Panamanian media reported that
Torrijos, entire 14-member cabinet had submitted its
resignations. Torrijos is now free to reorganize his cabinet
by accepting or rejecting the resignations that have been
presented to him.

--------------------------------------------- ---
Lewis, Views on Torrijos, Political Challenges
--------------------------------------------- ---

3. (C) During a meeting with Ambassador on August 25, Lewis
spoke at length about the political challenges faced by
Torrijos within the governing Democratic Revolutionary Party
(PRD) because of the public controversy about the candidacy
for President of the National Assembly of Pedro Miguel
Gonzalez, who is wanted in the U.S. for the cold-blooded 1992
murder of U.S. serviceman Zak Hernandez. Public speculation
about USG unhappiness with PMG's candidacy had limited
Torrijos' room to maneuver within the party to find a
replacement candidate, Lewis said. Lewis asserted that
Torrijos had made a strategic blunder by opening up the field
for self-nominations for the Assembly Presidency. Once PMG
announced his candidacy and began consolidating his support,
Lewis explained, Torrijos was boxed into a dilemma. That
dilemma, Lewis said, was manageable until the public
speculation gained momentum about USG pressure to block PMG's
candidacy. Now, Lewis said, many within the PRD were beating
their chests about sovereignty and the need to "stand up to
the gringos." While Lewis confided that he was still 99
percent sure Torrijos could avoid PMG's election as Assembly
President, his options were more limited. One option, he
said, was to appoint PMG to head a &minor8 ministry vacated
during the upcoming Cabinet reshuffle.

--------------------------------------------- -----------
Ambassador Underscores U.S. Concerns About PMG
--------------------------------------------- -----------

4. (C) Ambassador reiterated to Lewis the strong feelings in
the U.S. about elevating a cold-blooded assassin of a U.S.
soldier -- who is a fugitive from U.S. justice -- to a
position of leadership in the PRD-led National Assembly .
While he could understand President Torrijos' internal party
dilemma, Ambassador said that the appointment of PMG to a
ministerial position would cause many in the U.S. to question
the true intentions of an otherwise friendly government.
Such a U.S. reaction would not be helpful, but furthermore
would be particularly unconstructive as the U.S. Congress
prepared to deliberate on the U.S.-Panama Trade Promotion
Agreement (TPA).

--------------------
The Cabinet Shuffle
--------------------

5. (C) Lewis told Ambassador on August 25 that one scenario
being considered is for all of the Cabinet members to submit
their letters of resignation to the President, who would then
pick and choose which of the letters to accept. Lewis said
that he had no intention of leaving the Foreign Ministry
until after the intra-party elections in March 2008. Lewis
did not plan to be a candidate for internal PRD posts, but
was actively supporting Housing Minister Balbina Herrera,
who, he said, was consolidating her support. After these
elections, the campaigning for the primaries would begin in
earnest, and he would join in the competition. However,
Lewis told Ambassador that he would take advantage of every
possible opportunity now to be visible in every corner of the
country to enhance his visibility domestically. This
weekend, for example, he rode a horse in a festival in the
Panama City suburb of Juan Diaz and tossed out the first ball
in the Panama-Japan baseball tournament.

6. (C) Among those ministers being considered for
replacement are:

-- Ubaldino Real Wants to Step Down &For a while:8
Torrijos, close friend and confidant, the Minister of the
Presidency, Lewis reported, asked to step down from the
Cabinet "for a while." Notoriously thin-skinned, Real has
bristled at public and private whispers of his involvement in
corruption. He also suffers from poor health, allegedly
related to stress.

-- Camilo Alleyne Out: Minister of Health Alleyne had been
roundly criticized for the death of over 100 Panamanians
poisoned by medicines laced with diethylene glycol imported
from China. A somber Alleyne was departing Lewis' home as
Ambassador arrived after Lewis had delivered to him the bad
news about his impending replacement. Lewis told Ambassador
that Alleyne's principal concern was avoiding legal
prosecution after he lost the immunity conveyed by his
ministerial position.

-- Reynaldo Rivera Wants Out: Minister of Labor Rivera
faced calls for his resignation by the leftist labor union
SUNTRACS after the recent deaths of two union members. Lewis
told Ambassador that Rivera asked to leave the Cabinet.

-- Miguel Angel Canizales Out: Minister of Education
Canizales had also been persistently criticized for poor
performance and inaction in resolving Panama's decaying
educational system. Furthermore, his inability to control
students and faculty from regularly disrupting classes and
blocking off major thoroughfares with sometimes violent
protests put him in a weak position.

-- Ruben Blades Wants To Go: Minister of Tourism Blades,
not shy about telling everyone who will listen how much he
hated his job, wanted to return to recording music and
acting.

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

7. (C) A Cabinet shake up is long overdue. Given President
Torrijos' usual hand-wringing over difficult decisions (or
most decisions, for that matter), the U.S. will avoid public
comments for now that might force his hand in ways that might
further aggravate the situation. If, however, PMG is
appointed as a minister or elected President of the National
Assembly, the U.S. cannot remain silent regarding the facts
of PMG's outstanding arrest warrant and the crimes for which
he continues to be wanted in the United States. Were
Torrijos to move PMG to the Cabinet, Torrijos would no longer
have any plausible deniability that PMG,s ascension the head
of the legislature was due to the independent actions of an
independent branch of government, but rather would taking
this fugitive from justice into his own cabinet; in short,
Torrijos could be seen as intentionally harboring a U.S.
fugitive. End comment.
EATON

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