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Cablegate: Panama: Prd-Opposition Compromise Moves Day Of

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DE RUEHZP #1896/01 3542209
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 202209Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1575
INFO RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC

O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 001896

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/20/2017
TAGS: PGOV PM
SUBJECT: PANAMA: PRD-OPPOSITION COMPROMISE MOVES DAY OF
MOURNING RESOLUTION FORWARD

REF: A. PANAMA 1872
B. PANAMA 1867

Classified By: AMBASSADOR WILLIAM A. EATON. REASONS: 1.4 (B) AND (D).

-------
Summary
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1. (C) National Assembly President Pedro Miguel Gonzalez's
resolution to proclaim December 20 -- the anniversary of
OPERATION JUST CAUSE, the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama -- a
"Day of Mourning and of Patriotic Reflection" was approved by
the National Assembly in its third and final debate on
December 20. (Note: Pedro Miguel Gonzalez (PMG) is under
federal indictment in connection with the 1992 murder of a
U.S. serviceman serving in Panama.) The bill advanced on the
back of a surprising development in Panama's legislature: a
compromise between the chamber's governing Revolutionary
Democratic Party (PRD) and the opposition. Tensions in the
chamber abated significantly after PRD Deputy and Majority
Leader Leandro Avila and Panamenista Party Deputy and
Minority Leader Jose Blandon, Jr. met on the afternoon of
December 19 to hammer out a compromise. President Martin
Torrijos had deployed Minister of Housing Balbina Herrera on
December 18 to negotiate a new, less vitriolic resolution
text directly with PMG, MFA Senior Advisor Adolfo Ahumada
informed DCM on December 19. Herrera asserted to DCM on
December 19 that PMG had agreed to operate on the basis of a
new resolution text. PRD Deputy Miguel "Mickey" Aleman,
however, told POLCOUNS on December 19 deliberations continued
on the basis of PMG's original draft, however. Herrera might
have lowered the temperature on this matter. First VP and FM
Samuel Lewis expressed his relief to Ambassador on December
20 that this legislation was not spiraling in a more
controversial direction and asserted that Torrijos and he had
"tried as much as possible" to weaken the intentions of PMG's
proposed divisive law. Post expects that Torrijos will sign
it into law. End summary.

----------------------------------------
Day of Mourning and Patriotic Reflection
----------------------------------------

2. (U) While post does not yet have the final text of
resolution as it will be sent to the President, the following
are the key elements as read aloud during the bill's third
and final debate.

-- The resolution declares that "December 20 of each year"
will be a "Day of Mourning and Patriotic Reflection."

-- The flag will be flown at half-mast, sales of alcoholic
beverages will not be permitted, the playing of "raucous" or
"loud" music on radio and television will not be permitted,
and public music performances will not be permitted.

-- It will not be national day off, but rather a normal work
day.

-- A Committee of Truth and for National Reflection will be
formed and composed of:
(a) the Public Defender (Ombudsman),
(b) a representative from the Ecumenical Committee,
(c) a representative from the Attorney General's Office,
(d) a representative from the University of Panama,
(e) a representative from the Executive Branch, and
(f) two representatives from the National Assembly, one each
from the governing party and from the opposition.

-- This Committee will be charged with:
(a) producing a list of those who died between 1968 and 1989
"due to the repressive character of the state;"
(b) producing a list of those who died as a result of "the
U.S. military invasion of Panama on December 20, 1989;"
(c) providing "an objective account" of the facts surrounding
both a and b; and
(d) recommending to the "Panamanian State" what it should do
"to indemnify the victims of these events."

-- The GOP is mandated to provide all the necessary resources
to enable this committee fulfill its responsibilities.

-- "A monument to the victims of the U.S. invasion" is to be
erected in the El Chorrillo neighborhood of Panama City and
is to include the names of all of the victims.


----------------------------------------
PMG Kicks Off Dec. 19 with Victims Event
----------------------------------------

3. (SBU) PMG set the stage for more confrontation on December
19 with a polemic morning event with the Association of the
Fallen Victims of December 20. Asserting that most
Panamanians sought to forget the invasion as a "defense
mechanism," PMG said, "We are all a bit responsible for those
events, some by collaborating with the invading troops and
others for failing to take the patriotic actions that were
required at that point in the country's history." Eighteen
years later, "it is time for Panamanians to recall, confront,
and assess those traumatic events without vengeance or desire
for reprisal to be able to continue to advance in a positive
manner and, more importantly, to pay due honor to the victims
of the invasion." Continuing, he said, "We must do this to
remember and honor the thousands of people who were vilely
murdered during the U.S. invasion." Towards the end of these
extemporaneous remarks, PMG asserted that the struggle for
the country's sovereignty did not end in 1989 and that
nations have to struggle permanently for their independence
and sovereignty. The achievement of equity with sovereignty
and dignity was the "true just cause," PMG said.

-------------------------------
Torrijos Administration Engaged
-------------------------------

4. (C) "The rift between Torrijos and Pedro Miguel continues
to deepen," MFA Senior Advisor Adolfo Ahumada told DCM on
December 19. On the margins of a conversation with PMG
regarding then-draft legislation concerning the Technical
Judicial Police (PTJ) (SEPTEL), Torrijos told PMG that the
National Day of Mourning was creating a problem that PMG had
to fix, Ahumada explained. On the evening of December 18,
Torrijos tasked Minister of Housing Balbina Herrera with
negotiating with PMG. Absent the preferred outcome that the
resolution be withdrawn, according to Ahumada, Herrera was to
secure the following changes: (1) no holiday to be
declared, (2) eliminate the incendiary language in the
justification for the bill (exposicion de motivos); and (3)
declare a "Day of Reflection," not a "Day of Mourning." As a
fallback, Herrera was authorized to accept neutral language
for the justification for the bill that would call on
Panamanians to reflect on the events of December 20, 1989 and
note that each individual had the right to form one's own
opinion about those events. Ahumada unconvincingly stated
that he did not think that the resolution would pass. Asked
if the President would sign the resolution into law, Ahumada
state, "Not in its current form."

5. (C) Confirming to DCM that she had engaged PMG, Herrera
stated on December 19 that PMG had agreed to introduce an
alternative version of the resolution. Herrera reviewed the
alternative resolution, the language of which did not mention
the U.S. or alleged atrocities. It called on Panamanians to
reflect on the "historical significance," recognize that
different people would see things differently, and call on
Panamanians to look upon those events in the spirit of
harmony and peace. No alternative resolution text, however,
had been deployed, PRD Deputy Miguel "Mickey" Aleman told
POLCOUNS on the early afternoon of December 19.

6. (C) "The President and I have tried as much as possible"
to weaken the intentions of PMB in seeking to advance this
divisive resolution, First VP and FM Samuel Lewis told
Ambassador in a December 20 telcon. Lewis asserted that
Torrijos had made progress in lowering the tone of the
legislation to ensure that it did not spiral out of control
in a more controversial direction. "You can see that we are
dealing with a crazy guy," Lewis added. Lewis explained that
he had personally redrafted the justification for the bill to
expunge the incendiary language, "but it was not accepted."
While the justification for the bill would no doubt still
include anti-American vitriol, Lewis asserted that the
resolution itself "is being toned down."

--------------------------------------------- --
Majority and Minority Leaders Broker Compromise
--------------------------------------------- --

7. (C) National Assembly professional staffer Roberto
Montanez informed POL that tensions in the chamber abated
significantly in the wake of a meeting between PRD Deputy and

Majority Leader Leandro Avila and Panamanista Deputy and
Minority Leader Jose Blandon on the late afternoon of
December 19. (Note: Press reporting credits PMG and Blandon
for brokering a compromise.) Avila and Blandon allegedly
quickly reached agreement to call December 20 a "Day of
Reflection," keep it a normal work day (not a holiday), and
not declare that "the dead are martyrs and the survivors are
heroes." (Note: The opposition scored points by asking that
since former dictator Manuel Noriega had "survived," would he
too then be considered a "hero?") Blandon secured a
commitment that a special committee to investigate deaths and
disappearances allegedly linked to the U.S. invasion would
also investigate deaths and disappearances allegedly linked
to "the military dictatorship." Additionally, Blandon
secured a commitment that a mechanism would be put in place
to indemnify surviving victims and the next of kin of
deceased victims.

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Comment
-------

8. (C) While relieved that a significant amount of the edge
had been taken off this resolution, the Torrijos
Administration is also increasingly concerned about its
deteriorated ability to influence the National Assembly,
particularly an Assembly dominated 45 to 30 by its own PRD
party members. Ultimately, PMG prevailed in securing all of
his provisions while only conceding that any investigation by
the special commitee also look at deaths and disappearances
alleged to have been committed over thirty years of military
dictatorship. Anodyne alternative language drafted by MFA
mandarins (Ahumada, not Lewis, was probably the drafter of
the alternative justification for the bill) was doomed to
failure as it utterly failed to fully grapple with the
political realities in the chamber driven primarily by PMG
and his acolytes. Herrera's role as a water carrier with
National Assembly is a new one. At a minimum, deploying
Herrera, whose radical PRD credentials remain sterling,
helped inoculate Torrijos from criticism. It remains to be
seen, however, if Herrera can carry out the vital role that
desperately needs to be filled on Team Torrijos: legislative
coordinator. Herrera's willingness to engage does underscore
that this cautious and calculating politician now perceives
the personal political need to attempt to temper PMG's
behavior.

9. (C) It also remains to be seen whether Avila's and
Blandon's willingness to engage to reach a compromise and
PMG's willingness and flexibility to allow such a compromise
to move forward indicate that Panama's National Assembly may
function more like a truly independent branch of government,
not simply a rubber stamp for the executive as has been more
the norm in Panama. This spirit of compromise may be short
lived and due more to the issue at hand, the personalities
involved, and the political machinations in the background as
the PRD prepares to launch its process for selecting its
internal leadership. Indeed, PMG may have been compelled to
seek a compromise to preserve political space for himself --
while at the same time rescuing his pet project -- as
"tendency (tendencia)" PRD hard-liners like Mitchel Doens
lined up in support of Torrijos for the PRD's National
Executive Committee (CEN) elections that will take place in
March. Going forward, the increasingly fluid political
situation -- both internal to the PRD and other parties and
due to the jockeying for position in the presidential and
other races -- will provide ample opportunity for more roller
coaster-like activity in Panama.
EATON

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