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Cablegate: Panama Post: 1st Edition, Volume Ii

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C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000018

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/04/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL PM
SUBJECT: PANAMA POST: 1ST EDITION, VOLUME II

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

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

1. (C) In this year's first edition, the Panama Post
includes the following stories:

-- Panamamenista Party President Juan Carlos Varela launches
presidential campaign;
-- Team Martin player disillusioned as President Torrijos
backs challenger to his seat on the governing Democratic
Revolutionary Party (PRD) National Executive Committee (CEN);
-- PRD women leaders upset with party's direction;
-- Former Panamenista Mayor of Panama City to support
Democratic Change (CD) Presidential and presidential
candidate Ricardo Martinelli; and
-- Anatomy of a bottomfeeding muckracker-cum-pundit's
political operation.

As opposition candidates begin to formally announce their
candidacies and the governing Democratic Revolutionary Party
(PRD) prepares for its January 20 poll to select delgates for
its National Directors' Committee (CDN), 2008 is shaping up
to be a very political year right from the get-go. The
Panama Post will be on hand throughout the year to continue
periodically tracking interesting stories that might not
otherwise find their way into Embassy Panama's reporting.

-------------------------------------
Varela Launches Presidential Campaign
-------------------------------------

2. (SBU) To nobody's surprise, Panamenista Party President
Juan Carlos Varela has formally launched his campaign to be
President of the Republic. Varela made his formal
announcement January 3 at the Hotel Soloy in the Panama City
working class neighborhood of Calidonia. Varela arrived to a
jammed hotel, so packed that hotel security had already
barred additional people from entering. While press
reporting indicated that about 2,000 loyalists attended, the
Panama Post believes that an additional 1,000 were left on
the curb. At the well-organized event, representatives from
each of Panama's provinces and every party "sector" (e.g.,
youth, women, business, labor) were well represented. The
proceedings were covered live by at least one television
network and one radio broadcaster, and the press corps was
out in force.

3. (SBU) In a powerful speech, Varela slammed the Torrijos
Administration for failing to combat corruption; provide law
and order; address the public transportation problem (He
basically asserted that Torrijos' failure to act was a direct
cause of the horrific October 2006 bus fire.); and reform
education (He said, in a reference to the emerging FECE
scandal, that instead Torrijos had allowed corrupt
individuals to steal from students in need.). Varela stated
that he would end the PRD's "sectarian way of governing" and
instead govern on behalf of and to benefit all Panamanians.
Promising to combat economic inequality and to ensure that
Panama's economic growth benefitted all, Varela said, "We
cannot continue to build a First World economy on the backs
of the poor who are living in the Third World." Asserting
that the Torrijos Adminstration had been "overly
bureaucratic" and "inept," Varela, an engineer, said that he
would "re-engineer" Panama's government to more effeciently
deliver services to all. Varela said that decentralization
of government services and empowerment of mayors and
governors would be central to his administration. Attempting
to win greater support from Panama's professional class,
Varela said that he would "revoke" the the taxes imposed
"unjustly" on them by Torrijos. Seeking to highlight his
commitment to "values," Varela said, "We are going to
recommit this party to the doctrine of service for others. I
will be your servant, not your idol. I have clean hands and
will have zero tolerance for corruption."

4. (C) Comment: POLCOUNS was admittedly surprised not only
by the turn-out for Varela's campaign launch, but also by the
power with which Varela spoke and the organization that is
backing him. Varela has pulled into his campaign
experienced, seasoned, street-fighter political operatives
like National Assembly Deputies Alcibades Vasquez, Alberto
"Topo" Barranco, and Argentina Arias. National Assembly
Deputy Jose Luis "Popi" Varela, who normally is his brother's
toughest critic among Varela's closest advisors, was ecstatic
at the success of this campaign launch; "We drew major party
leaders from across the country. We will get momentum out of
this launch." (Popi is his brother's campaign manager for
the Panamenista primaries.) Alberto Vallarino will launch
his campaign for the Panamenista presidential nomination on
January 7; Varela has set a high bar for Vallarino.

--------------------------------------------- -----------
Team Martin Player Bitter as Torrijos Backers Challenger
--------------------------------------------- -----------

5. (C) Previously stalwart Torrijos supporter -- indeed
founding member of President Martin Torrijos' "Team Martin"
campaign effort -- Samuel Buitrago told the Panama Post that
he was very bitter that Torrijos had decided to back Rod Diaz
in the the race for Buitrago's seat on the National Executive
Committee (CEN) of the governing Democratic Revolutionary
Party (PRD). Buitrago confided to the Panama Post that
Torrijos told him directly that Torrijos would back
Buitrago's challenger. Buitrago said he thought that he was
being punished as he was perceived as being one of PRD
National Assembly Deputy Hector Aleman's "guys."
Additionally, he told our reporter that he was "hurt" that
First VP and FM Samuel Lewis and Minister of Housing Balbina
Herrera were also supporting Diaz.

6. (C) "I don't understand the kind of message President
Torrijos wants to send with his new CEN: (current National
Assembly President and indicted U.S. federal fugitive) Pedro
Miguel Gonzalez, (current Minister of Public Works and former
Noriega-era Dignity Battalion commander) Benjamin Colamarco,
(current Minister of Housing and former Noriega-era San
Miguelito Mayor) Balbina Herrera, Mitchell Doens (who is
ineligible for a U.S. visa), Rod Diaz, (current Panama City
Mayor and presidential aspirant) Juan Carlos Navarro, and
Gabriel Diez," Buitrago said. "They all come from different
walks of life and different political idelogies." Buitrago
asserted that Aleman was very bitter, too, and frequently
blew his top with respect to Torrijos maneuvering in the PRD.
"Aleman's full-time job is be a PRD party member, then he's
a (National Assembly) deputy."

7. (C) Comment: During his last meeting about three months
ago with POLCOUNS, Buitrago asserted that Team Martin was
still strong, Torrijos was firmly in command and loved by all
in the PRD, and that Torrijos would chart the path to future
and the party would follow him. Well, now it appears that
the growing divisions within the PRD may be striking closer
to home as bitterness takes ahold of previously committed
Torrijos supporters. Rod Diaz -- "the most yeye of the
yeyes" -- is reportedly throwing around a lot of cash
bankrolling PRD campaigns. (Note: "Yeye" is a derisive
Panamanian colloquialism for wealth, pampered, and spoiled
Panamanian youth.) Rod Diaz himself confidently told
POLCOUNS January 4 that he would handily replace Buitrago.
He dismissed his "outsider" status stating, "My father was
PRD, I have been PRD for 14 years (signing up at age 18), and
I have won four previous internal elections in the party."
Diaz stated that the "yeye" slam and assertions that he was
not "a real PRD member" was directed at his white skin color
and wealth that distinguished him from the "colored" and
"poorer" masses of the party. As the PRD's elections for
delegates to the National Directors Committee (CDN),
scheduled for January 20, draw near, the Panama Post will be
on the look out for further internal PRD intrigue.

-----------------------
PRD Women Leaders Upset
-----------------------

8. (C) "If things do not get better internally (in the PRD)
in terms of more inclusion of women in the party structure
and its decision-making process, then in a few years a large
group of PRD members could leave to form a new party," PRD
women activist Irasema de Ahumada told the Panama Post on
December 28. "It could be led by El Toro (former President
Ernesto Perez Balladares) or somebody else, but it could
easily happen." These words are shocking -- indeed
sacreligious -- coming from a founding member of the PRD. De
Ahumada was accompanied by Maribel Coco, a PRD women's leader
in the 8.7 District of Panama City, a largely down at its
heels, working class district, expect for the Ancon
neighborhood.

9. (C) Both ladies were focused on the January 20 PRD CDN
elections to elect 4,200 delegates nationwide. "The tickets
(nominas) for each district are fairly short and weak," De
Ahumada said. "Normally, the tickets list between 10 to 15
people," Coco explained, "but most of these tickets list only
6 or 7 names." Both agreed that this could be due to a lack
of enthusiasm for Torrijos' managerial and decision-making
styled or could reflect caution by PRD members who did not
want to make it public yet who they supported as presidential
candidates. Nicolas Gonzalez-Revilla, campaign manager for
Rod Diaz's run for a seat on the PRD CEN, echoed these
ladies' regarding the on January 4 telling POLCOUNS, "The
Secretary General (President Torrijos) is not coming into

SIPDIS
this internal election process fully in charge and with a
phalanx of people to deploye to take the party in a new
direction toward an election victory. Instead the party's
internal election process was being overshadowed by
competition among presidential contenders."

10. (C) Coco noted that First Lady Vivian de Torrijos was
putting together her own ticket to become a CDN delegate for
the 8.7 district. (Note: The Torrijos' live in the only
tony corner of the 8.7 district, Quarry Heights in the Ancon
neighborhood, the former home of SOUTHCOM's command.) The
First Lady sent a message to Coco asking her to step down as
the principal delegate for the 8.7's ticket and to join her
ticket in the number 2 slot. "I have not answered her yet.
I really do not want to do it, but if she does win, then I am
finished," Coco explained. "We have nothing in common. She
is white, I am not. She is rich, I am not. I have always
been a PRD member, she has not."

11. (C) Coco and de Ahumada said that they both support First
VP and FM Samuel Lewis to be the PRD's presidential
candidate, but both acknowledged his weaknesses. Neither
liked Panama City Mayor Juan Carlos Navarro much either.
(Note: As director of Panama City's Los Pueblos outdoor
architectual museum, de Ahumada works directly for Navarro.)
More surprisingly, both expressed a profound dislike for
Minister of Housing Balbina Herrera. "Balbina does well in
the 'outside' polls, but not in the internal PRD polls when
it comes to women," de Ahumada said. "About 52 percent of
the PRD rolls are made up of women." Coco added, "Balbina
does not like other women; they compete against her. She
'killed' (former Minister of Government and Justice) Olga
Golcher. She 'killed' (Panama Province Governor) Gladys
Bandiera, and she did the same with other leaders in the
interior." Both complained that women's events received
support and resources from El Toro, Lewis, and Navarro, but
never Herrera. Gonzalez-Revila and Diaz on January 4
dismissed the idea that there was a significant difference
between Herrera's support within and outside the party. Diaz
said that Lewis, "a close friend," was "finished" and would
not be a presidential contender. Both Diaz and
Gonzalez-Revilla reacted viscerally against Navarro whom they
view as an "opportunist" and "interloper." "Balbina will
emerge ultimately as the PRD's presidential candidate," Diaz
asserted.

12. (C) More generally, de Ahumada said, "Nobody wants to
burn themselves. Nobody wants to go out there and defend
anything regarding this government." Coco noted that she had
appeared live on Panama City television host (and former
Mayor of Panama city) Mayin Correa's show. Correa confronted
Coco with a large file of problems regarding Navarro's
administration of the city. "There was nothing I could do,"
Coco said. "All the things she mentioned were true. How
could I defend him just because he is a PRD member?" De
Ahumada added that the day after Coco's appearance on
Correa's show that she received a call from Navarro's office
advising her not to hang out with Coco as she was not a real
PRD member for not having defended the mayor. (Note: Correa
was unseated by Navarro and despises the current mayor.)
Both agreed that similar threats would soon start emanating
from the various candidates as they learned who was
supporting whose candidacy. "Most of us work in the
government. All of the candidates are in public life," de
Ahumada explained. "What can we or others expect?"

13. (C) Comment: The upcoming internal PRD elections, staring
with the January 20 CDN elections, are shaping up to be
particularly more bruising than usual. Torrijos, while still
in control of the party, has had his grip weakened in the
wake of PMG's election as President of the National Assembly.
Divisions between modernist and retrograde tendencies are
starting to come to the surface. Add that raw, street-level,
power politics, and all the ingredients for a rough and
tumble internal political process are present. That
tradtionally faithful rank and file leaders like de Ahumada
and Coco -- as well as Buitrago -- are upset could foretell


surprising turns between the January 20 CDN elections and the
March National Excutive Committee (CEN) elections. Stay
tuned.

---------------------------------
Mayin Correa to Suport Martinelli
---------------------------------

14. (C) "I'm going to support (Democratic Change (CD)
President and presidential candidate) Ricardo Martinelli,"
lifetime Panamenista Party member and former Mayor of Panama
City Mayin Correa told POLCOUNS on January 4. "He told me
that he would give me whatever position I wanted, and he is
going to win any way." Correa said that there was no way
that the opposition would be fully united; "There will be two
opposition candidates, Martinelli and the Panamanista
nominee." Asked who she thought would win the Panamenista
nomination, Correa asserted, "Juan Carlos Varela will easily
defeat Alberto Vallarino in the party primaries. He is
running a good campaign, and he is well organized, funded,
and supported. Vallarino is an ingrate and does not really
seem to want to campaign. I as Vallarino's vice presidential
running mate and I would not vote for him." While she
strongly believed that Varela would win the Panamenista
nomination, she was dismissive of the prospects that Varela
could ultimately win the presidency. Correa was not worried
about a split opposition field and believed that the
opposition could still defeat the governing Revolutionary
Democratic Party (PRD), regardless of who it ran.

15. (C) Comment: Correa today is an outspoken voice on
Panamanian radio and television talk shows. She is itching
to get back into government and to support a winner. Her
decision to support Martinelli -- based primarily on her
belief that he was owed respect for having sustained high
support in the polls -- may be an indication of a
bandwagoning effect. Martinelli though appears to be quite
free in promising positions in his future government, and,
should he win, he may have a trouble meeting expectations.

--------------------------------------------
Anatomy of a Muckraker's Political Operation
--------------------------------------------

16. (SBU) Muckraker and erstwhile anti-corruption pundit
Enrique Montenegro closed out 2007 with a vitriolic e-mail
attack on Attorney General Ana Matilde Gomez's three years in
office that he launched on December 28. Montenegro runs a
one-man anti-corruption NGO called "The National Front
Against Corruption (FNCC)," or simply the "Anti-Corruption
Front." The designation of the current Attorney General of
the Nation was an error," Montenegro asserted in his letter,
continuing, "She has committed many errors that are a result
of her inexperience, lack of talent, conflictive and
problematic personality." Well, with enough spamming --
POLCOUNS received his copy on January 1 -- Montenegro
succeeded in gaining enough traction that the core elements
of his four-page screed were published on January 2 by Panama
City daily "Panama-America."

17. (C) Comment: Montenegro is a notorious political hired
gun prepared to assault one's political foe or GOP official
of choice for a price. He is expert at moving muck from the
realm of gossip, spraying it across Panama as e-mail spam,
and eventually making it stick in the "responsible" media.
Close to, but not a member of, the governing Revolutionary
Democratic Party (PRD), Montenegro is politically flexible
and is alleged to have provided his services not only to PRD
Mayor of Panama City Juan Carlos Navarro, but also to
Democratic Change (CD) President and presidential candidate
Ricardo Martinelli and to Panamenista Party President and
presidentical candidate Juan Carlos Varela. Indeed, when
Montenegro's son went missing at sea on his jet ski in
October 2007, both Varela and Martinelli were quick to call
POLCOUNS to request U.S. Coast Guard assistance in located
his son. (Note: The USCG was already on the case with the
National Maritime Service (SMN), eventually located the lost
jet skier, and vectored a fishing boat to the pull
Montenegro's son from the water miles from shore.)
Montenegro subsidizes his meager pension with guest
appearances on television and radio shows as an
anti-corruption "expert" and by wheeling and dealing in
corruption dirt and its placement in the media. The
Anti-Corruption Front provides Montenegro a patina of
respectability and serves as a shingle to draw in purveyors
of gossip. As for Montenegro's accusations against the
Attorney General, most of his letter is composed of
re-treaded common wisdom, much of which post accepts. The
Panama Post will keep its ears open to try to learn who put
Montenegro up to this latest hit job and why.
EATON

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