Cablegate: Panama Post: 2nd Edition, Volume Ii
DE RUEHZP #0034/01 0112133
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 112133Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1629
INFO RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000034
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/08/2017
TAGS: PGOV PREL PM
SUBJECT: PANAMA POST: 2ND EDITION, VOLUME II
REF: PANAMA 18
Classified By: POLCOUNS Brian R. Naranjo. Reasons: 1.4 (b) and (d).
1. (C) In this addition of the Panama Post, our headlines
-- Alberto Vallarino, declaring "Enough already!" launches
campaign for Panamenista Party nomination;
-- Cambio Democratic presidential candidate Ricardo
Martinelli celebrates the Feast of the Epiphany with four
-- Panama City Mayor and PRD presidential candidate Juan
Carlos Navarro: "I want Vallarino to win;"
-- Former President Ernesto "El Toro" Perez Balladares
launches his mayoral candidate, Noel Riande;
-- Martinelli responds to whisper campaign; and
-- Former President Guillermo Endara to formalize
"Enough already!" -- Vallarino Launches Presidential Campaign
2. (SBU) Launching his presidential run to chants of "Enough
already! (Basta ya!)" on January 7, Alberto Vallarino
squarely portrayed himself as the answer to President Martin
Torrijos' "unfulfilled promises" and "inability to make
decisions." Presenting himself as a successful and
accomplished administrator, this former banker declared, "The
tie has been taken off and the decision has been made. I am
a candidate for the Presidency of the Republic. We will
return (to office)." The top issues addressed included:
public transportation, healthcare, law and order, employment,
and standard of living. He had specifics focused at winning
the support of specific voting blocs. For Panama's
indigenous peoples, he promised to establish a Ministry of
Indigenous Affairs. For Panama's "burdened professional
class," Vallarino promised to alleviate the burden of the
CAIR (a kind of alternate minimum tax) by raising the
exemption to USD 1,000. Refraining from taking swipes at
other Panamenista "pre-candidates," Vallarino instead slammed
Torrijos as: somebody who could not or would not decide;
somebody more interested in advertising campaigns "to boost
his ego;" and somebody who does not fulfill promises,
including to reduce poverty, ensure "zero corruption," create
jobs. To each challenge, Vallarino asserted that he would
"decide" and "act."
3. (C) "Alberto wrote the speech himself," Panamenista Party
Secretary General Francisco "Pancho" Aleman told POLCOUNS on
January 9. "He was not happy with the drafts that Jose
Manuel Teran and (Patriotic Union (UP) VP) Jose Raul Mulino
prepared for him." While acknowledging that it ran too long
at forty-five minutes, Aleman underscored, "These were his
words." Aleman also explained the Panamenista theology
behind Vallarino's repetition of the line "We will return!
(Volveremos!)" while holding up his fingers to form the
letter "v." During the 1951 coup d'etat against him, party
founder Arnulfo Arias was photographed flashing the same "v"
symbol as the military dragged him out of the presidency.
"'V' does not stand for victory (victoria), but rather 'We
will return! (Volveremos!),'" Aleman explained. In this way,
Vallarino was striving to tie himself to the very early roots
of the Panamenista party and to Arias himself. During his
last conversation with POLCOUNS, Vallarino went to great
lengths to explain his close relationship to Arias,
underscoring several times that he "grew up just down the
street from Arias" and was "practically a family member."
(Note: Vallarino considers Arias to be his uncle. Arias'
first wife was Vallarino's mother's first cousin.) Aleman
also shared that to date, Vallarino had been self-financing
his campaign; "He will hold his first fund raiser in the
coming days though." Vallarino was very cautious about
accepting money from others, Aleman asserted, but in the end
could always trust his own money. Soon Vallarino, in a test
of strength with Panamenista President and declared candidate
for the Panamenista presidential nomination Juan Carlos
Varela, would embark on an effort to sign up 25,000 new party
members. Acknowledging that there was some tension among
campaign advisors, Aleman said that, though they would
achieve it, this goal had been established by Jose Manuel
Teran. "What does Teran know about politics though? That
doctor is not a politician. He overstepped his
organizational responsibilities by setting that goal."
4. (C) Comment: Vallarino's claim to have drawn 15,000
supporters to his campaign launch were wildly exaggerated.
POLCOUNS, present at the rally, estimated the crowd size at
7,500 to 8,000, an estimate shared by Panamenista leaders and
some journalists on scene. Aleman conceded as much by
stating that they would have achieved the 15,000 mark if the
event had been held back for another hour pending the arrival
of the final buses, "but the ad copy had already been
delivered to the newspapers." Nonetheless, Vallarino
succeeded in drawing a significant crowd to a well crafted
political rally. True to his reputation, Vallarino mixed
little with the "washed" special invitees on the mammoth
fifteen foot high seventy-five foot wide stage and not at all
with the "unwashed" masses in the dusty field. Indeed,
Vallarino ascended to a five foot high podium in the center
of the stage. Soaring some twenty feet above the crowd, many
could not identify him until well into his speech. Press
risers and cut-away risers caught the made-for-TV images of
Vallarino delivering his speech against a bill board-sized
backdrop of the party's red, yellow, and black colors and a
fifteen by twelve foot profile image of Vallarino's face.
Vallarino lost the attention of most in the crowd, who had
waited up to two hours in the blazing sun, after about twenty
minutes into his address. Vallarino demonstrated his ability
to organize a large event and his willingness to expend
considerable resources on his campaign. Now it remains to be
seen if he will be able to carry this effort forward to pull
his poll numbers out of the doldrums to first challenge Juan
Carlos Varela, who has a commanding lead among Panamenista
leaders for the party's presidential nomination.
Three Kings Day with Martinelli
5. (SBU) Democratic Change (CD) President and presidential
candidate Ricardo Martinelli careened through four rallies on
January 7 across Panama City in Chilibre, Los Andes, San
Miguelito and Tocumen giving away USD 140,000 in
gifts/prizes. POLCOUNS caught up with Martinelli in San
Miguelito, his third stop, where Martinelli waded into the
jammed gymnasium of the Instituto Rubiano to raffle of
washing machines, refrigerators, and ovens as well as give
away dozens of bicycles, electric fans, mattresses, irons,
blenders and other household goods. The scene was repeated
later in the afternoon in a Tocumen baseball field where
Martinelli gave away twenty-nine inch televisions and -- the
ultimate prize -- a car. Martinelli did not deliver any long
addresses, but did launch pointed barbs at Torrijos and the
governing Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD).
6. (C) While Panama City broad sheet daily "La Estrella"
estimated that Martinelli drew 50,000 people to his four
events, Martinelli's full-page add on January 8 claimed only
30,000 and POLCOUNS estimated a total of 20,000, a number
Martinelli's campaign advisor thought was reasonable.
Campaign advisor Jimmy Papademetriu told to POLCOUNS that he
believed that he had "averted a disaster" by re-packaging the
day's events as a Feast of the Epiphany (Three Kings Day)
event. Papademetriu explained that CD National Assembly
Deputy Jose Munoz had sold Martinelli on the concept of a
large event to compete directly with Vallarino's campaign
launch. "Vallarino is at four percent in the polls.
Martinelli is at forty percent in the polls," Papademetriu
said. "Why would we want to get into a who's-crowd-is-bigger
measuring contest?" Munoz though had portrayed the event as
essential to winning over continued support to attract new
political leaders to the CD. Martinelli confided that he
believed that three PRD deputies would join the CD in the
coming months. Papademetriu dismissed such logic as
convenient for Munoz to ensure Martinelli was on hand for
Munoz's re-election effort. "For USD 140,000, I could have
done four events over the course of a month without competing
with Vallarino," Papademetriu said. "Ricardo said it's his
money though and there's plenty more available."
7. (C) "In the general elections, there will be four
candidates: the PRD candidate, the Panamenista candidate who
will probably be Varela, Endara, and me," Martinelli told
Ambassador on January 9 over lunch at the Cafe Bulvar, the
traditional haunt on Panama City's main thoroughfare for
journalists, politicians, and other hangers-on. "I am not
worried about a race in which there are three opposition
candidates, because in the end the most anti-PRD candidate
will win: me." Martinelli said that this next campaign
would be expensive and would get very bloody.
8. (C) Comment: Papademetriu noted that the Three Kings
Day's events had allowed him to test out Martinelli's
campaign machinery to see where they needed better equipment
(e.g., sound systems), who the good event organizers were,
and other organizational needs. For his part, Martinelli
continues to be his typical confident self, assuring
Ambassador, "I will win this race, and the U.S. will have a
strong friend in me, stronger than any previous Panamanian
president." Fearful of losing the limited number of CD
deputies he has -- most of whom jumped ship from other
parties -- Martinelli is easily swayed by their pleas for
help and to spend (his) money. Noting that Martinelli, in a
recent poll, drew thirteen percent of PRD members' support,
Papademietriu urged Martinelli not to attack the PRD party,
but rather Torrijos the person. Assisted by El Salvadoran
ARENA election professionals, Papademetriu is striving to
assert more control over Martinelli's campaign activities,
message management, and general discipline. Dealing with the
headstrong Martinelli, Papademetriu will have his work cut
out for him.
Navarro: "I want Vallarino to win the Panamenista primary"
9. (C) "I want Vallarino to win the Panamenista primary,"
Panama City Mayor -- and PRD presidential candidate -- Juan
Carlos Navarro told Ambassador on January 12. "He would
split the anti-PRD vote with Martinelli, and make it easier
for me to win by allowing me to pick up independents on top
of the PRD vote." Contrary to polling that post has seen,
Navarro asserted that Vallarino was handily defeating Varela
and would prevail.
10. (C) Comment: Navarro was his usually brash and confident
self at lunch. He tipped the press off to ensure a publicity
bounce in the wake of former President Ernesto "El Toro"
Perez Balladares' announcement of Noel Riande's candidacy to
run for Panama City Mayor. At this meeting though, Navarro
seemed less confident than previously that Minister of
Housing Balbina Herrera would not challenge him for the PRD's
presidential nomination; his assertions that he did not have
"Balbina problem" were simply less convincing. Nonetheless,
Navarro exuded enough confidence to look down the road to the
general elections. He firmly believes that, if he can get to
the general elections, that he will face a hopelessly divided
opposition over which he can prevail.
"El Toro" Lanches His Mayoral Candidate
11. (SBU) In a bizarre announcement, former President Ernesto
"El Toro" Perez Balladares announced January 9 that he would
support Noel Riande as the PRD candidate to be Mayor of
Panama City. Having teased the media that he had an
"important" announcement to make that day, El Toro proceeded
to dominate the scene intended to launch Riande. "The
problems of the city demand a mayor who is available
twenty-four hours a day. Instead of riding around on horses,
the mayor (Juan Carlos Navarro) should be riding around on
garbage trucks," Perez Balladares proclaimed. Riande, the
former head of the PRD's businessman's front, was left on the
sidelines of his own campaign announcement.
12. (C) Comment: Riande stands nearly no chance of winning.
One political wag described him as "wealthy and politically
clueless, the ideal toy for El Toro." Navarro for his part
downplayed the attacks on him reminding the press that he was
running for president, not mayor. In his January 11 lunch
with Ambassador (see para 9), he bravely said that he would
turn the corner on the "garbage crisis" that has plagued his
administration. He even went so far as to say that he would
get a bounce out of the "garbage crisis" since he would
demonstrate he was a good manager. These latest antics by El
Toro demonstrate that he can still cause waves.
Martinelli Responds to Whisper Campaign
13. (U) "Success is shared with all," proclaimed full-page
ads taken out by the Super99 supermarket chain in all Panama
City's major newspapers on January 10. The adds prominently
featured Super99 owner -- and presidential candidate --
Ricardo Martinelli surrounded by his employees distributing
end-of-year bonuses and awards (including major appliances).
According to the add, "more than USD 747,525 in bonuses
(were) distributed" in December along with food baskets,
major electric appliances, mattresses, bicycles, and
scholarships. One out of every three chain employees as at
least one child who receives a scholarship from the company,
the ad stated.
14. (C) Martinelli explained to Ambassador on January 11
that this ad was intended to respond to the PRD's whisper
campaign that asserted that Martinelli was a bad employer.
Campaign advisor Papademetriu January 7 asserted to POLCOUNS
that "former military intelligence officers closely
associated with the PRD" were actively pushing negative
whisper campaigns against Martinelli, including campaigns
that asserted that Martinelli did not pay his bills, that
supermarket chain owner was responsible for the rising cost
of living, and that Martinelli was crazy and on medication.
Of these whisper campaigns, CD VP Roberto Henriquez explained
to POLCOUNS on January 12 that Martinelli and his team were
most concerned about the "bad employer" gossip, hence the ad
campaign. "We will continue to fight these kinds of negative
campaigns with our good story," Henriquez said. As for the
assertion that Martinelli was responsible for the rising cost
of living, Henriquez explained that the CD did not believe
that message was hurting Martinelli. "People see prices
going up all around them -- gas, electricity, rent, cars, and
food -- and they know that Super99 is not responsible for all
of it. Super99 is still one of the more competitive food
stores and it only accounts for two percent of retail sales
15. (C) Comment: Martinelli's team sees gossip control as a
top priority. Having sustained a commanding lead in the
polls, Martinelli and his CD advisors are keenly aware that
they present a big target. Whether Papademtriu's assertions
that former "G-2 types" are actively manipulating the public,
the fact remains that these rumors are careening around town
and have gained a currency.
Endara to Formalize Candidacy
16. (C) Moral Vanguard of the Nation (VMP) party president
Guillermo Endara would be elected in VMP's party primary on
January 13, VMP leader Menalco Solis told POLCOUNS on January
11. (Note: Former President Endara faces no opposition in
this primary in the party that he established for himself.)
Solis said that Endara would launch his presidential campaign
in an event on January 21. While exceedingly enthusiastic
and optimistic, Solis acknowledged that VMP has no money,
only has a presence essentially in Colon and Panama City,
cannot do any polling and has no access to polling data, and
has no outside domestic or international political advisors.
Musing about the speech that he would have to give on January
21, Solis said that he would answer the question of "why
Endara for president?" by underscoring his "sterling honesty"
and "everything that flows from that." Telling POLCOUNS to
mark down this date, Solis said, "I predict that (Alberto)
Vallarino will step down when he realizes that he is likely
to finish in third place or worse in the general elections.
He is too proud to be an also-ran."
17. (C) Comment: If one were to bet on a long-shot horse to
win Panama's presidential race, Endara would be the horse on
which to bet. While he cannot be considered a frontrunner by
any stretch of the imagination, seasoned political watchers
in Panama are all too aware of how well Endara did in 1999
garnering twelve percent of the vote or about 500,000 votes.
To be considered a serious candidate, however, future events
and developments would need to break his way to clear a path