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Cablegate: Panama: El Toro Reaches Out to Embassy

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RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHZP #0041/01 0142043
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 142043Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1638
INFO RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000041

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/14/2017
TAGS: PGOV PREL CIVS PM
SUBJECT: PANAMA: EL TORO REACHES OUT TO EMBASSY


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

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

1. (C) "There will be many surprised political observers on
Sunday," former President and candidate for the presidency of
the governing Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) Ernesto
"El Toro" Perez Balladares told POLCOUNS on January 13. PRD
members will go to the polls on January 20 to elect 4,200
delegates to attend the party's national convention. In
turn, these delegates will elect PRD's National Executive
Committee (CEN). Perez Balladares did not/not raise his
permanent ineligibility for a U.S. visa for having
trafficking in illegal aliens. Perez Balladares said that
the current field of prospective PRD presidential candidates
was weak, anticipated that Alberto Vallarino would win the
Panamenista nomination, and predicted that ultimately there
would be a three-way race between the PRD's candidate,
Democratic Change (CD) party president Ricardo Martinelli,
and Vallarino. Regarding bilateral relations, El Toro
asserted that the U.S. should be concerned about the rising
populist/leftist wing in the party and that he said that the
"right wing of the PRD" that could serve as a counterbalance.
Perez Balladares said several times that he had not decided
whether or not to run for president again, "I am taking this
step by step. There will time to decide whether to run
again."

------------- ---------------------- -------------------------
"In politics, there are no surprises, just surprised
observers"
------------- ---------------------- -------------------------

2. (C) "I have done the necessary political work to advance
my campaign to be president of the PRD," Perez Balladares
stated. "You watch. In politics, there are no surprises,
just surprised observers. There will be many surprised
political observers on Sunday." Though he would not venture
any further information regarding his prediction, El Toro
clearly believed that he would exceed expectations in the
PRD's January 21 election for delegates. Once the delegates
are chosen, "I will focus on securing their support one by
one. I will switch from hunting with my shotgun to hunting
with my rifle," Perez Balladares said, sitting in his den
covered in trophies, including a whole stuffed lion, from his
African safaris.

3. (C) Perez Balladares said that the next three months,
during which the PRD would select its internal leadership,
would be critical not only for the future of the PRD, but
also for Panama. Currently, the PRD was a party without
leadership; "(President) Martin (Torrijos) does not decide
anything. He does not act." Furthermore, he added, "Our
potential presidential candidates are not viable. (Panama
City Mayor) Juan Carlos (Navarro) is a liar and cannot be
trusted; we know this in the party. Juan Carlos cannot even
pick up the garbage. (Minister of Housing) Balbina (Herrera)
has too radical and populist of a past; the elites will never
accept her." The former president said, "The U.S. should be
concerned about the growing leftist, populist wing in the
PRD. The right wing, of which I am a part, could serve as a
counterbalance to the Balbina, (National Assembly Deputy)
Hector Aleman, and (National Assembly President) Pedro Miguel
Gonzalez (PMG)." Ultimately, PMG was a "flash in the pan,"
but there were others out there who would be more of a
problem for the U.S., Perez Balladares asserted. "You know,
of course, that the Venezuelans are financing Balbina. You
have to know that." (Note: Post has no/no evidence that
directly links Herrera to financing from Venezuela.)

-------------------
Views on Opposition
-------------------

4. (C) Ultimately, El Toro predicted, there would be a
three-way race for president: the PRD's candidate, Alberto
Vallarino who would win the Panamenista primary, and Ricardo
Martinelli. "Vallarino will make a good candidate," El Toro
said, "but he will not win if the opposition is divided." If
"my fellow ex-president and friend (Guillermo) Endara" stays
in and Martinelli runs "as we all expect," then the PRD would
win in 2009. El Toro described Panamenista President Juan
Carlos Varela as "well-intentioned" but "not in the same
league as real presidential candidates, the same goes for
that boy, you know, the one from the milk family." (Note:
El Toro was referring to Panamenista presidential aspirant
Marco Ameglio whose family owns the Bonlac milk and milk
product company.)

--------------------------
Panama Needs Man of Action
--------------------------

5. (C) "There is a lot of work to be done in this country.
We need somebody who will lead, push ahead projects, and get
things done," Perez Balladares said. Asking what has The
Torrijos Administration had achieved, El Toro asserted that
the Torrijos Administration had failed to "get the job done"
in education, security, infrastructure, and health care "We
need to fight corruption too and strengthen the judiciary.
If you do something that is corrupt, you should be arrested,
tried, and, if convicted, serve time in prison." The rank
and file of the party had become increasingly disenchanted
with Torrijos, felt ignored, and wished to be consulted more,
Perez Balladares asserted. "Panama needs a leader who is a
man of action."

----------------------------
Silent on Visa Ineligibility
----------------------------

6. (C) At no point in the conversation did Perez Balladares
mention his permanent ineligibility for a U.S. visa on the
grounds of his involvement in the trafficking of illegal
aliens.

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

7. (C) El Toro was out to charm. Though brash and brutal in
his political assessment, he also sought to regale POLCOUNS
with his safari stories. He reviewed at length his four-day
hunt to bag a male lion, for example. Conversation began as
the San Diego-Indiannapolis AFC division play-off was winding
down, and the former president -- who cannot travel to the
States to see his beloved Notre Dame Fightin' Irish play --
chatted eagerly about the NFL. In the past, emissaries
reaching out to Embassy on El Toro's behalf had indicated
that El Toro would discuss politics only after resolving his
visa situation, a non-start for post. Continuing his charm
offense, El Toro chanted the anti-corruption mantra, but,
coming from one of Panama's most corrupt president's since
the 1989 restoration of democracy, this message rings hollow.
While he is clearly not one to be afflicted with a lot of
self-doubt, El Toro was clearly confident that he had solid
reasons, mostly left unstated, to believe that he would
exceed expectations on January 21. His willingness to talk
politics and not even raise his visa plight may indicate that
El Toro is honestly interested in discrete contact with the
Embassy. This wily politician and master manipulator will
need to be handled with extreme caution. POLCOUNS advised
Perez Balladares that any contact needed to be handled
discretely, away from the unblinking lens of the media, and
in confidence. While post is not seeking any further
contact, if such contact cannot be managed discretely, then
contact with Perez Balladares should be dropped.

8. (C) This meeting was facilitated on Perez Balladares'
behalf by Eduardo Morgan, Perez Balladares' former Ambassador
to the U.S. and the founder of Panama's largest law firm.
Morgan offered to introduce POLCOUNS to the former president
after lunch at Morgan's beach house outside Panama City. The
meeting with Perez Balladares took place at his beach home, a
short distance away from Morgan's beach house. The only
participants were: Perez Balladares, his wife Dora Boyd de
Perez Balladares, Morgan, POLCOUNS, and his wife.
EATON

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