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Cablegate: Panama: Lewis On Cuba and Venezuela

VZCZCXYZ0013
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHZP #0046 0162054
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 162054Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1642
INFO RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 1160
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RUEHUB/USINT HAVANA 0090

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000046

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/16/2017
TAGS: PREL VE CU PM
SUBJECT: PANAMA: LEWIS ON CUBA AND VENEZUELA

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

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

1. (C) Despite dragging its feet for months, Panama granted
agrement to Venezuela's proposed Ambassador to Panama, Jorge
Luis Duran Centeno, First VP and FM Samuel Lewis informed
Ambassador on January 16. Before doing so, Lewis said that
President Martin Torrijos firmly warned President Chavez,
during their meeting on the margins of Guatemala's
presidential inauguration, that Panama would not tolerate any
"interference" in Panama's electoral process or any
"Bolivarian" activity. Also, Lewis said that Panama had
requested agrement from Cuba for its proposed ambassador,
Luis "Lucho" Gomez. Lewis also suggested that, as evidenced
by its January 20 elections, Cuba was undergoing a
"leadership renewal."

---------------------------------
Chavez Shows Respect for Torrijos
---------------------------------

2. (C) "Chavez showed a lot of respect for the President,"
First VP and FM Samuel Lewis told Ambassador on January 16.
"They had a cordial meeting in Guatemala." Noting that
Panama was the first delegation to meet with Chavez, Lewis
asserted, "Unlike other countries that are always seeking
something from Venezuela, Panama gets treated with respect."
Lewis said that Torrijos informed Chavez that Panama would
grant agrement to its proposed ambassador. (Note: Venezuela
has been pushing aggressively for Panama to accept Jorge Luis
Duran Centeno, an original member of MBR-200 and currently
Venezuela's CG in Sao Paolo, as Venezuela's ambassador.
Venezuela has not had an ambassador in Panama City for at
least the last six months.) "We warned Chavez though that
Panama would not tolerate interference in its electoral
process or any bolivarian activity, as we have seen already,"
Lewis added. Noting that Panama would be changing its
ambassador in Caracas, Lewis commented that Panama's
ambassador had not worked out given how "chavista" he was.

3. (C) Comment: In granting agrement, Panama has finally
folded to concerted, months-long Venezuelan pressure to
accept its proposed ambassador. There will be ample time in
the run-up to Panama's May 2009 elections to evaluate the
degree of respect that Chavez has for Panama and Torrijos by
heeding Panama's warning to stay out of its internal politics.

------------------------------- ---------------------------
Sending New Ambassador to Cuba; Leadership Renewal Underway
------------------------------- ---------------------------

4. (C) Turning to Cuba, Lewis said that Panama had requested
agrement for Luis "Lucho" Gomez. Gomez would be heading to
Cuba at an interesting period, Lewis commented. For example,
Lewis said that Panama understood that only thirty-five
percent of incumbents would be permitted to be re-elected in
the Sunday, January 20 congressional elections on the island.
Raul Castro appeared to trying to promote changes on the
island, including allowing broader private property rights,
unifying Cuba's three monetary systems through a monetary
reform, and permitting Cuban citizens to enter tourist
hotels. "Raul is serious about change and reform," Lewis
said, "and Fidel has promised not to be an obstacle."

5. (C) Comment: Gomez, a hard-core member of the leftist
"tendency (tendencia)" wing of the governing Revolutionary
Democratic Party (PRD), has long ties with Cuba. During
OPERATION JUST CAUSE in 1989, this Afro-Panamanian took
refuge in the Cuban Embassy where he resided for seventeen
months before fleeing to Cuba. Gomez returned to Panama in
1995 following a general presidential pardon issued by then
President Ernesto "El Toro" Perez Balladares. Moving Gomez
to Havana may have more to do with getting Gomez out of
Torrijos' hair than with putting the right man in Havana for
any prospective democratic process that may begin to unfold
on the island. Gomez, who works full-time at PRD
headquarters meting out government patronage positions,
became an increasing liability for Torrijos as compliants
within the party regarding Gomez's handling of appointments
rose.
EATON

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