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Cablegate: Panama Post: 3rd Edition, Volume Ii

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C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000051

SIPDIS

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E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/18/2017
TAGS: PGOV PREL PM
SUBJECT: PANAMA POST: 3RD EDITION, VOLUME II

REF: A. (A) PANAMA 34 (AND PREVIOUS)
B. (B) PANAMA 41

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

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

1. (C) The Panama Post is coming to you a few days early this
week. State's Director for Central American Affairs hits the
ground January 17 for a few days of scrounging around the
Panamanian political scene as well as to follow up on the
Regional Healthcare Training Center, attend the Omar Moreno
Foundation's baseball gala, and reach out to anti-corruption
activists. In this edition, our headlines are:

-- First Lady Vivian de Torrijos comes knocking;
-- Former President Guillermo Endara wins Moral Vanguard of
the Nation (VMP) primary; and
-- First VP and FM Samuel Lewis predicts "no surprises" when
governing Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) go the polls
on January 20.

Stay tuned for next week's special edition -- The Director's
Cut -- in which the Panama Post will dish on political
insight garnered during our director's visit.

--------------------------------
First Lady on the Campaign Stump
--------------------------------

2. (SBU) DCM opened the front door to his residence on the
evening of January 14 to unexpectedly find on his stoop First
Lady Vivian Fernandez de Torrijos going door to door seeking
support for her campaign to become a member of the National
Directors' Committee (CDN) of the governing Revolutionary
Democratic Party (PRD). Equally surprised to find the
Embassy's Number 2 at the door, the First Lady exchanged
pleasantries, demurred on an invitation to come in, and soon
departed to knock on more doors in the upper class, former
base housing complex of Albrook. Seeing a crowd waving signs
and chanting outside the DCM's residence, an Embassy officer
who lives near by nearly alerted post's Regional Security
Office (RSO) to inform them of the "demonstration," only to
realize that ample security -- the First Lady's security --
was already on hand.

3. (SBU) Comment: Such door-to-door campaigning is not
common in Panama City, though it is very common in Panama's
rural interior. According to the Panama Post's most seasoned
analyst, one never knows who might open the door. While
bumping into the U.S. DCM is innocuous enough -- Vivian did
not offer to document the DCM so he could vote -- the chances
of having a political opponent or enemy open the door are
generally believed to be to high. Most of the district in
which the First Lady lives consists of slums -- Santa Ana,
San Felipe, and El Chorrillo -- not the higher class areas
such as Albrook and the Ancon area where the President and
First Lady reside. The Panama Post wonders whether her
security detail will traipse through El Chorrillo on a
similar door-to-door effort. If we hear, we'll let you know.

--------------------------------------
Endara Sweeps VMP Presidential Primary
--------------------------------------

4. (U) To nobody's surprise, former President Guillermo
Endara handily won the presidential primary of the Moral
Vanguard of the Nation (VMP) party on July 13. Endara ran
unopposed and garnered some 8,000 votes. Endara is now the
first formally declared presidential candidate for Panama's
May 2009 general elections. Interestingly, this victory was
also Endara's first primary win in his long political career.

5. (C) Comment: "We're broke and cannot afford a big
turn-out-the-vote effort. We're only spending about USD
10,000 on this primary," Endara's right-hand man, Menalco
Solis, told POLCOUNS on January 11. VMP polling stations
were placed in out of the way corners primarily along the
Panama City-Colon corridor where there were pockets of VMP
members. Endara, who lives in downtown Panama City, had to
travel to the small town of Tocumen, home of Panama City's
international airport, to vote. Politically, Endara's
presidential primary victory will make it more difficult for
him to join a coalition to support another candidate's run
for the presidency as he would have to walk away from loyal
supporters who formally blessed him as their candidate.

-------------------------------------------
Lewis: "No Surprises" Expected in PRD poll
-------------------------------------------

6. (C) "There will not be any surprises on Sunday (January
20)," First VP and FM Samuel Lewis predicted to Ambassador on
January 16. PRD members go to the polls on January 20 to
selected some 4,200 delegates who will in turn elect the
parties future leadership, including its National Executive
Committee (CEN). Lewis, who is running himself on a ticket
in the upper class Panama City neighborhood of San Francisco,
predicted that some 200,000 PRD rank and file, nearly one
third of the party's registered members, would go to the
polls. Nearly one out of every eleven or twelve party members
is running for a party job, Panama City Mayor (and Lewis'
cousin) Juan Carlos Navarro explained to Ambassador on
January 10. Noting that delegates can switch their support
once elected, Lewis downplayed the likelihood that any party
notable would be able to claim a "surprise" victory. "The
real game begins once the delegates have been chosen. Who
knows what will emerge from the delegates?" Lewis added.

7. (C) Comment: The Panama Post surmises that Lewis was
likely aware of POLCOUNS's January 13 meeting with former
President Ernesto "El Toro" Perez Balladares during which
meeting El Toro smugly asserted that there would be a
surprise, in his favor, on January 20 (REFTEL B). On January
17, Panama City broad sheet daily La Estrella's political
gossip suggested that it was estimated that El Toro would
take thirty percent of the delegates that would be elected on
January 20. While Lewis is technically right that delegates
could switch their support once elected, many of these
would-be delegates are campaigning with the political and
financial support of major PRD heavy hitters. The reality is
that there are few true PRD free agents on the field. Lewis
and Perez Balladares agree on one point though: the real
game, as far as the internal PRD elections are concerned,
begins once the delegates have been chosen. Was Lewis trying
to lower expectations? Was he trying to lay seeds of doubt
regarding El Toro's confident assertion that there would
indeed be a surprise? Only one thing is for sure: either El
Toro or Lewis is going to be surprised on Sunday.
Ultimately, this internal PRD game will have major impacts on
the PRD's eventual presidential nominee and the broader
political panorama.
EATON

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