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Cablegate: Panama: Balbina Tells Ambassador "I Do Not Want

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHZP #0072/01 0242232
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 242232Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1667
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 000072

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/24/2017
TAGS: PREL PGOV PM
SUBJECT: PANAMA: BALBINA TELLS AMBASSADOR "I DO NOT WANT
TO RU FOR PRESIDENT"

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

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

1. (C) "I do not want to run for president," Minister of
Housing -- and widely presumed governing Revolutionary
Democratic Party (PRD) presidential aspirant -- Balbina
Herrera emphatically stated several times to Ambassador
during their one-on-one January 24 lunch. She stood
steadfast in her support for Panama City Mayor Juan Carlos
Navarro to be the PRD's presidential nominee noting that he
had worked hard to "deserve the nomination" and that she
would "not go back on her word to support Juan Carlos."
Reviewing the January 20 PRD election of delegates, Herrera
asserted confidently that she would "crush" former President
Ernesto "El Toro" Perez Balladares March 9 when the delegates
meet to elect the PRD president. Several times during the
conversation, Herrera inquired about the degree to which U.S.
fugitive Pedro Miguel Gonzalez's election as president of the
National Assembly had damaged bilateral relations and the
PRD's relations with the U.S. Concerning possible
Venezuelan interference in Panama's political season, Herrera
assured, "Nobody is stupid enough to take Chavez's money.
Anybody who did would be dead politically in Panama."
Finally, Herrera, acknowledging that she was viewed with some
suspicion in certain quarters in the U.S., said that she
wished to travel to the U.S., something that this Embassy
would support. End summary.

------------------------
"I'm running for mayor."
------------------------

2. (C) "I do not want to run for president," Herrera asserted
-- repeatedly -- to Ambassador. "I am running for mayor."
Pressed by Ambassador who noted that many found that very
hard to believe, Herrera responded that, while she intended
to eventually to run for president, she was not yet ready to
do so. "I have to prove that I can run a government.
Experience running a city would help me prove that," she
said. Furthermore, she said that she needed to build bridges
to the "Club Union set," a reference to Panama's sanctum
sanctorum for the wealthy, privileged and elite, and with the
"Paitilla crowd," a reference to one of Panama City's upper
class neighborhoods. Pressed by Ambassador as to whether she
would allow herself to be drafted, Herrera said, "No. While
he may not be the strongest presidential candidate, Juan
Carlos (Navarro) will have the strongest party backing him.
"I do not want to break my word. I promised Juan Carlos
(Navarro) that I would support him. It would be bad for
party unity to break that promise. I want his support when I
run for president in 2014."

-------------------------
"I will crush 'El Toro.'"
-------------------------

3. (C) "I will crush 'El Toro'" in the race for PRD
president, Herrera predicted. She asserted that former
President Ernest "El Toro" Perez Balladares was weak in the
party and that his time had passed. Sharing a delegate nose
count with Ambassador, Herrera asserted that Perez Balladares
only had the support of 4.8 percent of delegates whereas she
assessed that she benefited from the support of 80.6 percent.
Asked how she "knew" what her base of support was, Herrera
said, "This is my party. I know these delegates. I know
where they are." Noting that the PRD was a broad party that
encompasses an impressive array of political opinion, Herrera
asserted that the party's centrists (e.g., President Martin
Torrijos) still controlled the party. "The electorate is
solidly centrist or left of center and that's exactly where
the core of the PRD lies."

--------------------------------------------- ----
"Pedro Miguel (Gonzalez) will not be re-elected."
--------------------------------------------- ----

4. (C) National Assembly President "Pedro Miguel (Gonzalez)
will not be re-elected," Herrera asserted. Noting that
similar assurances had been shared with the USG before,
Herrera said, "No. He does not have the votes or political
support to prevail again." Throughout the course of
conversation, Herrera returned to the topic of this U.S.
fugitive sought on an indictment in connection with the 1992

murder of a U.S. serviceman, stating several times, "I am
concerned about the damage that Pedro Miguel did to the
bilateral relationship and the PRD's relationship with the
U.S." Ambassador stated that the bilateral relationship was
stronger than the impact of one individual, that the U.S.
continued to work well and closely with the Torrijos
Administration, and that the Embassy continued to foster
close relations with the PRD.

--------------------------------------------- ----
"Nobody is stupid enough to take Chavez's money."
--------------------------------------------- ----

5. (C) "Nobody is stupid enough to take Chavez's money,"
Herrera declared. "Anybody who did would be dead politically
in Panama." Chavez did not have any natural allies or
constituencies in Panama, Herrera asserted. "The Bolivarian
Circles in Panama are a joke." Acknowledging that the
Venezuelans were "mucking around," Herrera said that
Venezuela would not have any significant political influence
in Panama's elections.

--------------------------
"I want to visit the U.S."
--------------------------

6. (C) Aware that she was viewed with some suspicion in the
U.S., Herrera said that she would very much like to travel to
the U.S. Furthermore, she said that she wanted to have
closer and more frequent contact with the Embassy and the
Ambassador.

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

7. (C) At the popular PRD hang-out Restaurante Angel,
Herrera reveled in the one-on-one attention accorded her by
the Ambassador. Packed with political operators, word of
their luncheon quickly seeped out and both Ambassador and
Herrera were confronted by the press on departure. Sotto
voce, a surprised Herrera asked one journalist how they found
out about the lunch. Regardless of what Herrera's true
political intentions are, one thing is clear: Herrera will
be a significant force not only within the PRD, but also in
Panama. The U.S. needs to get to know this politician
better. While post will actively continue to cultivate
Herrera, post also believes that there would be tremendous
value in facilitating her travel to Washington as well.
EATON

murder of a U.S. serviceman, stating several times, "I am
concerned about the damage that Pedro Miguel did to the
bilateral relationship and the PRD's relationship with the
U.S." Ambassador stated that the bilateral relationship was
stronger than the impact of one individual, that the U.S.
continued to work well and closely with the Torrijos
Administration, and that the Embassy continued to foster
close relations with the PRD.

--------------------------------------------- ----
"Nobody is stupid enough to take Chavez's money."
--------------------------------------------- ----

5. (C) "Nobody is stupid enough to take Chavez's money,"
Herrera declared. "Anybody who did would be dead politically
in Panama." Chavez did not have any natural allies or
constituencies in Panama, Herrera asserted. "The Bolivarian
Circles in Panama are a joke." Acknowledging that the
Venezuelans were "mucking around," Herrera said that
Venezuela would not have any significant political influence
in Panama's elections.

--------------------------
"I want to visit the U.S."
--------------------------

6. (C) Aware that she was viewed with some suspicion in the
U.S., Herrera said that she would very much like to travel to
the U.S. Furthermore, she said that she wanted to have
closer and more frequent contact with the Embassy and the
Ambassador.

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

7. (C) At the popular PRD hang-out Restaurante Angel,
Herrera reveled in the one-on-one attention accorded her by
the Ambassador. Packed with political operators, word of
their luncheon quickly seeped out and both Ambassador and
Herrera were confronted by the press on departure. Sotto
voce, a surprised Herrera asked one journalist how they found
out about the lunch. Regardless of what Herrera's true
political intentions are, one thing is clear: Herrera will
be a significant force not only within the PRD, but also in
Panama. The U.S. needs to get to know this politician
better. While post will actively continue to cultivate
Herrera, post also believes that there would be tremendous
value in facilitating her travel to Washington as well.
EATON

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