Cablegate: Panama Post: 5th Edition -- The Post-Carnival


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R 081836Z FEB 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000119



E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/08/2018

B. (B) PANAMA 103


1. (C) Panama's four-day Carnival celebration may have
turned most of Panama City into a ghost town as Panamanians
headed to the interior, the beaches, or Transismica, one of
the city's main thoroughfares, to celebrate, but politics did
not stop. The Panama Post was able to button hole one
Panamenista insider, perhaps the only working politico left
in town, as well as to stay on top of a few other stories
that are percolating along. Our headlines for this edition:

-- Former President Mireya Moscoso's aide predicts more talk
of constitutional assembly (constituyente) in near future by
Panamenista candidates;
-- Panamenista presidential nomination candidates share views
in La Prensa interview series;
-- Democratic Change (CD) President and presidential
candidate Ricardo Martinelli ties on his "chucks" and heads
out to carnival;
-- Patriotic Union (UP) President Guillermo "Billy" Ford
presidential campaign posters appear; and
-- Governing Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) begins
"congresillos (little congresses)."

End summary.

"Expect to Hear More About Constituyente"

2. (C) "You can expect to hear more about proposals for a
constitutional assembly (constituyente," former President
Mireya Moscoso's aide Eduardo Quiros told POLCOUNS on
February 1, "beginning in March after the (governing
Revolutionary Democratic Party) PRD holds its internal
elections." Quiros explained that Panamenista presidential
nomination contender Marco Ameglio's call for a constituyente
(REFTEL B) was not an isolated, desperate attempt for a
trailing politician to grab headlines in the hopes of
accelerating his campaign. "There is broad support for
constitutional reform. The constitution we have today is
basically a dictator's constitution," referring to former
Panamanian strong man -- and father of current President
Martin Torrijos -- Omar Torrijos. Politically, the current
constitution not only favored large parties, but it favored
the PRD. "Nobody understands the distribution of deputies
between uninominal districts and plurinominal districts,"
respectively single representative and multiple
representative districts. Continuing, Quiros said a
constituyente would be needed to rebuild the judiciary and
legislature, promote greater decentralization, and rein in
excessive presidential power. "By putting forward a
constituyente, Panamenistas can stand for change and put the
PRD on the defensive protecting their dictator's
constitution," Quiros added. He said that he believed that
traditional parties would dominate a constituyente and that
non-PRD parties would be better represented than in the
National Assembly, "reflecting more truly the political
distribution of Panamanians." "The Bolivarians and other
leftists are not prepared for constituyente here in Panama.
We have an opportunity to do this democratically and should
do it now."

3. (C) Comment: The Panama Post was surprised by Quiros'
spirited arguments in favor of a constituyente. This
proposal definitely has deeper roots inside the Panamenista
party than just one candidate. Quiros estimated, probably
correctly, that voter interest in a constituyente would be
overshadowed by economic concerns. That said though, by
supporting a constituyente, the center-right Panamenista
party can position itself as supporting dramatic change and
renewal in Panamanian politics

--------------------------------------------- ---------
La Prensa Interviews Help Frame Panamenista Candidates
--------------------------------------------- ---------

4. (SBU) In three interviews with the Panama City broad
sheet newspaper of record, "La Prensa," Panamenista
presidential nomination contenders Juan Carlos Varela, Marco
Ameglio, and Alberto Vallarino shared their views in articles
that were published on February 2, 3, and 4 respectively.
The Panama Post provides the following thumbnails of these

-- Juan Carlos Varela: In its February 2 article, La Prensa
described Varela as "optimistic about his victory." The
paper reported that Varela described himself as "an apostle
of service" in contrast to seeing politics as "an economic
trampoline for personal benefit." Answering a question
regarding how much he intended to spend on his campaign,
Varela offered, "There is only one bank account where
everything that enters and leaves is recorded. When the
(electoral process) is over it will be made public."
Varela's proposals include: reducing the electoral subsidy
that "in some cases merely supports an employee roll of the
fallen" providing sinecure jobs in a party's administration
to those who lost elections; improving the minimum wage;
reducing taxes on "the professional classes;" strengthening
local government through "municipal decentralization;" and
closing down neighborhoods where families live in "sub-human"
conditions and that act as "schools for criminals." Also,
Varela said he would "strengthen the police presence in
conflict areas" and call for a "public contracting process to
design and build a metropolitan transportation system."
Summarizing his aims, Varela said, "To establish an efficient
government that spends less and invests more. Where
advertising expenditures are reduced. A strong government
and clean hands." Varela, age 44, is the owner of Varela
Hermanos, Panama's largest liquor producer. He graduated
from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

--Marco Ameglio: In its February 3 article, La Prensa
highlighted the Ameglio's bill boards emblazoned with his
slogan, "Charging ahead (Voy de frente)!" Responding to the
interviewers question regarding how it was that a former
deputy like Ameglio did not enjoy any support from any of the
Panamenista Party's current 16 deputies, Ameglio said, "My
career is not a means to drag along the personal aspirations
of spent deputies, mayors or precinct representatives." On a
possible constituyente, Ameglio said, "We need to establish
the bases of a new republic. . . . Neither the Executive,
Legislature, nor Judiciary are capable of self-correcting
themselves. It is the only way. Of course there is risk for
the constituted power (existing government structure), but
power lies with the people (the constituting power)."
Ameglio called for more police units, more training, and for
action on transportation reform and an increase in the
education budget. Ameglio, refusing to state specifically
how much he would spend on the campaign, asserted he would
spend one-fourth of what his challengers would; "People
support me because they believe in my proposals, not because
I contracted them, nor because I bought them, nor because I
offered to pay for their campaigns." Ameglio is 46 years
old, is the vice-president of his families dairy business
Sociedad de Alimentos de Panama (Bonlac), and enjoys off-road
motorcycle racing. The son of Italian immigrants, he is
married to Xenia Carles de Ameglio, and they have two sons,
Marco and Roberto.

-- Alberto Vallarino: In its February 4 article, La Prensa
noted that Vallarino had drawn the support of 10 Panamenista
National Assembly deputies. "I have been a Panamenista all
my life. I come from a Panamenista family. My aunt Ana
Matilde Linares as the first wife of Dr. Arnulfo Arias (the
party's founder)." He also notes that his grandmother and
her son were wounded on May 10, 1951 during the violent
overthrow of Arias. Asked directly if he had former
President Mosoco's support, Vallarino answered, "I have the
support of thousands and thousands of Panamenistas.
Responding to a question whether the Panamenista party would
cede leadership of the opposition, Vallarino said, "I do not
see why that would be necessary. The Panamenista Party is
the largest in the opposition." "I have proposed holding
interparty elections to choose the opposition's candidate."
Vallarino said his top three priorities would be: "Restoring
tranquillity for the public, guaranteeing effective and
efficient law and order, and creating dignified, well-paid
jobs. And correcting the social and economic distortions in
such a way that we achieve as a country the eradication of
extreme poverty and significantly reduce poverty." Vallarino
was born April 2, 1951, and both of his parents have passed
away. He holds a bachelors in engineering from Cornell where
he also received an MBA. Married to Adriana Lewis, he has
three children.

5. (C) Comment: At least for the Panamenista presidential
contenders, "It's the economy, stupid," including: addressing
economic concerns such as the rising cost of living and
unemployment, creating more opportunity for economic
opportunity and improving law and order to combat rising
crime, which is seen as primarily an economically driven
phenomenon. Both Varela and Vallarino are striving to
portray themselves as seasoned businessmen who have created
jobs and opportunity. Whereas Vallarino repeatedly returns
to his and his family's close ties to the party's earliest
days and its founder, Varela strives to position himself as a
new kind of Panamenista who is a public servant with clean
hands. Ameglio, the most populist of the three and trailing
badly, rejects Vallarino and Varela as political dilettantes
and interlopers and portrays himself as the sole Panamenista
toiling away in the trenches for the "people's" interests.

Martinelli Ties on "Chucks," Hits Carnival

6. (SBU) Having decided to stick with the same slogan as
his last presidential campaign -- "Walking in the shoes of
the people (Caminando en los zapatos del pueblo)" --
Democratic Change (CD) President and presidential candidate
Ricardo Martinelli had to choose which shoes to wear. Well,
in the run up to Panama's 4-day carnival bacchanalia,
Martinelli chose navy blue, Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars,
affectionately know as "chucks." Martinelli's public choice
of these cheap canvas and rubber basketball shoes -- first
marketed by Converse in 1917, not worn for years with
basketball players, but now favored by rockers, hip-hop
musicians, and youth -- was a clear attempt to try to curry
favor with what Martinelli has termed the "generation of
change." Martinelli then hit the streets across the country
-- "chucks" strapped one -- to join the crowds "carnivaling
(carnevaleando)." Newspaper and television pictures showed
Martinelli getting hosed down by the "soaker (mojadero),"
pressing the flesh with carnival goers, and mugging with
various carnival princesses.

7. (SBU) Comment: Given that Panama only votes once every
five years, an enormous quantity of new first-time voters
will be entering the political market place in May 2009,
between 400,000 and 500,000 voters between the ages of 18 and
23. Expect not only Martinelli, but also other presidential
aspirants to expend significant political capital to tap into
this vote rich demographic. The Panama Post does not know
whether Martinelli went with high-tops or low-tops (estimated
value, according to Google, of USD 42 and 22 respectively),
but will inform our readers once we know.

Ford Campaign Posters Appear

7. (SBU) During Carnival, Patriotic Union (UP) posters
emblazoned with party president Guillermo "Billy" Ford's face
and declaring, "The force of honesty (La fuerza de la
honestidad)," began appearing in Panama City and along
Panamanian by-ways. The media took these adds as evidence of
Ford's intentions to run for president, frequently noting
that Ford has never denied being interested in moving into
the Palace of the Herons (Palacio de las Garzas) Presidential
Palace. Several media outlets reported Ford's comment that
he did not want to be anybody's "spare tire." Asked
separately if he would run (again) as Moral Vanguard of the
People (VMP) presidential candidate Guillermo Endara's vice
presidential candidate, Ford responded that he could not step
down from his presidential candidacy without "conversations,"
presumably with UP faithful and prospective allies.

8. (C) Comment: Sure, Ford would love to be president, but he
also told the Panama Post that he would prefer to steer UP
into an alliance with the Panamenista ticket. Given his
acknowledgment that the Panamenistas would be loathe to take
second billing and Ford's desire neither to be anybody's
"spare tire" nor to run for a job he had already held (vice
president), UP's advertising campaign appears to be more
aimed at maintaining the UP profile than promoting Ford as a
viable presidential candidate. Indeed, the ads do not say
anything about a presidential run nor even mention Ford's
name, though his face is known to all Panamanians. The adds,
printed in UP's signature orange, display the party name in
large block letters though. The Panama Post assesses that
Ford's game remains securing UP the best bargaining position
for an eventual opposition alliance.

PRD Congresillos Begin

9. (SBU) On February 9, beginning in the Panama City exurb
Capira, the governing Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD)
will hold its first of 21 congresillos Each congresillo or
little congress, pulls together the PRD delegates that were
elected on January 12 for a party-defined geographic area to
select representatives to represent that area on the party's
National Directive Committee (CDN). Delegates from the 8-2
and 8-3 electoral circuits will meet on February 9. The
following is a schedule of the up-coming congresillos

Date: Area: Delegates:
----- ----- ----------
Feb 9 8-2/8-3 119
Feb 10 8-4 54
Feb 12 8-8 241
Feb 13 8-9 122
Feb 14 8-10 226
Feb 15 8-7 282
Feb 16 Herrera 181
Feb 16 Cocle 263
Feb 17 Veraguas 401
Feb 19 8-6 360
Feb 21 Colon 271
Feb 23 Bocas del Toro 144
Feb 24 Chiriqui I 348
Feb 24 Chiriqui II 254
Feb 26 8-1 222
Feb 29 8-5 183
Mar 1 Los Santos 167
Mar 2 Darien 65
Mar 8 Embera Wounnan 18
Mar 8 Kuna Yala 71
Mar 8 Ngobe Bugle 208

(Note: Numbers refer to an electoral circuit. Names refer
to provinces, expect for the last three areas that
"comarcas," or indigenous people's reservations.)

10. (C) Comment: As the congresillos get under way, the PRD
now gets down to brass tacks and the arm twisting has already
begun. While President Martin Torrijos, First VP and FM
Samuel Lewis, and Second VP and Minister of the Presidency
Ruben Arosemena were all outside Panama, candidates for PRD
president Ernesto "El Toro" Perez Balladares (former
President of the republic) and Balbina Herrera (current
Minister of Housing) took advantage of the carnival holidays
to hit the stump. Behind the scenes, both El Toro and
Balbina and their acolytes were striving to line up support
in the congresillos Both El Toro and Balbina have said that
they will attend each congresillo Ending the day before the
PRD convention, congresillos will provide insight into the
likely outcome and relative strengths of the various PRD
players. The Panama Post will be watching these congresillos
closely and will keep its readers informed.

© Scoop Media

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