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Cablegate: Panama: In Wake of Prd Convention, Primaries Begin

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DE RUEHZP #0220/01 0732233
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 132233Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1831
INFO RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
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RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000220

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/12/2018
TAGS: PGOV PM
SUBJECT: PANAMA: IN WAKE OF PRD CONVENTION, PRIMARIES BEGIN
IN EARNEST

REF: PANAMA 206

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

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

1. (C) In the wake of the governing Revolutionary Democratic
Party (PRD) March 9 convention, Panama City Mayor Juan Carlos
Navarro acted quickly to launch his campaign to win the PRD's
presidential nomination on March 12. The convention left
Torrijos in control of the party, though leftist or
"tendencia" faction members lead by Minister of Housing
Balbina Herrera made significant gains. Seeking to forestall
Herrera's entry into the PRD primary race, Navarro secured
the visible support of President Martin Torrijos, most of the
newly elected PRD National Executive Committee (CEN) members,
and most of the city councilmen from Panama's two largest
municipalities, Panama City and San Miguelito. Meanwhile,
across town on March 12, Herrera held a thanksgiving mass for
her victory as PRD President at which she publicly
acknowledged that she was considering whether to run for
Mayor of Panama, as has been her public aspiration to date,
or instead to run for President of the Republic. Herrera
said she would take forty days to listen to the desires of
the "people" before deciding. Should Herrera decide to run
for president, this development could help encourage
Panamenista presidential nomination candidate Marco Ameglio,
who has long coveted the mayor's job, to walk away from his
presidential campaign to run for mayor. Martinelli and
Patriotic Union (UP) continued to look for alliance partners.
May is shaping up to be a big political month when Herrera
may decide to contest the PRD presidential nomination, the
Panamenista field may thin out, and Martinelli, MOLIRENA and
UP may lock down alliance partners.

---------------------------------
PRD Convention Produces Mixed CEN
---------------------------------

2. (U) Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) delegates held
their eighth ordinary congress, or convention, on March 9 at
Panama City's National Stadium. Nearly 97 percent of the
4,200 delegates elected on January 12 in a nationwide PRD
poll turned out to vote to install a new National Executive
Committee (CEN). The following won election to seats on the
CEN:

-- President: Balbina Herrera -- Minister of Housing,
publicly declared as PRD candidate for Mayor of Panama City,
but also prospective PRD presidential nomination candidate;

-- 1st VP: Elias Castillo -- National Assembly Deputy

-- 2nd VP: Benjamin Colamarco -- Minster of Public Works and
former leader of the Noriega-era Dignity Battalions;

-- SecGen: Martin Torrijos -- President

-- 1st Sub-Secretary: Juan Carlos Navarro -- Mayor of Panama
City and declared PRD presidential nomination candidate;

-- 2nd Sub-Secretary: Hector Aleman -- National Assembly
Deputy and former Minister of Government and Justice;

-- 3rd Sub-Secretary: Pedro Miguel Gonzalez -- President of
the National Assembly and subject of a U.S. federal
indictment in connection with the 1992 murder of a U.S.
serviceman in Panama;

-- 4th Sub-Secretary: Belgis Castro -- Minister of
Education; and

-- 5th Sub-Secretary: Rodrigo Diaz -- private businessman.

3. (C) The CEN election results are actually somewhat more
mixed. Generally, Herrera's allies on the CEN are considered
to be: Colamarco, Aleman, Gonzalez, and Castro; Balbina and
these four presumed allies would be able to control the nine
person CEN. Colamarco and Castro, however, ran and secured
their seats while running on Torrijos' ticket. Castro is
probably more of a swing vote who may lean slightly toward
Herrera. Gonzalez is something of an outlier whose
sympathies generally lie with Herrera's views and positions,

but who tends to operate independently. Both Castro and
Aleman won their CEN seats by comparatively thinner margins
than other members, and Gonzalez's victory is to a large
extent do the extremely weak field against which he ran.
Aleman will most likely continue to be Herrera's closest ally
and political soul mate. Diaz, seen as a solid Torrijos
supporter, was also one of Herrera's most important
financiers in her race for PRD President. Furthermore, in
the PRD, the secretary-general seat, not the presidency, is
the position that holds the most power and controls the party
apparatus. Torrijos has not convened the CEN much over the
past five years, preferring instead to meet with various CEN
members on a one-on-one basis or in smaller informal groups;
post expects that Torrijos will continue to manage the CEN in
this fashion. In sum, while the make-up of the CEN is
somewhat more leftist or "tendencia," in practice it remains
to be seen whether there will be any new direction and
Torrijos remains in control, along perhaps by a smaller
margin.

--------------------------------------------- --
Navarro Launches Campaign with Torrijos at Side
--------------------------------------------- --

4. (U) Wasting no time, Panama City Mayor Juan Carlos
Navarro formally launched on March 12 his campaign to secure
the PRD presidential nomination at his campaign headquarters
in the working class Panama City neighborhood of Parque
LeFevre. In an unmistakable signal that Navarro would be the
PRD "establishment" candidate, President Martin Torrijos
accompanied Navarro on the stage, remaining with Navarro on
stage for about the first five minutes of the rally. Amid
the clamor and hubbub of the rally, POLCOUNS had difficulty
to distinguishing between Torrijos and Navarro as they were
both dressed the same, their voices were similar and their
addresses to the crowd were nearly identical; "Coincidence?,"
Panama City newspaper commented, regarding this difficulty.
Also, on stage with Navarro and Torrijos were fellow CEN
members Castillo, Gonzalez, Castro and Diaz. Noticeably
absent were Aleman and Herrera. According to press
reporting, the majority of the city councilmen for Panama
City and San Miguelito -- the largest and second largest
municipalities in the country -- were also present.

5. (U) In a combative and partisan speech, Navarro vowed to
continue the "good work" of the Torrijos Administration. He
said he would "maintain the economic policies that
"guaranteed stability" in the country and "fiscal surpluses,"
as enjoyed over the past two years. He also promised to
promote greater decentralization. A lifetime
environmentalist, Navarro received a significant amount of
applause for his promising to protect the environment, the
degradation of which was effecting the well-being of the
Panamanian people. Additionally, he promised to strengthen
education, fight crime, and increase general law and order.
On the whole though, the speech was long on partisanship and
short on policy substance.

6. (C) Navarro political advisor Ivan Gonzalez acknowledged
to POLCOUNS on March 9 on the margins of the PRD convention
that whatever pact had previously existed between Navarro and
Herrera to support Navarro for the presidency and Herrera for
the mayor of Panama City was now in a shambles. Gonzalez
said that Navarro had decided to move up his formal campaign
announcement to March 12, and his team was already actively
distributing campaign literature, hats, banners and other
paraphanelia. POLCOUNS saw Navarro's presidential campaign
operatives out in force at the convention advocating for
Navarro for the PRD presidential nomination. Navarro told
POLCOUNS on March 9 that he was ready for a tough PRD
primary, believed he had the best campaign in the field, and
enjoyed the support of Torrijos. In an aggressive
television, radio and newspaper advertising campaign
immediately after the convention, Navarro emphasized that now
that the PRD's internal election process was completed it was
time for the party to unify (ostensibly behind him) to march
forward toward his presidential victory in May 2009. For her
part, Herrera launched an advertising campaign primarily in
newspapers that also call for unity but that do not mention
her as a candidate for the PRD presidential nomination.

---------------------------------
Balbina: "I am at a Cross-Roads."
----------------------------------

7. (C) Herrera, as Navarro was across town launching his

campaign, hosted March 12 a thanksgiving mass at the Saint
Michael the Archangel Church in the Panama City slum of
Calidonia. To the press, she commented, "I am not sure
whether I will stand for the Presidency of the Republic or
the Mayor of Panama (City). I am at a cross-roads." Saying
that she would take forty days before making her final
decision, Herrera told the press, "I ask that God give me the
ability to discern, the intelligence, wisdom, the
understanding, and the ability to analyze to enable me to
make the best decision for the country." Looking to the
heavens, she added, "It cannot be my personal decision."
Herrera indicated that she would embark on a "listening" tour
of the country to divine the "people's" intentions. When
calling back to confirm her acceptance of an invitation to
lunch with Ambassador on March 27, a gleeful Herrera told POL
Assistant, "You see. Nobody believed me. They thought I was
weak." Asked when she might launch her campaign, Herrera
stated, "We'll see. I'm still with friends and people in the
business to see what they think."

--------------------------
Panamenista Race Clarifies
--------------------------

8. (C) Meanwhile, the Panamenista race might be narrowing to
a three-way race with the prospect that Marco Ameglio would
drop out of the race to secure the party's presidential
nomination. Increasingly, speculation on the street was that
Ameglio, who had long coveted the Mayor of Panama City and
who was trailing badly in the race for the Panamenista
presidential nomination, would end his presidential run and
declare instead for the mayoral race should Herrera announce
her presidential, not mayoral, candidacy. Former Minister of
Health, political advisor to Panamenista presidential
nomination candidate Alberto Vallarino, and close friend of
Ameglio's, told Ambassador on March 6 that Ameglio and his
extended family had gone on an extended vacation during which
continuing his campaign for president (and funding it with
the family's dairy wealth) would be debated. Vallarino and
Panamenista presidential nomination candidate Juan Carlos
Varela separately told POLCOUNS that they were engaged in
conversations with Ameglio to encourage him to exit the race
and throw his support to them. Recent polling by CID Gallup
(reftel) indicated that Varela was the preferred option of
Panamenista party members by a margin of two to one.
Striving to prove he was more "electable" though, Vallarino
entered into an agreement with former President Guillermo
Endara (reftel), a long-time Panamenista but now the
president of his own party, hoping to secure the support of
Endara supporters in the Panamenista ranks and to demonstrate
he was capable of forming an opposition alliance.

--------------------------------------------- -
Martinelli: Live by the Poll, Die by the Poll?
--------------------------------------------- -

9. (C) "Martinelli always has a poll under his arm," Varela
told the Ambassador on March 6. Democratic Change (CD)
presidential candidate Ricardo Martinelli polls constantly,
often has different companies run essentially the same poll
in parallel, and has made his sustained presence at the top
of the polls as his main argument to urge opposition parties
to get behind him if they want to unify for victory and as
his main weapon against the Panamenista-preferred inter-party
primary as the best mechanism to unify the opposition.
"Inevitably, Ricardo's numbers will come down. These other
campaigns will begin taking up more political space,"
Martinelli political advisor Demetrio "Jimmy" Papadimitriu
told POLCOUNS on March 5, "but it's hard to get him to really
understand that." Following the "Pacto Chame" between
Vallarino and Endara (reftel), Martinelli redoubled efforts
to form an alliance with the Movement of Liberal Republican
Nationalists (MOLIRENA).

--------------------------------------------- --
Ford: Seeking the Best Deal for Patriotic Union
--------------------------------------------- --

10. (C) According to press reporting, Patriotic Union (UP)
President and former 1st VP Guillermo "Billy" Ford is in the
midst of a round of meetings with Martinelli, Varela, and
Vallarino regarding formation of an alliance. Party co-VP
Anibal Galindo is working closely with Martinelli, while the
other co-VP Jose Raul Mulino prefers Vallarino. Ford, who
told State's visiting Director for Central American affairs
on January 18 that he preferred an alliance with the

Panamenistas appears to be sticking by his strategy to
negotiate the best deal for UP.

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

11. (C) Panama's May 2009 elections are shaping up to be the
most wide open since democracy was restored in Panama in
December 1989. There is no obvious PRD president contender,
though Torrijos does appear to be starting now to try to
catalyze a PRD consensus behind Navarro, the PRD's second
best horse in the race, according to the polls, after Herrera
who leads by a sizable amount. Though the PRD is perhaps in
its least unified state in recent memory, the opposition too
is in disarray and appears to have few prospects to advance
significant unification over the next four months.
Panamenista candidates must register by early May to run for
the party's presidential nomination, by which point Ameglio
may have dropped out. Out of desperation of slipping under
the political waves, MOLIRENA is looking for an alliance
partner, and Martinelli is courting them hard to close a deal
before the end of May. As for the Panamenista party,
Vallarino and Varela are locked in a what will likely prove
to be a long and expensive campaign, and both have to face
the political reality that in general polls they both trail
badly behind Martinelli. May therefore is shaping up to be
the next important political period: Martinelli hopes to
nail down an alliance partner and to sustain his independent
campaign at its current altitude in the polls; Panamenistas
will need to register for their presidential primary; and
Herrera's forty-day period to ponder will be drawing to a
close.
EATON

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