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Cablegate: Importance of Usg Aviation Assistance to Panama

VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHZP #0467 1571422
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 051422Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEKJCS/OSD WASHDC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2140
INFO RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA 2690
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000467

SIPDIS

STATE FOR INL A/S JOHNSON
OSD FOR DASD JOHNSON
SOUTHCOM FOR ADM STAVRIDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/05/2018
TAGS: EAIR SNAR PARM MASS PREL PM
SUBJECT: IMPORTANCE OF USG AVIATION ASSISTANCE TO PANAMA

REF: A. PANAMA 462
B. PANAMA 445

Classified By: Charge Luis Arreaga, Reasons: 1.5 B & D.

1. (C) In the wake of the deadly crash of Panama's sole
operational National Air Service (SAN) helicopter (see
reftels), and following on President Torrijos' visit to
Washington in early May, the time is now for consideration of
greater USG aviation assistance to Panama. As a major
logistics center and transshipment point for the movement of
cocaine to the U.S., Panama desperately needs to count on
aviation support to assist with USG-led interdiction efforts.
It also requires aerial transport capability for security
forces to the remote Darien region that has experienced a
marked increase in FARC presence and activity in recent
months.

2. (C) Panama's current rotary wing fleet consists of four
Bell 212 helicopters, inadequate to meet counter-narcotics
and counter-terrorism challenges. Three helicopters were
originally purchased from Israel. None are currently
operational, and all require major updating/refurbishing. A
current SAN proposal, reportedly pending final Presidential
authorization, is a roughly $8 million contract (GOP funded)
to refurbish the four helicopters with a Canadian firm.

3. (C) While Panama enjoys a budget surplus and should be
able to dedicate significant resources to refurbish and/or
purchase new helicopters, it requires a reliable, ongoing
partner for training, support, and key maintenance. In the
absence of USG-donated new helicopters, we believe the USG
should attempt to provide support and financing for
Panamanian-funded acquisitions. Panama received no FY 08 FMF
funding and projected FMF/other security assistance funding
levels for FY 09 remain insufficient to support any
refurbishment of the SAN's inventory nor the purchase of any
new helicopters.

4. (SBU) In late 2007, NAS proposed a major air readiness
program (training on maintenance and operational procedures)
for rotary wing SAN aircraft, in close coordination with
INL/Air Wing and U.S. partner Bristow Air Academy. The
program counts on a strong buy-in from the senior levels of
the GOP. We look forward to the completion of the
contracting of this long-awaited program.

5. (C) State and DOD aviation assistance would help meet a
critical need for Panama as it continues to work closely with
us on counter-narcotics and begins to take a more active
posture vis-a-vis the FARC. The early July visit of Daniel
Delgado, Minister of Government and Justice, will provide an
additional opportunity for senior-level engagement with the
GOP on this critical need area.
ARREAGA

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