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Cablegate: Panama: Archbishop Touches Upon Political Issues

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHZP #0486/01 1641838
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 121838Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2165
INFO RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000486

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/10/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL PM
SUBJECT: PANAMA: ARCHBISHOP TOUCHES UPON POLITICAL ISSUES
IN SERMON

Classified By: POLCOUNS BRIAN NARANJO. REASONS: 1.4 (D).

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SUMMARY
-------

1. (C)
"The excessive cost of political campaigns is a slap in the
face to the poor," Archbishop Jose Dimas Cedeno, stated
during his sermon at the 38th Eucharist mass on June 1st,
2008. Cedeno underscored key political issues deterring
Panama's progress, and urged the Panamanian government and
private sector to address: i) the growing income gap, ii) the
healthcare crisis, iii) the corrupt judicial system, iv) and
the soaring cost of political campaigns. Additionally, he
also proposed an immediate increase in minimum wage and
overhaul of the judicial and health care system. The
Archbishop's remarks were well received by the public. The
only one to attend the mass, PRD presidential candidate
Balbina Herrera, agreeing with the Archbishop, promptly
issued a press statement that called for a "cap on campaign
spending". Conversely, her opponent Juan Carlos Navarro
justified his high campaign costs, noting that such expenses
were necessary to educate effectively the public.

End Summary.

------------------------
Highlights of the Sermon
------------------------

2. (U) The following are key highlights from the Archbishop's
sermon:

--"Economic prosperity benefits the minority, while excluding
the majority."-- The GOP and private sector, Cedeno asserted,
should raise minimum wage salaries to help the country's
working class. Panama's economic growth continued to benefit
a small percentage of the population that enjoyed access to
material wealth, while the working class majority suffered
from the rising cost of gas, increased standard of living
expenses, and high inflation rates.

--"The increasing presence of bars and casinos generates
violence in the community."-- Panama's incredible economic
growth led to a proliferation of nightclubs and casinos,
further fueling alcohol abuse, poverty, and crime in the
community, the Archbishop stated. Women were the most
vulnerable to these social dynamics, since they carried the
burden to support the family.

--"Eradicating corruption and impunity is the country's most
urgent task."-- Presidential candidates had to immediately
address corruption, impunity, and the broken judicial system,
according to Cedeno. Political parties should also reduce
wasteful spending on political campaigns fueled with empty
propaganda. Candidates had to present concrete plans to
improve the country.

--"The majority of the population lacks access to quality
healthcare."-- GOP and private enterprise had to initiate a
collaborative effort to fix the healthcare system that lacked
the infrastructure to provide service to all citizens, Cedeno
said.

--"Public Transportation maintains our country's development
and growth."-- The economy could not operate effectively
without an efficient public transit system. The community
depended on it to survive, Cedeno asserted. GOP should
address the concerns of taxi and bus drivers that suffered
from the increasing cost of gas.

--------------------------------------------- ---
Leading Catholic NGO Echoes Archbishop's Remarks
--------------------------------------------- ---

3. (SBU) The essence of the Archbishop's remarks were echoed
in a meeting between POLOFF and Maribel Jean, Executive
Director of the Justice and Peace Commission, a Catholic NGO.
She described the role of the church in the upcoming
elections as ensuring a clean vote through election
observation, education of the public about their duties as
citizens, and highlighting corruption as a societal ill. She
too said the Church supported a "just salary" that would
cover the costs of housing, food, education, and healthcare,
though she put no dollar figure on what a "just" minimum
salary would be.

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

4. (C) COMMENT: The Archbishop's sermon addressed many of
the top issues affecting the country on voters' minds: the
economy, security, transportation, and health care. Public
approval of his message underscores the importance of the
Archbishops' non-partisan voice on political matters, one of
the few such voices in Panama. Many Panamanians would like
the Archbishop to be more vocal. Cedeno's last sermon was six
months ago in December. POL is reaching out to Cedeno and
hopes to delve into his views in greater depth in the coming
weeks. END COMMENT

EATON

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