Cablegate: Panama Post: Edition 11; Volume Ii


DE RUEHZP #0493/01 1681608
R 161608Z JUN 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000493


E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/13/2018


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


1. (C) Our headlines in this edition of the Panama Post are:

-- Panama's leading pollster says "basic political dynamic
remains unchanged;"
-- Tearing a page from PRD presidential nomination candidate
Juan Carlos Navarro's play book, Panamenista presidential
nomination candidate Alberto Vallarino releases an internal
-- Navarro and Vallarino get in trouble with the Electoral
Tribunal (TE) for releasing polls;
-- Former President Ernesto "El Toro" Perez Balladares takes
a shot at PRD presidential nomination candidates Balbina
Herrera and at President Torrijos;
-- a dentist (and gadfly Panamenista presidential nomination
candidate) takes aim at Panamenista contender Juan Carlos
-- Herrera effectively uses internet to pull in and harness
youth support.

End Summary.

--------------------------------------------- --------------
Leopoldo Neira: "Basic Political Dynamic Remains Unchanged"
--------------------------------------------- --------------

2. (C) "If the general elections were held today," leading
Panama City-based polling agency Dichter and Neira Executive
President Leopoldo Neira told POLCOUNS on June 12, "the
(governing Revolutionary Democratic Party) PRD -- whether
Balbina or Navarro -- would win easily." Contrary to what
other polls were indicating, Neira added, "The basic
political dynamic remains unchanged." Categorically
rejecting the notion that the PRD primary race was becoming
competitive, Neira said that Balbina Herrera still had a
commanding lead in the internal PRD race leading Juan Carlos
Navarro by some twenty points. Furthermore and again
contrary to what other polling had indicated, the Panamenista
primary race remained a horse race; "Vallarino and Varela are
essentially tied." "Essentially, all the candidates have
more or less stayed at the same levels. Nobody has
significantly changed the political dynamic."

3. (C) According to Neira, to date attacks on Balbina
labeling her a dangerous, Chavez-style populist had had no
effect on her standing in the polls. Furthermore, he said he
was mystified by the results uncovered by his polls that
indicated that President Torrijos was still widely popular.
"How can Martin have such high approval ratings when he gets
such horrible grades for following through on his campaign
pledges and for governing?" he asked rhetorically.
Panamanian political behavior was highly personalistic and
basically boiled to a what-am-I-going-to-get-out-of-this
mentality, Neira explained. In his experience, candidates
who were willing to grind it out, shake every hand they
could, visit personally everybody they could, and slave for
the election would eventually win. In light of this view,
Neira said he was not prepared to write off Navarro in the
PRD primary, gave the advantage to Varela in the tight
Panamenista race, and thought that Martinelli would be
competitive in the generals.

4. (C) Sharing advanced results of Dichter and Neira's June
poll -- expected to be published shortly in Panama City daily
Panama America, Neira passed the following overall results:

May June
--- ----
Balbina Herrera 26.1 25.8
Ricardo Martinelli 19.3 19.3
Juan Carlos Navarro 14.8 14.8
Juan Carlos Varela 6.0 6.5
Alberto Vallarino 4.2 5.8
Guillermo Endara 1.3 1.0
Laurentino Cortizo 0.2 0.4
Marco Ameglio 0.1 0.3
Will Not Vote 0.4 0.3
None 12.0 10.1
Don't Know/No Answer 15.2 15.8

5. (C) Comment:Dichter and Neira just went through a nasty
break-up with Panama City broadsheet La Prensa. Neira
explained that that La Prensa had insisted on exclusive
rights to publicize his polls rejecting requests to all the
information to be more widely distributed through radio and
television. Neira is now working with Panama America, W
Radio, and TVN to share this information more widely "in the
public interest." Clearly bruised by attacks on his
company's name -- attacks insinuating that commercial
insights swayed his polls, that the company was fixing the
results, etc. -- Neira said he would share his final,
non-publicized polling data collected in the final two weeks
of the campaign during which period polling results may not
be publicized. He said he would pass this data to the
Catholic Church, the Electoral Tribunal (TE), and now the
U.S. Embassy. Neira estimated that well less than five
percent of Dichter and Neira's business was connected
political polling. Annually, the company did about 800
opinion studies of various kinds releasing about three
reports each day. Neira said that over the years Dichter and
Neira had invested significant time, energy, and money in
fine tuning its demographic database, the only database of
its kind among Panamanian pollsters. Political polling was
essentially the firm's "loss leader" keeping the firm's brand
in the front of Panamanians minds. Most of the company's
pollsters are on permanent contract and, because of the
steady rhythm of its opinion surveys, are basically fully
employed. On its political polls, Dichter and Neira deploys
its executives -- including Neira himself -- to ensure high
quality data collection and oversight and the executives
generally account for half of its political pollsters.
Dichter and Neira has called all of Panama's elections and
referenda since the restoration of democracy in 1989 within a
couple of points. The Panama Post eagerly accepted Neira's
offer to receive Dichter and Neira's polling results
throughout the political season.

--------------------------------------------- --
Dueling Polls: Vallarino Releases Internal Poll
--------------------------------------------- --

6. (U) "The campaign center of Engineer Alberto Vallarino has
decided to publish an extract of two polls conducted by our
campaign," a campaign "Special Announcement" declared on on June 6. "We have taken this
decision -- departing from what until now had been our policy
-- with the aim of confronting a disinformation campaign
directed against Panamenista presidential pre-candidates."
Leading with this declaration, Panamenista Party presidential
nomination candidate Alberto Vallarino strove to respond to
"disorienting polls" some of which were "manipulated" that
showed Panamenista candidates receiving very low support
"that do not track with the size of our party nor with the
dynamic that we have observed in recent months. The
Vallarino campaign released redacted results from the March
and April polls that it commissioned from Venezuelan polling
outfit DOXA. The campaign asserted, that as a Venezuelan
pollster, DOXA did not have "commercial commitments with any
company in Panama."

7. (U) Highlights of this poll include:

-- Overwhelming majorities of those polled stated in March
(84%) and April (78%) that Panama was headed in the wrong
direction. While a steady number believed things would
improve over the coming year (34% in March and 33% in April),
majorities thought that conditions would get worse (47% in
March and 35% in April) or much worse (11% in March and 12%
in April).
-- Among Panamenista candidates, Vallarino had the highest
positives (46% and 50% in March and April) and lowest
negatives (36% and 33%). Fellow Panamenista candidate Juan
Carlos Varela's positives were 35% and 41% and his negatives
were 41% and 42% in March and April respectively.
-- The poll showed Vallarino closing the gap with Varela.
According to DOXA, in March Varela led Vallarino by 4 points
(38% to 34%), and in April Varela led Vallarino by 2 points
(31% to 29%. Those stating that they would not vote jumped
50 percent, from 14% in March to 22% in April.
-- Among leading opposition candidates, at 22%, Vallarino was
essentially tied in April with Varela and Democratic Change
(CD) candidate Ricardo Martinelli who both polled 23% on a
question assessing who the preferred opposition candidate
was. Compared to March, Varela's and Vallarino's numbers
were essentially the same (22% for Vallarino and 24% for
Varela in March), but Martinelli fell 4 points.
-- Among governing Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD)
candidates, Balbina Herrera was the preferred choice, though
Navarro was making up some ground. From March to April,
Herrera fell from 51% to 38%, while Navarro rose from 24% to
-- In April, asked to choose from among the three leading
Panamenista candidates, 55% of respondents chose Vallarino,
33% chose Varela, and 7% chose Ameglio. In April, asked to
choose only between Vallarino and Varela, Vallarino's numbers
fell to 50% and Varela rose to 39%. Vallarino's numbers
improved on these two questions from March to April while
Varela's remained essentially stagnant.
-- Asked in April only who was most capable of unifying the
opposition, Vallarino out polled Varela by ten points (42% to
32%) and Ameglio was a distant third at 5%. A total of 20%
did not know or respond.

8. (U) Technical information: The polls were conducted
nationally, except in the provinces of Bocas del Toro and
Darien and in the indigenous reservations (comarcas). A
total of 1,200 individuals were interviewed for the general
questions, and a total of 500 Panamenista party registered
members were interviewed for the party-specific questions.
The poll has a 95 percent confidence rating and a margin of
error of /- 3 percent.

9. (C) Comment: In releasing an internal poll, Vallarino is
lifting a play from PRD presidential nomination candidate
Navarro's play book. One major difference, aside from the
fact that Navarro's poll was more current, though is that
Navarro's release of his PSM SigmaDos poll included much more
context and technical data regarding the poll. Both of these
DOXA polls were conducted before the CID Gallup, Dichter and
Neira, and PSM SigmaDos polls suggested that Varela was
beating Vallarino in the internal Panamenista race. The
technical data provided in this "special announcement" is
incomplete. The dates of the field work are unknown. The
methodology -- face-to-face or telephone interviews; randomly
selected neighborhoods and homes or street interviews;
numbers of people interviewed per home/site; etc. -- is also
not clear. The responses concerning the overall direction of
Panama track very closely with other polling. The DOXA poll
shows a wider gap between Herrera and Navarro, but then these
polls covered earlier periods than polling that suggests a
narrower gap. Where this poll differences significantly is
that it suggests that Martinelli, Vallarino, and Varela are
closer in the opposition-wide race and that Vallarino is out
pacing Varela by 20 points, results that do not track with
other polling outfits' more recent results. Given the murky
data laid out in this "special announcement" and the less
than satisfying technical data, the release of this internal
polling information can only be understood as an effort to
stem what has become a negative narrative for Vallarino, a
narrative that suggests that Vallarino is underperforming and
not meeting expectations. Perhaps the most telling tidbit of
data circulated in this announcement -- at least the aspect
that Vallarino wants to push the most -- is the result of
this poll that suggests that Vallarino is the Panamenista
candidate most capable of unifying the opposition.

--------------------------------------------- ------------
Vallarino (and Navarro) Get in Trouble Over Poll Releases
--------------------------------------------- ------------

10. (U) The Electoral Tribunal (TE) launched June 9 an
investigation into the release of internal polling data by
two campaigns, the campaigns of Panamenista presidential
nomination candidate Alberto Vallarino (see paras 2-5) and
PRD presidential nomination candidate Juan Carlos Navarro
(REFTEL). Panama City broadsheet daily La Prensa reported
that one TE source indicated that Vallarino's DOXA poll had
not been registered with the TE. While Navarro's poll had
been registered, this source told La Prensa that there had
been irregularities in the information that Navarro's
campaign released. The campaigns will have three days to
respond to the investigation.

11. (C) Comment: To prevent monkey business with polls, all
polling results must be registered with the TE. Since
Panama's major media outlets broke ties with Panama's leading
polling outfits over the past couple of months, polling
results tend to circulate by word of mouth and via informal
e-mail mass mailings. The Panama Post has had significant
success procuring polling results directly from campaigns and
candidates and routinely scours the internet for the latest
posts. Absent reliable and regular publication of polling by
media outlets and tempted to use polling results to their
advantage, the campaigns themselves may be inclined to
distribute polling results directly themselves. That the TE
has acted quickly to examine this new practice is an example
of the TE's forward-leaning posture. The maximum penalty for
this kind of electoral misdeed is USD 25,000.

El Toro Takes a Shot at Balbina, Torrijos

12. (U) Former President Ernesto "El Toro" Perez Balladares
took shots at PRD presidential nomination candidate Balbina
Herrera and President Torrijos during his June 9 appearance
on the talk show "Enfoque (Focus)" and in the wake of his
endorsement of PRD presidential nomination candidate Juan
Carlos Varela. El Toro questioned why Herrera sought the
"blessing" of the U.S. Embassy before launching her campaign,
noting that he never would have "consulted" with the embassy.
Continuing, he asserted that Herrera was now traveling to
the U.S. to meet with the Council of the Americas -- "a
foundation established by the Rockafellers" -- to try to
prove that she was not a leftist, "which she is." Regarding
his own Category I U.S. visa ineligibility for alien
smuggling, El Toro excoriated the Torrijos Administration for
failing in its "patriotic responsibility" by not "demanding"
proof from the USG for the grounds for "canceling" his visa,
something he characterized (again) as a political matter. El
Toro asserted that Torrijos had been blocking "diplomatic"
efforts to restore his visa. The former president said that
he would keep open the office of running for re-election in

13. (C) Comment: Appearing on the El Toro-friendly program
"Enfoque" -- Dorita Reyna, the show's host, and her family
received checks in connection with the PECC corruption
scandal, a scandal that also lined the pockets of El Toro --
Perez Balladares made his most visible appearance in his
efforts to offer "political support" to Navarro. It is
unclear what impact these barbs will have on the campaign.
For the record: the Embassy obviously did not "bless"
Herrera's candidacy, but has sustained routine political
contact with this leading PRD politician just as the Embassy
does with politicians across Panama's political spectrum.

Dentist Takes Aim at Varela

14. (U) Making a media splash in the June 10 newspapers,
Panamenista presidential candidate Jorge Gamboa took aim at
fellow contender Juan Carlos Varela by insinuating that he
did not have "clean hands," Varela's campaign slogan, and
that he had a "double campaign" to take the Panamenista party
into alliance "with external forces" be accepting a VP slot.
Gamboa demanded that Varela explain whether he was receiving
campaign financing from a "Costa Rican-Panamanian scandal"
involving the (Catholic) Episcopal Conference of Costa Rica
and Servicios Pastorales Latinoamericanos, S.A., a Panamanian
company set up by the conference. Gamboa noted that the
General Superintendency of Financial Entities of Costa Rica
(SUGEF) had ordered the conference to cease its "intermediary
financial operations" and return to investors all funds
invested in the Panamanian company, an order that the
conference allegedly ignored. Gamboa asserted there was a
hidden link to Varela since Panamenista Party VP Alvaro
Aleman had established the Panamanian company. Referring to
the March 6, 2007 "Pese Pact (Pacto de Pese) between CD
presidential candidate Ricardo Martinelli and Varela, Gamboa
also asked Varela to explain his "double campaign with an
outside campaign" to draw the Panamenista Party into an
alliance while only securing the VP slot on the ticket.

15. (C) Comment: This gadlfy candidate -- one of the Panama
Post's contacts in the Panamenista Movement for Action (MAPA)
-- has been angling for media attention ever since the last
minute filing of his candidacy and after being denied a place
on the dais for two Panamenista debates. (Note: Only the top
three polling candidates Varela, Vallarino, and Varela were
offered the opportunity to debate. Gamboa, a dentist, is
nowhere in the polls.) The charges of receiving funds from
the Costa Rican Episcopal Conference are unlikely to go very
far. Aleman's bread and butter in his legal practice is
establishing corporations like the one he established for the
conference. Also, no case has been made there was any wrong
doing in Panama as far as setting up this company;
allegations of wrong-doing seem, at least for the moment, to
be contained in Costa Rica. Also, there has been no
indication that any amount of funds have found their way from
Costa Rica through this company across Aleman's desk and into
Varela's pocket. The more damaging charge though is the
accusation that Varela wants to take the party into alliance
while only securing the VP slot. Playing second fiddle in
the opposition is anathema to Panamenista movers and shakers
as well as rank-and-file, particularly if the likely alliance
partner is Ricardo Martinelli and his CD party.

Balbina's Impressive Internet Presence

16. (U) "The use of on-line technology is tied to the fact
that 65,000 new young voters will participate in the 2009
presidential elections," La Prensa journalist Manuel Vega Loo
wrote on June 1, 2008. POL Rangel Fellow has been reviewing
internet presence during the presidential primary elections.
The internet has been a vital resource to Panama's
presidential candidates, allowing them to establish grass
roots support among the youth. Candidates have used social
networking sites Facebook, Myspace, Flickr, and YouTube to i)
mobilize youth supporters, ii) publicize their platforms,
iii) recruit campaign volunteers, and iv) increase party
membership. Competing political parties have registered over
5,000 Facebook users and will continue to expand their
audience as the election develops.

17. (SBU) PRD presidential candidate Balbina Herrera has the
most effectively implemented internet strategy. Herrera was
the first presidential candidate to accept POL's on-line
registration request to Facebook and responded in less than
one day. Herrera's campaign responded promptly with e-mails
promoting her position on relevant political issues including
the global food crisis and the high cost of political
campaigns. Herrera also used Facebook to publicize campaign
activities and recruit campaign volunteers. Our Rangel Fellow
on the beat received an invitation to attend one of Herrera's
youth rallies on June 7, 2008 in Panama City's working class
neighborhood, Santa Ana. Herrera's on-line Facebook
administrator also followed up with an invitation to meet in
person. PRD presidential candidate Juan Carlos Navarro
responded to POL's registration request seven days later on
June 9, 2008. POL has not received a response from
presidential candidates Martinelli, Varela, or Vallarino.

18. (SBU) "Balbina promises the Panamanian youth a strong
voice in Government," a Balbina youth volunteer told POL at
the campaign rally in Santa Ana. A total of 35 youth
volunteers gathered to campaign for Herrera in Circuito 8-7,
Panama's second largest voting district. The youth
demographic, ages 18-30, is a vital component to the PRD
party, comprising 30% of party membership. Herrera's platform
seeks to directly address issues important to Panamanian
youth: education reform and job security. Her promise to
place fresh young faces in office strengthens her favor among
young voters. Youth supporters also organized additional
campaigns to take place simultaneously in Tocumen and


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