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Cablegate: Panama: Luis Posada's Pardon Revoked by Supreme

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHZP #0542/01 1851943
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 031943Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2237
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 1173
RUEHUB/USINT HAVANA 0093
RHMFISS/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC
RHEFHLC/HOMELAND SECURITY CENTER WASHINGTON DC
RUCNFB/FBI WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000542

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/03/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL PM PTER KCRM VE CU
SUBJECT: PANAMA: LUIS POSADA'S PARDON REVOKED BY SUPREME
COURT

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

-------
SUMMARY
-------

1. (U) The Panamanian Supreme Court unanimously revoked the
2004 pardon of Luis Posada Carriles (accused of plotting to
assassinate ex-Cuban leader Fidel Castro during the 2000
Ibero-American summit in Panama), three of Posada's
accomplices, and 179 other individuals on June 30. This
retroactive decision now requires that all 183 cases -
including Posada's - return to their "original state." The
Court also revoked the pardon of some 80 journalists, some of
whom had faced criminal charges for libel. General consensus
is that this decision was neither political nor directed at
Posada. Former President Mireya Moscoso, in the final days
of her administration, had granted these 183 pardons. The
Supreme Court has been reviewing a challenge to these
pardons, brought by state prosecutors, since 2004.

-----------------------
THE WORD FROM THE COURT
-----------------------

2. (U) The text of the ruling was not yet available publicly
as of the transmission of this message, although the decision
was reported on July 1. In a press statement, the Supreme
Court stated that the decision was unanimous, retroactive and
returning all of the cases to their "original state." The
Court's statement said that the decision is "retroactive in
effect and leaves without legal support all procedural or
judicial steps taken as a result of those decisions, which is
today that the cases must return to their original state."

3. (C) Supreme Court Magistrate Adan Arjona confirmed that
the general consensus among the magistrates was that
ex-President Moscoso had exceeded her powers, during his July
2 conversation with A/DCM. The only exception, Arjona said,
was Magistrate Alberto Cigarruista, who, Arjona claimed has
been lobbied by the Cuban Embassy. Allegedly, according to
Arjona, Cigarruista promised the Cubans that he would do what
he could to "get Posada." Arjona did not participate in the
ruling - it was a unanimous ruling amongst the 8 judges in
attendance - because he disagreed with its sweeping nature.
Though he agreed that Moscoso had exceeded her authority,
Arjona felt that the Court should have further clarified the
terms in the Constitution. The Panamanian Constitution
states in Article 184, which lists powers granted the
Executive, in paragraph 12 that the Executive may: "decree
pardons for political offenses, reduce penalties, and grant
paroles to those guilty of common crimes." As for the timing
of the ruling, Arjona claimed that this case - which had been
on the Court's books since 2004 - was simply ready for
decision, having been delayed due to the fact that the
Justice in charge of it had changed several times over the
years. Finally, Arjona expected the Attorney General to take
steps to implement the decision.

4. (U) Other Members of the Court echo Arjona's words.
Court President Mitchell told the media that the Court acted
because the law was "distorted" and that the unanimous ruling
was not partisan. Supreme Court Justice Esmeralda de
Troitino, who wrote the opinion, asserted that the Court did
not consider the individual crimes of the group of 183
pardoned, which varied from political crimes to common
crimes, but rather reversed the pardon because it exceeded
ex-President Moscoso's authority under the law.

---------
REACTIONS
---------

5. (C) Most official and mainstream commentary consider this
ruling to be a welcome breath of fresh air. Paper of record
La Prensa's editorial declared that the Court's ruling
"recaptures the lost common sense." Panama-America asserted
on July 1 on its editorial page, "The history of presidential
abuses is pretty long, but seems to be getting to an end."

Privately, Moscoso Administration Minister of Public Works
and current Panama Canal Authority Board Member Eduardo
Quiros told Post that ex-President Moscoso "truly believe
that the ruling was fully related to Posada Carriles and the
other 3 Cubans and nothing else." Posada's attorney, Rogelio
Cruz, said that the planned reversal was an "open secret" and
promised to appeal the decision, while astutely avoiding any
talk of extradition.

-------------
GOING FORWARD
-------------

6. (U) Attorney General Ana Matilde Gomez characterized the
decision as a "constitutional vindication" and asserted that
the pardons were granted in violation of the Constitution.
Gomez noted that the Constitution permitted the president to
only grant pardons to individuals sentenced for political
crimes. She also emphasized that the decision was
retroactive, and said she would examine each of the cases and
implement the relevant procedural and legal mechanisms.
First VP and FM Samuel Lewis exercised caution and stated
that the GOP would follow the guidelines outlined in the
Constitution and re-open the matter if instructed by the
Court. Lewis noted that he was surprised by the decision and
would move forward after a thorough examination of the
matter.

-------------
PRESS FREEDOM
-------------

7. (U) Some 80 journalists, media directors, cartoonists and
commentators were pardoned by Moscoso and thus subject to
this recent ruling. According to Gilberto Arias, Vice
President of the Inter American Press Association and Vice
President of daily periodical Panama America, the decision
sets a "disastrous precedent on human rights in Panama since
the military regime."

8. (C) Jean Marcel Chery, President of the National
Journalist's Association and himself listed in the pardon
list, claimed that the Association would seek to invoke
Article 192 of the new Penal Code, that eliminated criminal
sentences for libel. Chery saw the decision as both
political, aimed at Posada as a favor to the Cuban
government, and an effort to intimidate the press. Other
journalists were looking into the possibility of taking legal
actions against former President Moscoso, as well as
considering the inconsistency of the pardons given by
Presidents Perez Balladares and Moscoso, since the pardons
given by Perez Balladares were considered constitutionally
legal, but not those given by Moscoso.

-------
COMMENT
-------

9. (SBU) Post has not yet seen the ruling as it is not
publicly available. All comments made by Panamanian
commentators, as well, are based on speculation about the
facts of the actual ruling. Thus, it is not yet clear what
actions the GOP will take to effect the reverse of these
pardons and return them to their "original state." Of
immediate concern is whether the GOP will seek extradition of
Posada and the others so they can resume their Panamanian
prison sentences. Based on initial reactions and knowledge
on the ground, Post anticipates that eventually the Attorney
General will request that the Foreign Ministry seek
extradition of Posada and possibly the other Cubans. It is
difficult to say at this time if Cuban or Venezuelan
interests made any attempts to influence this ruling.
Venezuela has sought extradition of Posada in order to try
him for a 1976 Cuban airline bombing, but extradition was
denied by a U.S. immigration judge. END COMMENT.
EATON

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