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Cablegate: Gop "Deeply Concerned" About Us Arrest Of

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHZP #0623/01 2102050
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 282050Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2344
INFO RHEFHLC/HOMELAND SECURITY CENTER WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/COMDT COGARD 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 000623

SIPDIS

STATE FOR WHA/CEN, L/LEI, L/WHA, AND L/OES

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/24/2018
TAGS: KTIA PREL PGOV KJUS PBTS PHSA SNAR
SUBJECT: GOP "DEEPLY CONCERNED" ABOUT US ARREST OF
PANAMANIAN SAILORS IN 2006

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

1. (U) This is an action request; see para 8.

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

2. (C) The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) is "deeply
concerned" about the situation of eight imprisoned Panamanian
citizens who were arrested at sea and brought to the U.S. in
2006 after the Panamanian flagged ship M/V PERSEUS V that was
stopped and boarded and found to contain a large shipment of
cocaine. Post received a Dip Note from the MFA on October 24,
2007 (see para 10 for text) stating that the convictions of
these men was due to "serious faults in the implementation"
of the Salas-Becker Maritime Cooperation Agreement (SBA). The
USG had requested GOP permission to board the ship in
international waters under the SBA, and proceeded to seize
the ship, cargo and crew. However, Panamanian law
specifically prohibits the extradition of Panamanian
citizens, and the GOP denies ever having authorized it. Post
received a second DipNote on July 17, 2008, asking for a
response to the first one (see para 11 for text). The issue
is now becoming an internal political issue in Panama. Post
recommends that the Department respond to the MFA by noting
the judicial cases are closed, but propose that existing
prisoner exchange mechanism such as a bilateral agreement or
the Strasbourg Convention could be used to return the
Panamanians to Panama to complete service of their sentences.
Post also recommends that U.S. offer to consult with Panama,
as provided for but never implemented in the Salas-Becker
Agreement. End Summary.

---------------
Deepest Concern
---------------

3. (SBU) The MFA sent a first-peson diplomatic note to post
on October 24, 2007 signed by First VP and FM Samuel Lewis.
The DipNote referred to eight Panamanian sailors who were
seized by the U.S. Coast Guard (CG) in January 2006 aboard
the Panamanian flagged ship M/V PERSEUS V. The Coast Guard
had requested permission from the GOP to board and search the
ship under the Salas-Becker Maritime Cooperative Agreement
(SBA) between the U.S. and Panama that allows each country to
decline jurisdiction over its ships in international waters
to the other. The Panamanians granted permission for the
search, and the Coast Guard found a major shipment of cocaine
on board. The sailors were arrested, taken to the U.S., tried
and convicted. All are now serving prison sentences.

4. (SBU) Lewis' DipNote stated that the SBA was restricted
by the Constitution and laws of each side, and noted that the
laws of Panama did not allow extradition of Panamanian
citizens. He further claimed that the USG never sought
confirmation of Panamanian agreement to the boarding, which
was given orally by the then head of the Panamanian National
Maritime Service (SMN) to Post's Coast Guard Liaison Officer.
(Note: The then-Director of the SMN, Ricardo Traad, was
arrested in 2007 on charges related to Perseus V case as well
as charges concerning money laundering, drug trafficking and
other crimes. End Note) Lewis expressed his "deepest concern"
for the legitimacy of the judicial actions against the
Panamanians, given the alleged violation of the SBA that led
to their being taken to the U.S. Privately, GOP contacts
have complained that Traad never had the authority to decline
jurisdiction under the Salas-Becker Agreement (see para 10
for text). On July 17, 2008, Post received a second DipNote
(see para 11 for text) from the MFA, requesting an official
response to the first note. .

------------------------
Lewis Raises with Charge
------------------------

5. (C) For political reasons, Lewis told Charge on July 18
that the U.S. and Panama needed to put the M/V PERSEUS V
matter to rest. MFA Senior Advisor Adolfo Ahumada proposed
that the U.S. respond to the notes with the following
formula: (a) the judicial process against these Panamanian

sailors is closed; (b) the bilateral prisoner transfer treaty
may provide a mechanism for these prisoners to request their
transfer to Panama to serve out their sentences; and (c) the
USG would be willing to consult with the GOP to clarify
procedures, as provided for under the Salas-Becker Agreement,
to enhance maritime coordination and cooperation.

---------------------------------------
Former Legal Advisor: "No Good Way Out"
---------------------------------------

6. (C) "The way in which the PERSEUS V case was handled was a
disaster all-around, a perfect example how not to implement
Salas-Becker," former MFA Legal Advisor Iana Quadri told
POLCOUNS and CGATT on July 24. She concurred that the MFA
was looking for the best resolution so that the matter could
be put behind it politically. "The lawyers for the families
have no interest in these sailors. They're interested in
advancing their nationalist, sovereigntist agenda," Quadri
explained. Quadri felt that Ahumada's formula would provide
such a solution. She cautioned, however, that Panama had not
used the bilateral prisoner exchange treaty as a mechanism to
return its prisoners to Panama as the bilateral agreement did
not allow for sentences handed down by U.S. judges to be
reduced to the maximum allowed under Panamanian law for
similar crimes. Therefore, she said that Panama normally
relied on the Strasbourg Convention. Quadri also explained
that the Salas-Becker Agreement also called for consultations
on implementation of the agreement. According to her, no
such consulations have ever been held. Furthermore, no
agreed upon operational procedures for implementing
Salas-Becker had ever been developed internally within the
GOP or agreed upon with the USG.

7. (C) In an effort to look forward and put the Perseus V
case to rest, Quadri said she thought consultations would be
a good idea. Prior to departing the MFA in February, Quadri
convened GOP stakeholders from the MFA, the Ministry of the
Government and Justice, the Council for Public Security and
National Defense (CSPDN -- an NSC-equivalent), the National
Maritime Service (SMN), the National Air Service (SAN) and
the Attorney General's Office to reach agreement on internal
GOP procedures and to clarify who exactly had the authority
to, for example, decline jurisdiction. She did not know,
however, the final results of these internal consultations
that concluded after she departed.

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

8. (C) The M/V Perseus V case is becoming a political issue
in Panama. National Assembly President Pedro Miguel Gonzalez
(PMG), under federal indictment in connection with the 1992
murder of a U.S. serviceman, has talked about challenging the
Salas-Becker in court. Separately, two Supreme Court
Magistrates have told POLCOUNS that Salas-Becker is not
unconstitutional and that they would see no reason to rule
differently from two previous challenges to the agreement
that upheld Salas-Beckers constitutionality. The attorney
for these sailors' families, Luis Barria, is the alternate
representative (suplente) for Panamenista Party National
Assembly Deputy Alcibades Vasquez. Barria, a nationalist,
through his legal actions is providing political oxygen to
PMG, normally an ardent opponent of the Panamenista Party.
Given the fundamental importance of the Salas-Becker to our
counter-narcotics efforts, Post recommends that the
Department seriously consider the formula proposed by Ahumada
-- the judicial cases against the eight Panamanians are
closed and cannot be reopened, prisoner exchange agreements
between Panama and the U.S. could be used to send the
prisoners back to Panama (provided the prisoners request to
return) to complete their sentences, and consultations to
enhance future cooperation should be considered -- as a way
to resolve tihs matter. Post understands that the U.S. Coast
Guard has expressed an interest in consultations to clarify
procedures under Salas-Becker.

--------------
Action Request
--------------


9. (U) Post requests language and guidance to respond to
these diplomatic notes.

10. (SBU) Unofficial Translation of First Diplomatic Note:

"Republic of Panama
Panama, R. of P.

Ministry of Foreign Relations
Office of the Minister October 24, 2007

D.M.No.2475/A.J.


To His Excellency
William Eaton
Ambassador of the United States of America
Panama City

Mr. Ambassador:

I have the honor of addressing Your Excellency on the
occasion of referring to the case of the Panamanian citizens
detained on board of the Panamanian flagged ship Perseus V.

As Your Excellency is aware, the ship PERSEUS V was
boarded and searched in international waters by members of
the United States of America's Coast Guard, under the terms
of the Salas-Becker Agreement. The said boarding resulted in
the discovery of an important shipment of illicit substances
on board the ship, which prompted the immediate arrest of the
crew, and the confiscation of the ship and its cargo.

The Salas-Becker Agreement contains rules that regulate
cases that affect ships that are registered or flagged in
Panama or the United States that are located in international
waters.

These rules establish, inter alia, the possibility that
one of the Parties declines its corresponding jurisdiction in
favor of the other, with respect to the shipment, the persons
on board the ship and the ship itself. This possibility is
subject to the Constitution and the laws of Panama or of the
United States of America permitting it to decline said
jurisdiction.

In this case, the handing over of persons on board the
Panamanian ship was subject to the Constitution and laws of
Panama. As you are aware, these rules expressly prohibit the
handing over of Panamanian nationals to foreign
jurisdictions. This is an indeclinable principle that forms a
part of the constitutional tradition of the Republic of
Panama.

For this reason, Mr. Ambassador, I must inform you that
the authorization that the United States received from the
(Panamanian) National Maritime Service, verbally confirmed by
the then Director General of the National Maritime Service,
was strictly limited to the boarding of the ship and could
not be interpreted as an authorization to transfer the
Panamanian citizens on board of PERSEUS V to the United
States.

In addition to the above, I must highlight that, once
the United States Government received the communication dated
January 13, 2006, it should have complied with the procedure
for confirmation through diplomatic channels established in
Article XI (5) of the mentioned Agreement, requirement that
in this case was totally ignored.

Taking into account the existence of serious faults in
the implementation of the procedures of the Salas-Becker
Agreement in the case of the ship PERSEUS V, I kindly request
that you transmit to the Illustrious Government of the United
States of America my deepest concern with respect to the
legitimacy of the judicial processes that the courts of your
country have carried out against the Panamanian citizens
CARLOS ANTONIO VERGARA DOMINGUEZ, ENRIQE ELIOTT PINILLA,
HERMOGENES OBERTO FERNANDEZ, LEBY HUMBERTO LAME AVILA,
OLDEMAR ROLDAN SAMUDIO, LUIS ALBERTO PENALBA SILGADO, ROGELIO

CARVAJAL SANCHEZ, AND REINALDO JESUS SANTOS URREA.

From the circumstances that surround the transfer of
these Panamanian citizens it can be deduced that it was not
carried out in accordance with the rules included in the
Salas-Becker Agreement, since the Panamanian State did not
confirm and much less consented to the transfer of those
referred to above.

I take this opportunity to reiterate to Your Excellency
the assurances of y highest consideration.

/signed/
SAMUEL LUIS NAVARRO
First Vice-President
Minister of Foreign Relations"

END TEXT

11. (SBU) Unofficial Translation of Second Diplomatic Note:

"REPUBLIC OF PANAMA
Ministry of Foreign Relations
Panama 4 Panama

N/V A.J No. 1745

The Ministry of Foreign Relations - Directorate General
of Legal Affairs and Treaties - has the honor of addressing
the Honorable Embassy of the United States of America on the
occasion of referring to Panamanian citizens CARLOS ANTONIO
VERGARA DOMINGUEZ, ENRIQE ELIOTT PINILLA, HERMOGENES OBERTO
FERNANDEZ, LEBY HUMBERTO ALME AVILA, OLDEMAR ROLDAN SAMUDIO,
LUIS ALBERTO PENALBA SILGADO, ROGELIO CARVAJAL SANCHEZ, AND
REINALDO JESUS SANTOS URREA, who were detained on board of
the PERSEUS V ship.

The Ministry of Foreign Relations - Directorate General
of Legal Affairs and Treaties - in this regard, would like to
reiterate to the Honorable Embassy of the United States of
America the content of Note D.M. No.2475/A.J. of October 24,
2007, referring to the case of the mentioned Panamanian
citizens, since as of this date no response had been received
on this note.

The Ministry of Foreign Relations - Directorate General
of Legal Affairs and Treaties - in this regard, considers
appropriate to request the Honorable Embassy of the United
States of America to inform the Ministry if there is any
statement from its High Authorities on the content of the
said communication (note) and if there is not any, reiterates
to the Illustrious Government the interest of the Republic of
Panama to reach a prompt solution to the situation faced by
the above-indicated Panamanian citizens.

The Ministry of Foreign Relations - Directorate General
of Legal Affairs and Treaties - regarding the above, sends a
copy of the above-mentioned note to the Honorable Embassy of
the United States of America.

The Ministry of Foreign Relations - Directorate General
of Legal Affairs and Treaties - takes this opportunity to
reiterate to the Honorable Embassy of the United States of
America, the assurances of its highest consideration.

Panama, July 9, 2008

To the Honorable
Embassy of the United States of America
Panama City"

END TEXT
MESA

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