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Cablegate: Panama: Torrijos Urges Taking Bilateral

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHZP #0661/01 2211239
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 081239Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2389
INFO RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHMFISS/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHINGTON DC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC
RHEFHLC/HOMELAND SECURITY CENTER WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000661

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/06/2018
TAGS: PREL PGOV ECON ETRD EWWT MASS SNAR PTER MARR
MOPS, PBTS, PM
SUBJECT: PANAMA: TORRIJOS URGES TAKING BILATERAL
RELATIONSHIP TO NEXT LEVEL

Classified By: AMBASSADOR BARBARA J. STEPHENSON. REASONS: 1.4 (B) AND
(D)

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

1. (C) Panamanian President Martin Torrijos urged Ambassador
to work with Panama to strive to take the U.S.-bilateral
relationship to the next level by undertaking to address
shared security concerns, during the Ambassador's
presentation of credentials to Torrijos on August 6. After
noting Panama's positive achievements during his tenure in
restoring fiscal responsibility, continuing to foster a
vibrant economy, and making in-roads to address
socio-economic inequality, Torrijos turned to the gathering
storm clouds on the horizon: FARC activity in Panama's
Darien province. He noted that as Colombia continued its
successes in combating the FARC, inevitably the FARC would
become more active in Panama. "If left unaddresssed, they
(the FARC) will bring drugs, arms and crime to Panama," the
president explained. "I don't want to have what happened in
Ecuador happen in Panama." Torrijos then reviewed GOP
efforts to deal with the latest FARC incursion into Panama
and ended by reaching out to the Ambassador for greater
engagement on a range of issues -- from trade and other
economic issues (such as canal expansion) to security -- in
order to, as he put it, "take the relationship to the next
level." The normally reserved Torrijos was warm, cordial and
engaging during his first encounter with Ambassador. No
sooner had Ambassador returned to the Embassy, than First VP
and FM Samuel Lewis was on the phone seeking to get together
on August 8 with his top advisor and Minister of Government
and Justice Daniel Delgado to build on the positive meeting
with Torrijos.

------------
Welcome Back
------------

2. (C) After receiving Ambassador's credentials, Torrijos
warmly welcomed Ambassador back to Panama. (Note:
Ambassador served her first tour in Panama in the mid-1980s.)
Proud of Panama's economic achievements under his tenure,
Torrijos told Ambassador that the secret to Panama's success
story was first putting its fiscal house in order, then
reforming the social security system (Caja de Seguridad
Social) to put it on a more firm and solvent basis, and
finally securing approval via referendum to ensure the
continued vitality of the Panama Canal by launching the canal
expansion project. Torrijos noted that canal expansion would
never have been viable with fiscal and social security
reform. In turn, the canal expansion project would enable
the Panama Canal to handle larger ships and greater traffic
thereby ensuring that the canal would remain a powerful
driver of Panama's economy. "When they come out, the new
statistics will show that Panama has made significant
in-roads in combating socio-economic inequality," Torrijos
asserted. He described addressing socio-economic inequality
by ensuring greater access to opportunity for all Panamanians
was "key" to ensuring the continued stability of Panama's
democracy.

--------------------------------------------- ---
The Next Challenge: Addressing Security Concerns
--------------------------------------------- ---

3. (C) Having covered Panama's economic success story,
Torrijos turned to Panama's new challenges on the security
front. He noted that on August 8 a FARC incursion had
reached about 25 miles into Panama's Darien province where
FARC elements sacked a small grocery story. "As Colombia
takes additional measures against the FARC," Torrijos said,
"the group's activities in Panama will increase." Torrijos
explained that he did not want what happened in Ecuador --
where a growing FARC presence brought in drugs, arms, and
increased illegal activity -- to take place in Panama. He
then described in some detail the steps Panama was taking --
acquiring helicopters to be stationed in the Darien, for
example -- to develop the capacity to defend itself against
this threat, refraining in this his first meeting with


Ambassador from explicitly asking for additional U.S.
assistance. He said that intelligence sharing with the U.S.
had been key to Panama's ability to address the FARC threat.
Furthermore, close cooperation with U.S. law enforcement was
the primary reason Panamanian drug seizures were up.
Torrijos expressed his desire to do more and to cooperate
extensively to meet this mutual threat.

--------------------------------------
Threading the Needle on Militarization
--------------------------------------

4. (C) "I am also trying to avoid fueling the specious
anti-militarization arguments against security reform," the
President told Ambassador. The proposed reforms -- creation
of a civilian intelligence service (SENIS), the joining of
the National Maritime (SMN) and Air (SAN) Services into
National Aero-Naval Service (SENAN), establishing a National
Frontier Service (SENAFRONT) independent from PNP, and
permitting a uniformed officer to head the PNP -- were much
needed to give Panama the tools it needed to better confront
today's security challenges. The trick, Torrijos said, would
be pushing through security reforms without sparking a battle
that turned these reforms into a political litmus test as to
whether or not Panama was "re-militarizing." Torrijos said
that he would like to send First VP and FM Samuel Lewis to
brief Ambassador on Panama's security reform proposals.
(Indeed, no sooner had Ambassador returned to the Embassy
than Lewis reached out to seek an August 8 meeting with
Ambassador.)

------------------------
Handling PMG's Last Days
------------------------

5. (C) National Assembly President Pedro Miguel Gonzalez, who
is under U.S. federal indictment in connection with the 1992
murder of a U.S. serviceman, would deliver his last speech on
September 1 when his successor, expected to be Raul
Rodriguez, was inducted, Torrijos noted. Lewis commented
that he could very well lash out at cooperation with the
U.S., for example possibly taking aim at the bilateral
Salas-Becker maritime cooperation agreement, complain about
the annual PANAMAX multi-lateral exercise that will have just
ended, and otherwise provide fuel to the "militarization"
debate. Torrijos concurred with Ambassador's view that
visits by high-visibility U.S. military and security/law
enforcement leaders should be forestalled until late
September/early October.

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

6. (C) Normally reserved, Torrijos was more animated and
talkative in this credential presentation ceremony than he
normally is, Chief of Protocol Flavio Mendez commented to
POLCOUNS. Torrijos comprehensive tour d'horizon and special
emphasis on Panama's security challenges provided valuable
insights into Torrijos perceptions of Panama's achievements
during his tenure and of the key challenges that lay ahead.
Ambassador will host a lunch for First VP and FM Samuel Lewis
and Minister of Government and Justice Daniel Delgado to
receive a briefing from them on Panama's proposed security
reforms; Post will report SEPTEL.
STEPHENSON

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