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Cablegate: Panama: Fm "Very Happy" with Progress On Perseus V

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHZP #0782/01 2762031
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
R 022031Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2551
INFO RHMFISS/DIRJIATF SOUTH
RHMFISS/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHINGTON DC
RUEABND/DEA WASHDC
RHMFISS/COMDT COGARD WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/US CUSTOMS AND BORDER PRO WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC

S E C R E T PANAMA 000782

NOFORN
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/01/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL PM
SUBJECT: PANAMA: FM "VERY HAPPY" WITH PROGRESS ON PERSEUS V
CASE

Classified By: Ambassador Barbara J. Stephenson for reasons
1.4 (b) and (d)

-------------------------------------------
FM "Very Happy" about Progress on Perseus V
-------------------------------------------

1. (C) "I am very happy about the progress we are making
resolving the Perseus V case," 1st VP and FM Samuel Lewis
told the Ambassador and PolCouns on September 30. Lewis was
referring to the case of the eight Panamanian sailors from
the Perseus V now serving prison terms in the U.S. for drug
smuggling. GOP officials had "ceded" jurisdiction over the
ship, something that in standard U.S. practice means ceding
jurisdiction over the ship, cargo and crew. However, ceding
jurisdiction over Panamanian crew members contradicts the
Salas-Becker Agreement (SBA) and Panama's constitution. This
case has put the GOP under domestic political pressure for
its cooperation with the USG in implementing the Salas-Becker
Agreement (SBA) on maritime counter-drug cooperation. Lewis
said he appreciated the September 12 visit of Brad Keiserman,
NSC Director of Maritime Threat Reduction and U.S. Coast
Guard (USCG) Chief of the Operations Law Group, to meet with
MFA officials, convey official U.S. regret over the action,
and propose new standard operating procedures (SOP) to avoid
such problems in the future. He said he was particularly
pleased that the GOP had the opportunity to present these new
SOPs at the recent USCG conference in Key West.

-------------------------------------------
Prisoner Exchange Key to Perseus Resolution
-------------------------------------------

2. (C) Lewis also specifically expressed his appreciation
for the USCG efforts to facilitate the travel of an MFA
delegation to the U.S. to visit the prisoners in various
Federal prisons. The MFA is trying to convince the prisoners
to request transfer to Panama to serve out their terms, under
bilateral or multilateral prisoner exchange agreements. MFA
Senior Advisor Adolfo Ahumada said the MFA expected a
"significant number" of the prisoners would accept transfer
to Panama (Note: Only two of the eight have so far indicated
interest in transfer. End Note). But he agreed to take a
fresh look at the issue once Salas-Becker is healthy and no
longer the subject of controversy. He asked, though, that we
work the issue from the top (i.e. through him) down.

--------------------------------
SBA Becomes a Political Football
--------------------------------

3. (S//NF) Lewis told the Ambassador that opposition
deputies had been calling on him to testify before the
National Assembly on the Perseus V case, and the Salas-Becker
Agreement in general. He said they were hoping to weaken the
government by challenging its nationalist credentials. Lewis
noted that the governing Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD)
majority in the National Assembly had blocked these requests,
that occur weekly. Pressed by the Ambassador on the
operational advantages of using U.S. Navy (USN) ships (i.e.
"grey hulls") with USCG Law Enforcement Detachments (LEDETS)
in Panamanian waters, Lewis said that given the current
political environment, it would not be possible to consider
such an expansion of the U.S. military presence in Panama
(Note: Under SBA, only USCG ships (i.e. "white hulls") may
operate in Panamanian waters, under the control of Panamanian
officers. USN vessels are specifically prohibited from
participating in this program, unless requested by the GOP.
End Note).

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

4. (C) Lewis's excellent mood and optimism on the Perseus V
case and SBA in general indicate we are headed in the right
direction. Post hopes that regardless of whether or not the
Panamanians request transfer, the USG's openness and full
cooperation on this issue will help put the Perseus V case
behind us. Even if this is true, however, the environment
for the SBA is still politically sensitive. The USG cannot
afford any further troubles with SBA related cases, nor is it
the time to try to push the envelope by attempting to secure
approval for grey hulls with LEDETS embarked. On the issue of
the use of USN assets in Panamanian waters, Post understands
that there are limited USCG assets to meet all maritime
patrol needs, but our broader strategic assets are not served
by pushing this issue right now. Post was encouraged by
Lewis' willingness to consider the use of USN assets in
theory, and Post will take the issue up again in the future,
when the political situation is more conductive to host
country acceptance. The initiative to expand SBA cooperation
to grey hulls must come from the top once Panama's political
leadership is prepared and should not emanate from
operational tensions originating at lower levels.
STEPHENSON

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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