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Cablegate: Panama Post: The Water Cooler Reports

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DE RUEHZP #0944/01 3591755
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R 241755Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2756
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
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RUEKJCS/OSD WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000944

SIPDIS

DEPT PASS TO WHADP COLLECTIVE

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/22/2018
TAGS: PGOV PM
SUBJECT: PANAMA POST: THE WATER COOLER REPORTS

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

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

1. (SBU/NF) Welcome to the second edition of the revamped
Panama Post, a new collaborative effort between Embassy
Panama's Political Section (POL) and the Open Source Center
(OSC), that we are going to call "The Report from the Water
Cooler." OSC provides POL a steady stream of current news,
the kind of fodder that serves as the nucleus for the chatter
around POL's water cooler where we banter about the latest
tidbits that we have collected from our contacts. OSC and
POL hope to provide you, our loyal readers, an opportunity to
listen in to some of the highlights from our water cooler
chatter. In this edition of the Panama Post, our headlines
are:

- Democratic Change (CD) presidential candidate Ricardo
Martinelli cruising on 10 point lead as speculation
regarding VP pick increases;
- Governing Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) reacts with
criticism over surprise naming by Balbina Herrera of Panama
City Mayor (and former contender for the PRD's presidential
nomination) Juan Carlos Navarro as her VP running mate;
- Gaffe by Panamanian Ambassador to Belgium (and brother of
PRD presidential candidate Balbina Herrera) Pablo Garrido may
cost GOP USD 30 million; and
- As Panamenista presidential candidate Juan Carlos Varela
lags badly in polls, are panamenistas getting itchy feet?

Those not familiar with OSC's excellent unclassified
summaries of open source media should log on to
www.opensource.gov and set up an account for daily updates on
issues, regions or countries of your choice. OSC analysts
follow open source material on a daily basis providing
translations of timely news stories and analysis. OSC can
also be a partner in providing contributions across the
Hemisphere and around the world. Those of you not signed up
for OSC accounts are missing out on their daily reporting on
developments in your own backyard. We here in POL, hope that
our colleagues at posts throughout the Hemisphere can tap
into OSC's resources to more effectively track the day-to-day
in their countries; contact POLCOUNS Brian Naranjo to find
out how to get started. END SUMMARY.

--------------------------------------------- -
Martinelli cruises on 10 Point Lead; VP Pick?
--------------------------------------------- -

2. (SBU//NF) If the elections were held in December,
Democratic Change (CD) presidential candidate Ricardo
Martinelli would win by ten or more points over governing
Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) presidential candidate
Balbina Herrera, according to polling data published in
Panama City media over the past couple of weeks (SEPTEL).
Martinelli, in December, was the preferred presidential pick
of roughly 40 percent of voters, reflecting a steady growth
of three to four points monthly since September. Front
runner Martinelli could not be reached for comment on this
surge in the polls as he was enjoying a brief vacation aboard
Royal Caribbean's Enchantment of the Seas on its maiden
voyage from Colon, Panama to Cartagena and the Netherlands
Antilles. Herrera's hoped for bounce in the polls in the
wake of naming Panama City Mayor and her former contender for
the PRD nomination Juan Carlos Navarro did not materialize.
Instead, Herrera who trailed Martinelli and took in only 31.4
percent support in the Dichter and Neira poll, fell 2 points
from November. Panamenista presidential candidate Juan
Carlos Varela garnered only 16.8 percent support trailing in
a distant third place. Moral Vanguard of the Nation (VMP)
presidential candidate and former president Guillermo Endara
just barely beat the margin of error by 0.1 percent with 3.0
percent support. Speculation now turns to whom Martinelli
will select as his VP running mate. Patriotic Union (UP)
president and former FM Jose Raul Mulino put down a marker
that, in keeping with CD's alliance with UP, Martinelli's VP
had to be a UP member and added that he himself would be
willing to take the job, if offered. Other names mentioned
in the press include UP VP Anibal Galindo, former Panamenista
presidential nomination contender Alberto Vallarino, and TVN
morning news show star Lucy Molinar. Vallarino published a
letter in multiple Panama City dailies asserting his loyalty
to Panamenista primary victor Varela and underscoring that he
could not legally switch parties to enable him to accept the
VP nomination.

3. (C) Comment: "We want to win," Martinelli campaign
advisor Jimmy Papadimitriu scoffed when asked by POLCOUNS on
December 17 whether Mulino would get the VP nod. Mulino, who
walked into Papadimitriu's office moments later, was
ebullient and told POLCOUNS, "Martinelli is going to beat
Balbina." Later, Papadimitriu explained that any VP
candidate would simply need to register as a UP member if not
already part of the party; "Ricardo is strong right now, and
the 'patrioticos' really do not have the strength to dictate
the veep slot." Before ducking into a strategy session with
Mulino and Galindo who had just arrived, Martinelli himself
subsequently confirmed that he was courting Oprah-esque
Molinar to run with him. "She would a really strong force
against Balbina," Martinelli explained. "She's black,
educated, successful, from Colon, and has built a reputation
on her show as somebody who has the average Panamanians
interests at heart." The Panama Post hears though that
Molinar, to date, has not been interested in a life in
politics. Martinelli must make his VP choice before the
CD-UP convention on January 11.

--------------------------------------------- -----------
PRD Reacts to Surprise Naming of Navarro as VP Candidate
--------------------------------------------- -----------

4. (SBU/NF) PRD presidential candidate Balbina Herrera's
unexpected late-November decision to name Panama City Mayor
and former PRD presidential nomination challenger Juan Carlos
Navarro as her VP running mate drew criticism from within
this party's normally disciplined and unified ranks. One
unnamed campaign advisor told the press that he was surprised
that that the decision had been made so quickly despite
Herrera's earlier statements that she would not name her
running mate until late December or early January and that
other VP candidates were still being evaluated. Boris
Moreno, who claimed to be an insider on Herrera's strategy
team, stated that Navarro's appointment was "a high-risk
political move that was not discussed" within the party.
Allegedly, Herrera's weakening ranking in the polls pushed
Herrera to move up her VP announcement. Other PRD insiders
-- unnamed, of course -- told the press that that Herrera was
trying to distance herself from President and PRD SecGen
Martin Torrijos by signaling that she, not the President, was
calling the shots for her campaign. Navarro is widely
believed to want to run for president in 2014 while rumors
resurfaced that Torrijos would seek a constitutional reform
to allow him too to run in 2014, five years earlier than
currently permitted. Torrijos' remarks that he would not
"allow" Herrera to lose the election, drew fire from the
opposition: former President Mireya Moscoso asserted that
Torrijos' remarks were "mistaken" and raised suspicions; CD
talking head Roberto Henriquez said the CD would "defend its
votes like lions" despite the PRD's history of fraud, ballot
box theft and other electoral crimes; Varela said Torrijos'
remarks "smacked of trickery;" and Martinelli said Torrijos'
remarks did not worry him as he Martinelli was focused on
generating jobs and addressing Panama's rising crime.

5. (C) Comment: To date, Herrera does not appear to have
benefited from any "Navarro effect" by naming the more
moderate, business friendly, upper class, Panama City mayor
to her ticket. Polling from early December suggest that
one-fourth to one-third of the PRD believed that adding
Navarro to the ticket would unify the party, while voters at
large believed that naming Navarro to the ticket forebode an
opposition victory (SEPTEL). "The real battle being waged
right now inside the PRD is for control of the party," PRD
leader and former Executive Secretary of the Council for
Public Safety and National Defense (CSPDN) Javier Martinez
Acha told POLOFFs December 19. "Torrijos is weak, so Balbina
and Juan Carlos are angling for control of the party."
(Note: Herrera is PRD President, and Navarro is the PRD
National Executive Committee (CEN) First Sub-Secretary.) "If
Herrera loses, Navarro wins," explained Martinez Acha.
Acknowledging POLCOUNS's remark that that would be a highly
cynical political strategy, Martinez Acha responded, "Juan
Carlos is a highly cynical politician." Navarro's primary
campaign manager Ivan Gonzalez told POLCOUNS on December 23
that Navarro himself was surprised when Herrera actually
offered him the VP slot. "Juan Carlos told Balbina on
November 25 that he would accept the vice presidential
nomination if she offered it to him by November 30; after
that he would not and she'd be on her own," Gonzalez
explained. "Balbina is so weak in the polls that she had no
other option than to offer the job to Navarro. She needed to
stop the bleeding." Gonzalez also portrayed the
Herrera-Navarro alliance as an effort to counter Torrijos and
First VP and FM (and Navarro's cousin) Samuel Lewis in the
struggle to take control of the PRD. Absent from Gonzalez's
remarks was any sense of true warmth and affinity between
Herrera and Navarro. Indeed, POLCOUNS was left with the
impression that Navarro was content with his position as
regardless of whether Herrera wins or loses, Navarro would
come out on top. Whether Herrera wins or loses, Navarro
would have positioned himself as a valiant PRD loyalist who
did his duty to resurect a flagging Herrera candidacy, weaken
Torrijos' standing in the party, and position himself to run
in 2014 as the PRD standard bearer.

-------------------------------------
Balbina's Brother Throws Her a Doozie
-------------------------------------

6. (SBU//NF) Widely believed to have been asleep at the
switch, Panamanian Ambassador to Belgium and Herrera's
brother Pablo Garrido failed to notify the MFA and Ministry
of Industry and International Commerce (MICI) in a timely
manner that Panama needed to file to renew its General System
of Preferences (GSP) privileges with the European Commission.
Trade relations with the EU became strained when the GOP
issued a paid communique in the local media effectively
blaming the EU for the mistake. On December 11, the EU
announced that Panama's exclusion from the preferential trade
provisions program was "irrevocable" and that Panama could
re-apply in 2010. Attempting to restore its standard with
Panamanian exporters, the GOP announced that it would expend
some USD 30 million to compensate exporters for the higher
duties that they would face. Stating that Garrido received
his ambassadorial appointment because of his ties of kinship
with Herrera, not because of his talent, Varela demanded
Garrido's removal.

7. (C) Comment: Garrido's gaffe will not lead directly harm
Herrera's standing per se, but it will contribute to a
growing perception that Torrijos' PRD government is the gang
that cannot shoot straight. Add Garrido's gaffe to the pile
of PRD-negative stories like Panama City's growing crime
wave, problems in the Darien, and high prices for food
staples. According to MFA insider Ernesto Cerrud, Garrido
and Herrera's daughter who also works at the Embassy in
Brussels were both AWOL working on Herrera's campaign when
the GSP issue came to a head. Herrera's kin, Cerrud
explained, had left the embassy's cultural attache at the
helm in their absence. Other similar stories of incompetence
and/or malfeasance have also dogged Herrera's son and
campaign advisor Virgilio Perpinan including: a lingering
court case over two shipments of dioxin tainted onions and
her son's possible involvement in the importation of
mislabeled toxin diethylene glycol that wound up in
Panamanian cough syrup resulting in dozens of deaths. While
able to choose her VP running mate, Herrera is also probably
wishing she were able to choose her kin.

---------------------------------------------
MOLIRENistas, Panamenistas Begin to Jump Ship
---------------------------------------------

8. (SBU//NF) Panama City-based media are rife with
speculation that Panamenista opinion leaders are abandoning
Varela's ship. Panamenista member and former Director General
of the Technical Judicial Police (PTJ, now party of the
Panamanian National Policy and called the Directorate for
Judicial Investigations or DIJ) Jaime Abad publicly enrolled
as a member of the CD. Abad cited his interest in advancing
a new security plan to fight rising delinquency, crime, and
drug trafficking. Martinelli declared that Abad's decision
to join the CD underscored that his administration would be
comprised of the best and the brightest from all political
walks of life: PRD, Panamenista, or independent.

9. (C) Comment: Abad's public enrollment with CD is only
the tip of the iceberg. Members of Panamenista alliance
partner MOLIRENA are increasingly becoming restless too.
MOLIRENA National Assembly Deputy Marylu Vallarino would soon
switch party affiliation and join CD, Papadimitriu told
POLCOUNS December 17. Other Panamenista leaders are also
quietly and not so quietly reaching out Martinelli including:
former Panamenista presidential nomination candidates Jose
Miguel Aleman (2004) and Alberto Vallarino (2008), National
Assembly deputies Jose Luis Varela (also Varela's brother)
and Alcibades Vasquez, and former president Mireya Moscoso.
As the Panama Post went to press, rumors abounded that
MOLIRENA would break its alliance the Panamenista Party
paving the way to join with the CD and UP. Press speculation
alleged that MOLIRENA President Sergio Gonzalez Ruiz would
make a final run at Varela on December 23 to urge him to step
back from his presidential aspirations. Well, on the night of
December 23, MOLIRENA's National Executive Committee (CEN)
voted (17-yes, 3-no, 3-abstain, 4-absent) to break its
alliance with the Panamenista party and to enter into
alliance with CD.
STEPHENSON

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