Cablegate: Endara to Run As Panama's "Honest Government"

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 PANAMA 000111



E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/09/2013

Classified By: Ambassador Linda Watt for reasons 1.5 (B) & (D).


1. (C) Former president Guillermo Endara has mapped a
come-from-behind election strategy, positioned himself as the
campaign's most serious anti-corruption reformer, derides
front-runner Martin Torrijos's lack of experience and
ability, and plans tough talks with U.S. negotiators on
agriculture on a bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA). In a
late-December meeting with EmbOffs, Endara exuded confidence
and was untroubled about the gap in election finances between
the Torrijos campaign and his own. He cast doubt on the
accuracy of the latest Gallup poll, which shows him trailing
Torrijos 49%-32%. Endara's campaign team said he said would
invite cooperation from a civilian U.S. intelligence agency
and planned to work closely with the USG to formulate
Panama's national security strategy. End Summary.

2. (SBU) Embassy offers this message as part of its
continuing election coverage.

Endara, with his vice presidential running mates Billy Ford
and Alejandro Posse, and campaign advisor Menalco Solis in
tow, met with Pol and Econ Counselors and EmbOffs on December
23 to discuss his campaign. The following is a brief account
of Endara's current thinking.

"Honesty and Honor"

3. (SBU) Guillermo Endara asserts that his 1989-1994 track
record and his campaign proposals make him by far Panama's
most plausible anti-corruption candidate. Endara's profile
-- "honesty and honor" -- is what the electorate wants. His
principal campaign issues are official corruption and the
economy and the link between them: Panama will have no
rule-of-law as long as corruption persists; foreign investors
will leave because they cannot trust the courts; Panama's
economy will create few jobs without new investment;
Panamanians have lots of money they don't invest because of
corruption. But ending corruption in Panama will not be
easy; it will require "a fight by brave people."

How Endara Would End Official Corruption

4. (C) If elected, Endara plans to

Name as attorney general Mercedes Araz de Grimaldo (an
Embassy Centennial International Visitor), who has a
reputation for "toughness" and who won a 2003 Integrity Prize
from Transparency International's Panama chapter.

Introduce laws permitting prosecutors to openly investigate
government officials for "illicit enrichment." (Present
regulations give many government officials defacto immunity
from prosecution.)

Support a constituent assembly to rewrite Panama's 1972
dictator-drafted constitution.

Campaign to end legislative immunity. ("The legislators have
no credibility; they are very corrupt," Endara said, adding
"The Supreme Court is worse.")

Give citizens the right to request specific information about
internal government budgets and personnel by restoring the
Transparency Law, rendered toothless by a Moscoso decree.

Put an end to "I'll-scratch-your-back-if-you-scratch-mine"
politics and to promises by newly elected officials not to
prosecute officials from a previous administration.
(President Moscoso has been widely accused of entering into
just such a pact with Martin Torrijos.)

Establish an anti-corruption commission to investigate where
things are going wrong and implement its findings, unlike
President Moscoso.

Come-From-Behind Strategy

5. (C) Endara plans to win by attracting voters away from
Arnulfista candidate Jose Miguel Aleman. An Arnulfista Party
founder, Endara says Arnulfistas will vote for him because
they see no way of winning with Aleman. If Endara is
president, Arnulfistas in government would have a better
chance of keeping their jobs than if the PRD sweeps the
polls. Endara disbelieves polls showing him trailing
front-runner Martin Torrijos 49-32%. Endara claimed that 49%
of the vote is improbably high for a PRD candidate, or any
candidate. (Note: Under Panama's "first-past-the-post"
electoral system, PRD candidate Perez Balladares won the 1994
election with 33% of the popular vote against a badly divided
field; in 1999 Mireya Moscoso won with 45% of the vote, while
PRD runner-up Martin Torrijos got 38%.) Endara sees no money
problems to counter the well-funded PRD. Endara has run
campaigns "on a shoe string" before.

What's Wrong With Martin

6. (C) Endara admits that Martin Torrijos democratized the
PRD and has a name -- Martin's father is former Panamanian
dictator Omar Torrijos (d. 1981) -- that "is still attractive
for some people." But Martin Torrijos (b. 1963) has almost
no experience, either as a politician or in private industry.
Martin Torrijos has only held one job in his life, managing
a McDonald's in Chicago during 1988-1992. Torrijos did serve
as vice minister of Government and Justice (1994-1998) under
Perez Balladares but "did not shine at all." Someone "close"
to Perez Balladares once told Endara, Torrijos "just can't do
the work." But Panamanians remember Endara as the man who
"saved the country" after the brutal rule of dictators Omar
Torrijos and Manuel Noriega. "He got Panama booming again."
Endara's campaign (unlike Martin's) does not have to sell "an
unknown quantity."

Is Endara Competent?

7. (C) Endara ran Panama for five years, which he calls "the
best administration since 1968" (the year that the military
took power) and says he has the firmest commitment to
democracy and is the best defender of civil rights of all the
candidates. Though some critics consider his administration
to have been honest but inefficient, Endara claims Panamanian
society's disarray during his presidency was due to "destape"
-- pulling the cork out of a highly pressurized bottle, the
rapid decompression of a society with newly restored
democratic liberties after two decades of dictatorships.

"We May Be Protectionist On Agriculture"

8. (C) At FTA talks with the USG, Panama under Endara will
be somewhat protectionist on agriculture, aiming at
self-sufficiency in rice, dairy, pork, and beef, to ensure
that Panama provides first for its own people. Posse,
Endara's second VP candidate, says he is not against free
trade and criticized USG agricultural subsidies. "The FTA
must be negotiated and studied. The United States does that.
We should do the same."

You Can Write Our National Security Plan

9. (C) An Endara administration would in all likelihood work
hand-in-hand with the USG on regional security issue.
Endara's campaign has contacted an American consulting firm
to draft a plan, concentrating on national security (not
internal or public security). The plan will not appear as a
campaign document. Once in office, Endara would be disposed
to ask the USG to help draft such a plan but prefers the
civilian CIA rather than a "uniformed" intelligence service.


10. (C) Endara faces an uphill struggle as he attacks
Torrijos's formidable but not insurmountable lead in the
polls -- Mireya Moscoso overcame a similar gap in the polls
during the final days of the 1999 campaign to best Martin
Torrijos. Endara's non-machine third-party candidacy and
shoe-string budget may leave him with fewer debts to office
seekers or special interests than his major rivals, should he
manage to come from behind and win the presidency on May 2.

11. (C) Endara's unshakable commitment to democratic
governance, his well-deserved reputation for honesty, and his
modest image as a "regular guy" who worried about the welfare
of the common people are his greatest assets in a country
grown weary of the systematic looting of the public treasury
by politicians. He is the campaign's only anti-corruption
candidate with real credibility and a proven track record in
public office. Despite their campaign pledges, both Torrijos
and Aleman are vehicles for political parties (the PRD and
the Arnulfistas) that have proved rapacious in defrauding the
public trust while in office. But Endara must overcome
several negatives, doubts about his competence and ability as
an administrator first and foremost. His age (he is pushing
70) will be a factor in youthful Panama, given that his main
rival, Martin Torrijos, just turned 40 and is the youngest of
the four candidates. (Billy Ford is the same age as Endara.)
Endara's health is another issue. Recently diagnosed with
diabetes, Endara has shed dozens of pounds, apparently on
doctors' orders.

12. (C) Endara's awkward marriage-of-convenience with the
Solidarity Party as his political campaign vehicle puts him
at odds with the objectives of the party's founder and
president, Samuel Lewis Galindo. The two have a curious
relationship. Historically a staunch PRD supporter, Lewis
Galindo broke away to found Solidarity in 1993. Many have
called the party "PRD-lite." The most adamantly anti-PRD
candidate in the race, Endara's strange choice of political
bedfellow is reason enough to make him blush.

13. (C) But Endara faces other problems, like money. The
notoriously thrifty Lewis Galindo is not giving the Endara
campaign a dime. In fact, Lewis Galindo may fear losing
control over his party in the event of an Endara victory.
Lewis Galindo expects Endara to lose but still do well enough
to increase Solidarity's (and Lewis Galindo's) influence. If
the race is close, Lewis Galindo might try to find covert
ways to support Torrijos, who is about to name Lewis
Galindo's nephew, Samuel Lewis Navarro (see septel), as his
running mate. Yet an Endara supporter who is a high official
in the Solidarity Party claims the first thing Endara will do
if he becomes president of Panama is expel Mireya Moscoso
from the Arnulfista Party and take over himself. (Note: That
seems unlikely because it would conflict with the electoral
law -- The Arnulfistas expelled Endara for running as the
Solidarity Party's candidate.) "Mireya Moscoso will not last
two minutes if Endara wins. You will see great changes in
Panama if Endara wins," he told Pol Counselor.


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