Cablegate: Panama Vice Presidential Candidate Samuel Lewis

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

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 PANAMA 000145



E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/20/2014

REF: A. 03 PANAMA 02442
B. 03 PANAMA 03173
C. 03 PANAMA 03294



1. (C) In recent meeting with Pol Counselor, first vice
presidential candidate Samuel Lewis Navarro argued that the
Martin Torrijos ticket of the Democratic Revolutionary Party
(PRD) offers Panama its best chance to improve social and
economic conditions in Panama and eliminate the threat to
democracy that increasing poverty, corruption, and
disillusionment would bring. The main tasks of a Torrijos
government would be A) Canal expansion; B) a bilateral free
trade agreement (FTA) with the United States; C) a "redesign"
of Panama's strategic relationship with the U.S. to emphasize
shared security interests; and D) rebuilding credibility with
the people by delivering education, services, and improving
Panama's transportation system. End Summary.

Panama's "Last Chance"

2. (C) Official corruption is Panama's most pressing problem,
Lewis Navarro maintained, adding that "change must come from
the top or else we face a social revolution here." He
underscored "disturbing parallels" between 2004 and 1968, the
year the military took power in Panama, when he said many
were willing to gamble that the military might improve their
lives. Then, as now, people lost confidence in the governing
class, Lewis Navarro said. (Comment: Unlike in 1968, Panama
no longer has a military. On the other hand, observers have
warned that the system is ripe for an unscrupulous,
Chavez-type populist politician to exploit the anger and
disillusionment of deprived Panamanians, who rail against the
growing corruption in the governing class. See Ref A.) One
of Panama's leading businessmen, with international interests
in fruit and packaging, Samuel Lewis Navarro told Pol
Counselor that the best way to halt Panama's slide toward
what he predicted would be social and political catastrophe
would be to elect Martin Torrijos president.

Get Panama Back on Track

3. Radical reforms are not needed, Lewis Navarro claimed.
Instead, a new PRD government would try to reform Panama
gradually but steadily to put it back on track, by
emphasizing A) canal expansion; B) a bilateral free trade
agreement (FTA) with the United States; C) a redesign of
Panama's strategic relationship with the U.S. to highlight
shared security concerns after 9/11; and D) rebuilding
credibility with the people by delivering education, public
services, and improving a decaying transportation system.

Endara As Anti-Establishment

4. (C) Saying he is very surprised at (former president)
Endara's relatively high poll numbers (Torrijos leads Endara
49%-32%), Lewis Navarro correctly noted that those
prospective votes for Endara come at the expense of Jose
Miguel Aleman (the Arnulfista candidate), not Martin
Torrijos. Labeling Endara as "anti-establishment, the
populist candidate for people who are fed up," Lewis Navarro
discounted Endara as a serious threat to Torrijos, presumably
because Endara lacks a nationwide party structure.

Campaign of Ideas

5. (SBU) Lewis Navarro claimed that Torrijos is running "a
campaign of ideas," citing a speech that proposed Panama
should emulate Finland, Ireland, Singapore, South Korea, and
Taiwan as underdeveloped countries that lifted themselves out
of poverty in a single generation. Torrijos asserted that
Panama's potential as the Hemisphere's logistics hub, and its
growing middle class, will help it to maintain a sustained
rate of economic growth.

6. (SBU) Torrijos has proposed creating jobs by
"revitalizing" export-capable economic sectors, such as
agriculture and manufacturing; increasing productivity and
competitiveness (through training, education, and investment
in infrastructure); prioritizing tourism, maritime services
and ports, transport, fisheries, communications, and
financial services as "growth industries"; concluding a
Panama-U.S. free trade agreement; and rationalizing public
finances, reducing regulations, and completing the
Colon-Panama highway. Turning to economic issues, Lewis
Navarro asserted that a U.S.-Panama FTA is about investment,
not trade. He touted the FTA for its positive effects on
procurement and contracting as the main lever to get foreign
financing for Canal expansion, which will be the biggest
infrastructure project in the Hemisphere.

Comment/Bio Note

7. (C) Not a politician himself, Lewis Navarro comes from a
political family. His uncle, Samuel Lewis Galindo, is
president of the Solidarity Party, which he founded in 1993,
with Lewis Navarro's father (now deceased), Gabriel Lewis
Galindo, a former foreign minister and ambassador to the
United States. Lewis Navarro comes across as an ingenuous
idealist. Insiders say Torrijos chose him as a running mate
because of his "squeaky clean" image and his obvious skill as
a manager. Lewis Navarro has not succeeded in masking his
dislike for the "Old Guard" PRD nationalists and leftists,
and they have returned the favor. Therefore his naming as
the PRD's vice presidential candidate (he has aspirations to
follow in his father's footsteps as foreign minister) must be
seen as a positive sign of Martin Torrijos's ability to keep
the PRD's "old guard" in check.

8. (C) What distinguishes the Torrijos team from the other
three camps is its ambition to transform Panama into a "first
world" country and its prolific ideas on how to do it. Even
assuming Martin's good intentions, he will need to ride herd
over the PRD's fractious wings to govern. Torrijos insiders
claim that the candidate is in firm control, but concede that
20% of the PRD support former president Ernesto Perez
Balladares, while 15% are (former dictator Manuel)
Noriega-style nationalists, and many in those two groups are
highly influential among party rank and file. Seeing himself
as a Panamanian Tony Blair, Martin Torrijos told an ex-USG
official that he hopes to bring the PRD firmly to the middle
of the electable political center, and drop its archaic
political baggage.

9. (C) The question is, will Martin Torrijos be able to
govern as he wishes with an influential "old guard" who
mostly oppose his policies? While we cannot answer this
hypothetical question, we have noted conflicting signals:
Torrijos scored a big win by (privately) urging Perez
Balladares not to seek another term in PARLACEN. The
nomination would have sullied the PRD's image, and Torrijos
deserves credit for raising the issue forcibly. But what
really changed Perez Balladares's mind was probably not the
Torrijos intervention but a Supreme Court decision the day
before he announced his decision not to run for PARLACEN that
he could not be prosecuted under evidence presented by
Comptroller Alvin Weeden in the PECC scandal. (See Ref C.)
Torrijos did finally sack his cousin Hugo Torrijos as
campaign manager (due to corruption allegations cited in Ref
C), only to appoint several questionable (visceral
nationalists) from the "Old Guard" as key members of his
campaign team. Clearly, Torrijos is still struggling to
balance competing pressures from the multiple factions that
uneasily coexist within the PRD camp.


© Scoop Media

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