Cablegate: Panama's Four Presidential Candidates Meet White

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





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A. 03 PANAMA 02346
B. PANAMA 0145
C. 03 PANAMA 02279
D. PANAMA 0111

1. (SBU) On January 22, Special Envoy Otto Reich and
Ambassador Watt met with Panama's four presidential
candidates -- Ricardo Martinelli, front-runner Martin
Torrijos, Jose Miguel Aleman, and Guillermo Endara. The
candidates explained their strategies, goals, and priorities
in a series of 10-minute interviews and one general session.
The candidates agreed on the need to end corruption, attract
investment to create jobs, modernize the Canal, make
government more honest and transparent, negotiate a Free
Trade Agreement with the United States, support U.S.
counter-terrorism and security initiatives, and maintain good
Panama-U.S. relations. Not surprisingly, they disagreed
mainly on who would win the May 2 vote. A luncheon meeting
held earlier in the day for GOP officials and NGO/private
sector representatives produced complementary themes,
focusing on Panama's need for a modern, professional civil
service and on the Canal Administrator's suggestion that the
government of Panama increase transparency in government
procurement by adopting the "bid by internet" system of the
Panama Canal Authority. End Summary.

2. (SBU) All four of Panama's presidential candidates met
privately with Special Envoy Reich and Ambassador Watt on
January 22, accompanied either by their vice presidential
running mates or their campaign managers.

Ricardo Martinelli
3. (SBU) Martinelli, accompanied by campaign manager Jimmy
Papadimitriu, explained his stand for transparency and
against corruption as the only way to increase jobs and
investment and gave strong support to Amb. Reich's January 21
speech declaring that the United States would no longer issue
visas to corrupt officials. (See Ref A.) Martinelli also
repeated his theme that U.S. troops should return to Panama.
Martinelli said he would run the GOP "like a business" and
would work to convince Panama's people "to have faith in the
system" because unfortunately the system is "guilty until
proven innocent." According to Martinelli's own poll
(conducted by Greenberg, one of President Clinton's
pollsters), his campaign is currently in third place with
11%, ahead of Jose Miguel Aleman (7%), but trailing Torrijos
(45%) and Endara (30%). He accused the PRD of "rigging" poll
results that show Torrijos ahead with 49% and Martinelli last
with 5%.

Martin Torrijos
4. (SBU) Torrijos promised a 100-day legislative marathon
following his inauguration as president to pass laws to
reform social security and encourage large-scale investment.
He also promised to revitalize the government transparency
law by eliminating President Moscoso's restrictive
implementing decree, which effectively gutted the law.
Torrijos hopes to conclude a bilateral commercial agreement
with Colombia to lure Colombian capital and entrepreneurs to
Panama. Torrijos noted that only the Democratic
Revolutionary Party (PRD) has good relations with Cocle
Province residents who are in the path of Canal expansion.
Vice presidential candidate Samuel Lewis Navarro (Refs B and
C) said the Torrijos campaign shared many U.S. concerns, such
as security, counter-narcotics, and counter-terrorism. He
pointed out that all three PRD candidates, including second
VP candidate Ruben Arosemena, hold degrees from U.S.

Jose Miguel Aleman
5. (SBU) Shrugging off single-digit polling results,
Arnulfista standard-bearer Aleman predicted a "final battle"
between himself and Martin Torrijos. He declared himself
surprised but pleased that the bilateral Free Trade Agreement
has a good chance of becoming reality, a fact he attributed
to the good relations between President Moscoso and President
Bush. Aleman commented that "too many party people" are
appointed at all levels throughout the government, which
affects Panama's democracy. Aleman said he is on the street
every day where he finds "much enthusiasm" for his campaign.
He noted that the Arnulfistas are fielding some 1800
candidates and he predicted a clean electoral process. In
the session with the other candidates, Aleman said that
Panama's beef, rice, and sugar industries are "fragile" but
employ many people (which is why Aleman and Endara, with
their strength in the countryside, are more protectionist on

Guillermo Endara
6. (SBU) Endara's vice presidential running mate (and
ex-schoolmate), Billy Ford, said the days of Panama's
"special" U.S. relationship were over; what Panama now seeks
are "excellent" relations with the United States. "Our
government (1989-1994) never stole a dollar," Ford said,
adding that it was about time Panama had a government that
can convince people that it knows what it is doing. Endara
promised to "do what we did before, but better" and recalled
his close relations with former Ambassador Hinton, after the
1989 "Just Cause" invasion restored Endara as president.
Endara expressed interest in working closely with the USG on
security (see Ref D), adding that Panama has no capability to
identify citizens or residents with links to international
terrorist groups.

Luncheon With GOP/NGOs/private sector
7. (SBU) Prior to meeting the four candidates, Amb. Watt
hosted a luncheon for Special Envoy Reich at which the themes
of government financial transparency, administrative reform
and Canal bidding practices were discussed intensively.
Several participants asserted that the state was in dire need
of overhaul and modernization -- "Why should our civil
servants be job hunting every five years?" they asked.
(Note: Panama has no professional civil service. Government
employment is subject to the "spoils" system, where the
ruling party can appoint everyone from minister to postal
clerk.) Canal Administrator Aleman Zubieta argued for a
change in the Passenger Vessels Services Act (PVSA) that
would allow Panama to serve as an embarkation point for
cruise ships, and for a new public contracting law that would
permit internet bidding like the system now used by the Canal
Authority. Guests included embattled Controller General
Alvin Weeden, Electoral Tribunal President Valdes, the
Catholic Archbiship of Panama, Canal Administrator Aleman,
Vice Foreign Minister Castrellon, and leaders from business,
civil society, and the media.


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