Cablegate: Panama Offers Better High-Value Transit Guarantee

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 000586


E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/10/2009

REF: A. 03 PANAMA 2201
B. 03 PANAMA 470

Classified By: DCM Christopher J. McMullen for reason 1.5 (d)

1. (C) SUMMARY: Panama's unilateral alternative to the USG's
bilateral MOU proposal may be a better force protection
guarantee for US military high-value transits (HVTs). After
Embassy receives actual GOP language, probably in one to two
months, we will analyze it and report our conclusions and
recommendations for further action. END SUMMARY.

2. (C) After successfully implementing a US-Panama MOU for
USG vessels visiting Panamanian ports (ref B), Embassy
cleared with USG agencies a second force protection MOU to
cover HVTs (ref A), to be signed under chief of mission (COM)
authority. This MOU was presented on November 13, 2003, to
the GOP's Public Security and National Defense Council
(Consejo) Executive Secretary Ramiro Jarvis and Senior
Advisor for Maritime Security Marta Achurra, who are
coordinating the many GOP agencies with equities in this
issue. (Note: Unlike the port visits MOU, for which Panama's
Maritime Service (SMN) was the only GOP negotiator and is the
sole point of contact for implementation, HVT force
protection involves all GOP security-related agencies
(Consejo, Police (PNP), Air Service (SAN), Maritime Service
(SMN) and Institutional Protection Service (SPI)), as well as
the Foreign Ministry (MFA) and the Canal Authority (ACP),
which is not under the Consejo's chain of command). End

3. (C) On January 27, EmbOffs met with GOP agency
representatives led by Consejo's Achurra, who now says that a
separate bilateral HVT MOU would be slow to conclude and more
cumbersome to implement. Furthermore, the ACP is loath to be
included in what would be a primarily security-specific
document, wanting to avoid any charges of "mission creep."
Instead, the GOP has countered with two unilateral documents,
first floated at the January 27 meeting. Consejo plans to
present to Embassy by mid-April (1) currently applicable ACP
regulations, amended to include USG requirements that are
directly under the ACP's operational control and (2) a new
GOP interagency MOU, codifying relevant portions of Consejo's
threat matrix security SOP. Alternatively, the latter may be
codified via an executive decree, though the process would be
lengthy and may not be completed by the September 1 change in

4. (C) The GOP has also raised other concerns regarding USG
force protection requests. First, USG armed "escort units"
are illegal under Panama's Constitution; only the PPF can
provide security within Panamanian territory. If security
procedures are guaranteed in a unilateral instrument, as the
GOP proposes, determination of USG responsibilities is moot.
Such units become "auxiliary vessels," which will arrive with
the high value vessel and will be granted expeditious transit
per the Neutrality Treaty. Auxiliary vessels have the right
to transit with their personnel and weapons and have the
international right of self-defense, which concurrently
provides force protection for the high-value vessel. Second,
the GOP noted that the level of force protection requested in
our draft MOU is more than currently provided for US military
HVTs, e.g., the USG would like to see water, land and air
patrols commence earlier and have GOP quick reaction forces
on alert. These services will increase the cost of a
transit. (Note: Though not yet mentioned by the GOP, the PPF
services may also need equipment, training and other
assistance to be able to guarantee force protection. End
note.) Embassy requested that the GOP inform the USG of the
cost of each component of the force protection procedures to
be considered along with other factors for our determination
of services the USG needs. Third, the ACP noted that it has
no authority to order another GOP agency to take action
during an HVT; its jurisdiction over the transit does not
extend to security for the transit. Embassy does not expect
a military-like chain-of-command and understands competing
jurisdictions, but does expect the ACP to take full
responsibility for an HVT, coordinating with PPF services,
possibly with the bureaucratic assistance of the Consejo.
Such services are provided to all other ACP customers,
including high interest vessels that create similar security

5. (C) Embassy accepts the GOP's counterproposal to guarantee
force protection for US military HVTs with two unilateral
Panamanian commitments vice a bilateral MOU. In many
respects, because our proposed MOU would have been negotiated
under COM authority and therefore legally unenforceable, the
counterproposal is a better guarantee. The ACP operational
regulations can only be changed by its Board of Directors, a
group concerned about its business relationship with valued
clients and its global reputation as a premier service
provider. These regulations, once approved, are unlikely to
be altered capriciously. The GOP interagency security MOU
will be based on Consejo threat analyses and planning, which
has already been vetted and agreed upon. This MOU, once
approved, is unlikely to be altered easily. Both documents
will be given to Embassy for its concurrence. Embassy has
been clear with the GOP about our principal goals in these
negotiations: (1) The USG wants force protection procedures
to be regularized and verifiable; (2) As many protections as
possible requested in the original USG proposal should be
provided; and (3) Embassy's Force Protection Officer, who is
Embassy's Chief of the Office of Defense Cooperation (ODC) as
US Defense Representative in-country, is to have one GOP
point of contact to coordinate both operational and security
issues of an HVT.


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