Cablegate: Scenesetter: Ambassador Arcos' Visit to Panama

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


This message is sensitive but unclassified. Please protect

1. (U) I warmly welcome your March 23-25 visit to Panama.
You will have the opportunity to reiterate USG appreciation
for the ongoing maritime security cooperation between our two
countries, and to press for continuing focus on this as well
as aviation security (and increasingly cruise ship security).
Your visit highlights our governments' mutual interest in
the strategic issues of counterterrorism capabilities,
combating international criminal networks, and expanding
trade and investment. Designation for Panama as a "distant
foreign port" under the Passenger Vessels Services Act
(PVSA), possible inclusion of Panama's ports in the DHS
Container Security Initiative (CSI), and upcoming
negotiations for a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) with
the US will reign paramount in the minds of many of your
interlocutors. Cancellation of visas of corrupt public
officials may also arise. It is worth noting that Panama was
an early member of the Coalition of the Willing, has signed
and ratified a bilateral Article 98 Agreement, and supported
the USG at the WTO Ministerial in Cancun, Mexico. Panama has
proven itself a good friend and ally.

May 2004 Elections

2. (U) Panama will hold its next national elections on May 2,
2004. Candidates are vying for the presidency, 78
legislative seats, and all mayoral and local representative
positions. Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) candidate
Martin Torrijos maintains a small lead over third-party
candidate and former Panamanian President Guillermo Endara
(1989 to 1994). Both are well ahead of ruling Arnulfista
party candidate and former Foreign Minister Jose Miguel
Aleman (1999 to 2003) and minor Democratic Change (CD) party
candidate Ricardo Martinelli. Panama's elections should not
warrant extensive monitoring or observation.

A Mixed Macroeconomic Record

3. (SBU) Since the turnover of Canal operations and US
military bases in 1999, Panama has had a mixed record of
economic success. The Canal is run more efficiently, safely
and profitably than under USG administration. Canal-related
industries, especially cargo transshipment through ports at
both ends of the Canal, have boomed, as have visits by U.S.
cruise ships, which will surpass 200 port calls in Panama
this year. But Panama's overall economy went flat when
nearly 30,000 US military personnel and their dependents left
during the late 1990s, and the 2001 global recession has
perpetuated the country's estimated 13.4% unemployment.
Also, Panama has failed to attract large investments into the
former Canal Zone. Poverty, economic disparity, and
unemployment are arguably the biggest internal challenges
facing Panama today. Since mid-2003, however, the economy
appears to have picked up, primarily as a result of tax
incentives given to a now booming construction sector, low
interest rates, and a global economic recovery. Panama's
growth rate for 2003 is expected came in at around 4 percent.

Towards a Democratic Culture

4. (SBU) Ambassador Watt's September 29 speech to Panama's
Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, launching
Embassy's Good Governance Initiative (GGI), resonated firmly
with Panamanians and generated front-page headlines.
Venality, conflict of interest, nepotism, and lack of
transparency are ingrained in Panama's political culture and
institutions. Panama's "spoils system" allows politicians to
use the entire state bureaucracy as a patronage base. The
country's criminal libel laws, left over from military rule,
impose enormous costs and risks on whistle-blowers.
Legislative immunity is often abused, as elsewhere in the
region. The Embassy currently supports good governance
activities directed toward judicial reform, civic education,
business ethics, and strengthening anti-corruption
prosecutors' institutional capacity, and is reviewing
implementation of President Bush's inititiative to cancel
travel visas to the United States of corrupt public officials.

Our Third Border

5. (SBU) Panamanians have become increasingly willing to
accept military-to-military security training, equipment and
other assistance to enhance their capabilities to protect the
Canal and borders. Although the present terrorist threat to
the Canal is considered low and Panamanian planning, layered
defenses and security resources are generally well regarded,
the Canal remains vulnerable. Continued U.S. training,
equipment and other assistance are vital to preempt a major
terrorist attack.

Fighting International Crime

6. (SBU) Law enforcement cooperation with Panama is
excellent. The Moscoso Administration set up a new, GoP-
interagency counternarcotics vetted unit; expanded upon the
basic shiprider agreement to facilitate maritime/air
operations in pursuit of drug, arms and explosives smuggling
(and may soon include WMD); expedited thirty-eight maritime
drug prisoner transfers to USG custody (saving U.S. taxpayers
US$1 million per event); and captured and expelled seventeen
fugitives from US justice (most recently, on January 14,
Colombian drug kingpin Arcangel de Jesus Henao Montoya,
wanted in New York for smuggling five tons of cocaine).
Panama is working much more closely with Colombian President
Uribe's government against narco-terrorists. The GoP has
also welcomed USG assistance-- DoD special operations forces
(training National Police (PNP) border units) and AID
community development (enhancing productive capacity and
governmental presence in the Darien border province).

7. (U) The GoP revamped its legal and administrative
structures to fight money laundering, becoming a model for
other countries, such as Russia, that are trying to bring
their regimes up to grade. Panama assisted the USG in the
prosecution of money laundering cases and provided crucial
information against former Nicaraguan President Arnoldo
Aleman. However, at the 2004 Summit of the Americas in
Monterrey, Mexico, several hemispheric neighbors chided
Panama for recently granting "asylee" status to a
formerEcuadorian cabinet minister, who is charged with
embezzlement of government funds.

International Trade and Investment

8. (SBU) Economic issues top Panama's agenda with the United
States. First, for political and economic reasons, President
Moscoso is pushing for quick negotiation on a bilateral FTA.
(Note: the USG announced its intention to negotiate an FTA
with Panama in November 2003 at the Miami FTAA ministerial,
with a view to begin negotiations during the second quarter
of 2004. End Note). Second, the GOP has long argued for
Panama's re-designation from a "near foreign port" to a
"distant foreign port," under the U.S. Passenger Vessels
Services Act (PVSA), in order to capture a larger share of
the cruise ship trade. The USG is studying the possibility
of a re-designation. The GoP estimates that up to US$50
million per year could be gained for Panama's growing tourism
sector. Third, over the last several months, we have seen a
marked improvement in the GoP's willingness to make progress
on a number of U.S. investment cases, to address bilateral
trade issues, including agricultural concerns, and to enhance
cooperation/coordination in regional and multilateral trade
fora. The USG has asked Panama to continue its progress on
resolving investment disputes and improving its investment
climate through responsiveness to investor concerns, clear
rules of the game, predictability, and transparency in

9. (U) Panama's $12 billion economy is based primarily on a
well-developed services sector that accounts for
approximately 78 percent of GDP. Services include the Panama
Canal, banking and financial services, legal services,
container ports, the Colon Free Zone (the 2nd largest in the
world) and flagship registry. Panama also maintains one of
the most liberalized trade regimes in the hemisphere.
Bilateral trade with Panama came to $2.2 billion in 2003.
U.S. exports were $1.85 billion and imports were $301
million. The stock of U.S. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)
in 2001 was $25.3 billion. U.S. FDI is primarily
concentrated in the financial sector.

Our Maritime Security Agenda

10. (SBU) The 9/11 attacks called significant attention to
the potential for terrorist exploitation of Panama,s leading
maritime position. Panama has the world,s largest flag state
registry with approximately 6300 vessels over 500 gross
metric tons and approximately 300,000 seafarers.
Additionally, approximately two-thirds of Canal traffic
originates or terminates at U.S. ports, roughly 13% of U.S.
seaborne trade. Nearly, 27 percent of foreign-flagged cargo
ships arriving at U.S. ports are Panamanian. Moreover,
approximately 150 U.S. military vessels, including
nuclear-powered U.S. submarines ("high value transits"),
visit Panamanian ports and/or transit the Canal each year.
Port services have grown dramatically from about 200,000
containers per year in the early 1990s to almost two million
by 2002, giving Panama Latin America's leading port complex.
(Note: Although a large number of containers transit the
Panama Canal, the number that actually are shipped and
transhipped from Panama are substantially less -- around 90

11. (SBU) Given these equities, the Embassy, through its
Maritime Security Working Group and in coordination with
Washington agencies, has undertaken a broad Maritime Security
agenda with the GoP. We have seen a strong willingness on the
part of the Moscoso Administration for Panama to meet its
responsibilities as a major maritime player. Progress has
been particularly good since President Moscoso's appointment
in June 2003 of Panama,s Public Security and National
Defense Council ("the Consejo") Executive Secretary Ramiro
Jarvis to coordinate maritime security matters. Key
components of the agenda include: making Panama,s seafarer
document more secure, protecting U.S. forces, port security
(including for cruise ships), container security, export
controls, proliferation security, and strengthening GoP
institutions. Progress by the GoP has been good on all of the
fronts however, we will have to keep the pressure on the GoP
to follow-through, in particular, on ISPS implementation and
new seafarer documents. The fact that this is an election
year in Panama will not facilitate things, but should also
not hinder progress too much.

12. (SBU) On several points of the agenda, the ball is in
our court to move ahead. For example, DHS headquarters is
currently reviewing language for a Declaration of Principles
with Panama for the Container Security Initiative (CSI). A
CSI assessment team visited Panama in mid-January and the
formal report of outcomes is pending. Additionally, the
Coast Guard is exploring the possibility of sending a USCG
"audit" team to measure GoP progress towards ISPS
implementation and discuss the status of Panama,s seafarer
document. The Embassy is also reviewing the possibility of
using Narcotics Affairs Section funds to support GoP efforts
to strengthen cruise ship port security.

Suggested Talking Points

13. (U) Talking points for meetings with GoP interlocutors
(additional points for press opporuntities will be delivered
upon arrival):

- Express appreciation for Panama,s excellent cooperation on
maritime security.

- Press for continued focus on ISPS implementation.

- Urge for increased attention to airport security at
Panama's Tocumen International Airport and security for
cruise ships at Panama's main ports.

- Note USG willingness to work with the GoP on initiatives of
mutual interest, including cruise ship security and
initiatives like CSI.

© Scoop Media

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