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Cablegate: Panama's Election Campaign: Veraguas Province Is

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

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PANAMA 000705

SIPDIS


SENSITIVE


E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PINR PM LABOR HUMAN RIGHTSPOLMIL
SUBJECT: PANAMA'S ELECTION CAMPAIGN: VERAGUAS PROVINCE IS
TORRIJOS-LANDIA

-------
Summary
-------


1. (SBU) On March 14, seven weeks before Panama's May 2
general elections, PolOffs toured rural Veraguas province
with members of three of the four party coalitions vying for
the presidency and 78 legislative seats. Though
Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) presidential candidate
Martin Torrijos lost the province in 1999, most interlocutors
said they expect a big Torrijos victory this year. Torrijos
coattails will almost surely return three of four PRD
incumbent legislators. Torrijos appears to attract Veraguas
voters worried about agricultural unemployment. Solidarity
Party presidential candidate Guillermo Endara's
"anti-corruption" message is not getting traction in
Veraguas, and his campaign manager Menalco Solis already
concedes an across-the-board loss in the province. While the
PRD machine in Veraguas is formidable, the Torrijos campaign
is not taking any chances, and is fighting Arnulfista Party
"dirty tricks" with its own.


----------
Background
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2. (U) Rising up from jungle-surrounded subsistence farms on
the Atlantic coast to small coffee plots in the mountainous
continental divide and then back down to expansive
cattle-grazing plains and fishing villages along the Pacific
coast, Veraguas is Panama's third largest voting province
with 7.5% of the national electorate. Dictator General Omar
Torrijos, father of Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD)
presidential candidate Martin Torrijos, was a Veraguas native
son, from the province's capital, Santiago, where more than
elsewhere in Panama, PRD campaign paraphernalia includes the
dictator's image. Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso
carried the province in 1999 by just 3,941 votes, but the PRD
captured four of the province's six legislative seats.


----------------
Home, Sweet Home
----------------


3. (U) This year, Torrijos should win Veraguas by a
comfortable margin, taking with him at least three of four
PRD incumbent legislators. PRD Veraguas elections
coordinator Arturo Fabrega predicted Torrijos would win as
much as 65% of the vote, holding Arnulfista Party
presidential candidate Jose Miguel Aleman to 20%. Fabrega
also stated that the fourth PRD incumbent, Pedro Miguel
Gonzalez, is in a close race with Arnulfista legislative
challenger Jose "Pepe" Gomez (septel). Gomez concurred that
Veraguas is "Torrijos country" and that at least three PRD-PP
legislative candidates would win. Menalco Solis, campaign
manager for Solidarity Party presidential candidate Guillermo
Endara and accompanying the candidate on a March 14 caravan
through Veraguas, did not believe Endara or Solidarity's
legislative candidates would do well in Veraguas. Solidarity
had problems finding and has problems retaining "suplente"
(alternate legislator) candidates. PRD Fabrega told PolOffs
of first-time, walk-in campaign volunteers being offered
spots on the ballot and of a number of Solidarity candidates
later withdrawing. Endara's March 14 tour of the province
was to buck-up Solidarity's legislative candidates, but
conceding a Torrijos victory, Endara has no plans to return.


--------------------
Playing to the Crowd
--------------------


4. (U) Endara's "anti-corruption" focus has received scant
attention from Veraguas voters who are more concerned about
agricultural unemployment. Not even Endara's choice for
second vice president (and former Moscoso Agriculture
Minister) Alejandro Posse has helped attract this rural vote.
According to PRD Fabrega and Arnulfista Gomez, and as
witnessed by PolOffs who accompanied both parties' candidates
on "caminatas" (door-to-door campaigning), Veraguas voters
are asking for the GOP's help to improve crop yields.
Demands for agricultural subsidies or protective tariffs are
not prevalent, and the possible US-Panama free trade
agreement (FTA) is so far a non-issue. Fabrega claimed that
Torrijos has found support by promising low-interest farming
loans and by attacking Moscoso's Agriculture Ministry for not
providing enough training on the latest farming methods.
These themes also resonate with Santiago voters who work in
farming-related industries and with independent voters. The
Torrijos campaign, especially, is going after those two
demographics, hitting houses in the provincial capital as
many as three times before the May 2 elections and setting
the goal of 10,000 independents for the Torrijos column.
Every street is divided and assigned a warden
("segmentacion"), and "converts" are put through a party
orientation.


------------
Tit for Tat?
------------


5. (SBU) PRD Fabrega plans to avoid the mistakes made in 1999
that lost the province to Moscoso. In addition to the above
noted "caminatas," "segmentacion" system and party
orientations, Fabrega will monitor exit poll results from 21
voting centers which represent 70% of the province's
electorate. Based on the data, Fabrega plans to focus
last-minute get-out-the-vote efforts. Aside from these
legitimate election tactics, when Fabrega was asked about
"vote buying" and "vote verification"-- elderly voters
pressured to claim disabled status, which allows someone else
to accompany them into the voting booth-- instead of
responding, he counter-charged that the Arnulfistas are
buying voter cards to tamp down PRD totals. Fabrega implied
that the PRD may be planning to use such tactics and that
they are a legitimate response.


WATT

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