Cablegate: Article 98 Supporter in Close Race with U.S.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
NCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PANAMA 000730
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR PM LABOR HUMAN RIGHTSPOLMIL
SUBJECT: ARTICLE 98 SUPPORTER IN CLOSE RACE WITH U.S.
REF: PANAMA 705
1. (U) This cable is SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED. Please
A Fighting Chance
2. (SBU) On March 14, PolOffs accompanied Arnulfista Party
legislative challenger Jose "Pepe" Gomez on a tour of
Veraguas province's 9-3 electoral circuit, encompassing
Calobre, Santa Fe and San Francisco. (See ref for Veraguas
campaign overview.) Gomez is in a close race with
Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) legislative incumbent
(and unconvicted murderer) Pedro Miguel Gonzalez. (See para
5 for background on the Sgt Zak Hernandez case.) Gomez, who
as Secretary General of Panama's Legislative Assembly was
helpful behind the scenes to Embassy during the debate of the
Article 98 agreement (close hold), has spent over $100,000 of
his own money to challenge Gonzalez. Gomez claimed to be
leading in the polls, and believes himself so strong that he
may put Arnulfista presidential candidate Jose Miguel Aleman
over the top in the circuit. (Note: In a separate meeting
with PolOffs on March 14, the PRD's Veraguas elections
coordinator Arturo Fabrega conceded that Gomez has a good
chance to win the 9-3 seat. End note.)
3. (SBU) The Veraguas 9-3 circuit is expansive, stretching
from San Francisco (just North of the provincial capital,
Santiago) to the Atlantic Ocean. Arnulfista Gomez hails from
Calobre, with nearly 10,000 registered voters of the
circuit's 26,000. Gomez said he is running strong in his
hometown and in San Francisco with its 7,000 voters. He
admitted to be weak in Santa Fe, his opponent's home, which
has 9,000 voters. It was in the far reaches of this circuit
that in 1999 then EmbOffs witnessed PRD Gonzalez' tactic of
"vote verification"-- pressuring elderly voters to claim
disabled status, which allowed Gonzalez lackeys to accompany
them into the voting booth. Gonzalez has yet to arrive in
the circuit to begin campaigning and is reportedly keeping
his war chest in reserve for similar last-minute dirty tricks.
4. (SBU) Arnulfista Gomez fears a repeat of 1999 and asked
for Embassy's assistance, to the extent possible, with his
personal security, security at polling stations and observer
teams throughout the district to document any irregularities.
Already aware that Embassy deliberately avoids funding
humanitarian and development programs that would benefit PRD
Gonzalez' circuit, Gomez expressed his hope that, if he
unseats Gonzalez, Embassy would provide the area with
humanitarian civil engineering projects like New Horizons and
related Medical Readiness Training Exercises (MedReTEs), law
enforcement and counternarcotics training for local National
Police (PNP) units, and AID sustainable development programs
aimed at small coffee growers. (Comment: Embassy plans to
send observers to numerous electoral circuits throughout the
country, including this hotly contested area. Embassy would
consider humanitarian and development projects in this poor
region only if Gonzalez were voted out of office. End
5. (SBU) In 1992, just days before then President George H.W.
Bush visited Panama, US Army Sgt Zak Hernandez was fatally
shot in broad daylight while driving his Humvee from Colon to
Panama City. Witnesses at the scene described the passing
vehicle and gunman, who was later identified by Panama's
Technical Judicial Police (PTJ) as Pedro Miguel Gonzalez.
The PTJ found the murder weapon on the property of Gonzalez'
sister, and separate ballistic tests performed by the US
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the UK Scotland
Yard linked the fatal shot to the AK-47. Gonzalez fled to
Cuba, returning to Panama in 1994. His "surrender" to
Panamanian authorities was engineered by newly-elected
Panamanian President Ernesto Perez-Balladares. Gonzalez'
father, Gerardo, was a close confidant of Perez-Balladares as
well as a legislator and president of the PRD. The ensuing
trial was fraught with irregularities and probable jury
intimidation. Gonzalez was found not guilty in 1997. In
1999, Gonzalez succeeded his father as legislator from the
Veraguas 9-3 circuit.