Cablegate: Panama's Former President Guillermo Endara Drives

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 04 PANAMA 000875



E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/13/2014

B. PANAMA 0802

5 (B) AND (D).


1. (SBU) His campaign may lack money and glitz and his poll
numbers are stubbornly stuck in second place behind Martin
Torrijos but former president Guillermo Endara (1989-1994) is
confident his single-message campaign -- that he is Panama's
only hope for honest government -- will catapult him to the
presidency once more. But many observers say that Endara had
his chance already, and the time for Endara and his aging
associates has past. The most frankly protectionist of the
four presidential candidates, Endara claims he wants a Free
Trade Agreement that is good for the United States and for
Panama. Endara plans to cooperate closely with U.S. agencies
on security and law enforcement. He has said, if elected, he
plans to put "big wheels" behind bars for corruption, and has
mentioned President Mireya Moscoso by name. The vehicle that
67-year-old Endara has chosen for his presumably last foray
into presidential politics, is Samuel Lewis Galindo's
Solidarity Party, founded in 1993 as an anti-old-guard PRD
offshoot, "PRD lite" as it is known in some circles. The
wily Lewis Galindo, who is 76, may be Panama's only
politician who stands to lose nothing on May 2. With Endara
as its candidate (the latest poll gives him 29% of the vote),
the party will easily pass the 4% bar it needs to survive and
to secure a hefty electoral subsidy. If Endara wins,
Solidarity will become the ruling party (though without a
majority in the legislature). If he loses, as seems
increasingly likely, the probable winner will be Martin
Torrijos, whose vice presidential running mate, former
Solidarity leader Samuel Lewis Navarro, is Galindo's nephew.

2. (C) From our perspective, the biggest potential drawback
to an Endara government would be the lack of young
technocrats needed to implement the policies that Panama
needs to pursue. Endara's principal policy advisors are well
past their prime and many observers believe that a second
Endara government would be even more lackluster than the
first one (which missed many opportunities to change Panama's
politics-as-usual). End Summary.

How To Stop the PRD?

3. (SBU) Posing as the campaign's subversive in a field of
four candidates, Endara is betting that a majority of voters
will wake up on polling day (May 2) and ask themselves --
"How can I stop the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) and
Martin Torrijos?" -- and conclude Endara is their best hope,
Endara's campaign manager and four-decade law partner Menalco
Solis said. In a recent meeting with POL Counselor, Solis
claimed that Endara is only 7-8 percentage points behind PRD
front-runner Martin Torrijos, about half what the polls
indicate. Solis explained that an Endara victory on May 2
will hinge on what he called a "historical tendency" for the
Torrijos campaign to collapse as election day nears, as he
loses many voters who at the last minute cannot bring
themselves to vote PRD. Thousands of state workers will vote
for Endara because they see him, not Arnulfista
standard-bearer Jose Miguel Aleman, as their best bet to hold
onto their jobs, which would be lost if the PRD wins, Solis

"Incredible Enthusiasm"

4. (SBU) The polls may show Torrijos has nearly 50% of the
vote, Solis said, but he argued that it just doesn't "feel"
like one out of two Panamanians are really planning to vote
for Martin. On the contrary, the enthusiasm for Endara on
the campaign trail has been "unbelievable," he said. Solis
described how a crowd in Los Santos had waited in the sun
over six hours for Endara to arrive. People told Solis that
the warmth of the crowds compares only to how Panamanians
once greeted president Arnulfo Arias, the deceased husband of
President Mireya Moscoso, Solis said.

5. (SBU) "Mark my words," Solis said, "when people see that
they have a choice between Endara and the PRD, they'll vote
against the PRD." This is Endara's fifth electoral campaign,
Solis said, and he's never been more optimistic about his
chances on May 2 than this month. Solis claimed Endara (who
was president during 1989-1994) will carry the provinces of
Panama, Colon, Chiriqui, Los Santos, Herrera, but not Cocle,
Darien, or Comarca Kuna Yala, with Comarca Ngobe Bugle a toss
up, and that Solidarity would elect 13-to-19 legislators.
(Comment: Our own estimates differ sharply. With the
smallest electoral base of the three leading campaigns
(73,000 registered members), we think Solidarity will be
lucky to win six legislative seats, up from four presently.
End Comment.)

Endara: No Promises

6. (SBU) Endara refuses to make a lot of specific promises
in the campaign, Solis continued (besides running an honest
government, locking up corrupt bigwigs, and helping
Panamanian farmers), because he does not have to. His
credibility and his honesty are his main assets. Endara also
has not asked big companies or wealthy individuals for
contributions because he does not want to give the impression
that he owes political favors to anyone. Lack of money is
not impeding Solidarity's plans to get its supporters to the
polls, Solis claimed, somewhat improbably.

Likely Appointees

7. (SBU) Endara has announced some names of people he plans
to appoint to high office, such as first vice presidential
running mate (former vice president, ambassador to the U.S.)
Guillermo "Billy" Ford to head a reconstituted Planning
Ministry; second vice presidential running mate (former
agriculture minister) Alejandro Posse to head the agriculture
ministry; (former Foreign Minister) Jose Raul Mulino to
Foreign Minister; and Mercedes Arauz de Grimaldo to Attorney
General. Endara has identified a candidate to head the
Panama National Police (PNP), whom Solis refused to name, and
expects to send him to the United States for training
immediately following the election.

"We'll Put Big Wheels In Jail"

8. (SBU) As president, Endara will focus on fiscal rectitude
and give his attorney general free rein to prosecute Panama's
most egregiously corrupt politicians. Endara has said
publicly that he will not interfere with the attorney
general's work but has named Mireya Moscoso, who will step
down as president September 1, as one of the "big wheels" he
aims to see behind bars. He has said that he will end
Parlacen (Central American Parliament) immunity for
Panamanians. (Note: Former president Ernesto Perez
Balladares availed himself of Parlacen immunity and current
president Mireya Moscoso has plans to do the same.)

9. (SBU) Endara also says he will sponsor a complete rewrite
of the constitution. When he was president, Endara tried to
rewrite the constitution, which dates from the military
dictatorship, through a badly drafted 1992 referendum, which
failed with voters.

New Party?

10. (SBU) If elected, Endara probably will form a new
political party, Solis said. Endara believes that the
Arnulfista Party, which he helped found, has outlived its
usefulness and has become "a bad word" for the people due to

Frankly Protectionist

11. (SBU) Solis acknowledged Endara's frankly protectionist
bias, especially on agriculture. "We are more protectionist
than the other parties," he said. Endara believes that
Panamanian farmers must remain capable of producing staples
(rice, beans, meat, etc.) to feed the population. He also
decried U.S. agricultural subsidies, claiming that opening
Panama's market to subsidized U.S. products would drive
farmers out of business. (Note: In part due to pressure from
this Embassy, President Moscoso removed Alejandro Posse from
his position as Agriculture Minister in 2000 because of his
insistence that Panama maintain high tariffs across the board
on agricultural products.)

Comment: Hand Holding Needed

12. (C) Times have changed since the early 1990s, when
Endara used to meet former Ambassador Deane Hinton weekly for
breakfast, but Endara still may be counting on a certain
amount of hand-holding. Endara wants to cooperate closely
with the United States on security and law enforcement
matters but his campaign clearly has not thought out its
security posture as thoroughly as the PRD has; more worrisome
is that he seems to lack qualified advisors to fill key
positions. Endara's unnamed nominee to head the PNP
apparently is someone without any security background at all.
Solis will likely become Endara's national security advisor,
a post he held under Endara's presidency. He apparently
intends to rely heavily on "civilian" USG advice on security
matters. (Note: These remarks reflect the general neuralgia
in Endara's camp regarding anything that smacks of
"military," a legacy of the Torrijos/Noriega dictatorship.
End Note.)

"Voting Their Conscience"

13. (C) Endara's electoral success, if it materializes as
Solis suggests, will have to come from thousands of
Panamanians who, at the eleventh hour, decide to "vote their
conscience" in the polling booths to stop the PRD, although
we have seen no evidence to suggest he is right, or that it
would apply to younger voters as well. Among Panama's nearly
2 million registered voters, over 300,000 are voting for the
first time. Without a track record, they are a potential
wild card in these elections, especially for Endara's
prospects. In fact, as Torrijos firms his grip on
front-runner status with just weeks to go, we are unclear
whether Endara actually will finish second (despite the
polls), or whether he will finish third to Aleman. Aleman,
whom the polls have shown languishing in single digits until
recently, can draw on a much stronger alliance and electoral
machinery than Endara.

The Panamanian Labyrinth

14. (C) Despite Endara's antipathy to the PRD, not even his
campaign is without "baggage" from the dictatorship period.
In Panama, politicians who served governments under the
dictatorships prior to 1990 are not confined to the PRD.
Solis himself is a case in point, having served briefly as
Manuel Noriega's Minister of Finance (1984-85). More
importantly, he is widely thought to have been the brains
behind the 1984 electoral fraud that secured Nicolas
Barletta's "victory" over the grand old man of Panamanian
politics, Arnulfo Arias, namesake of the Arnulfista party.
(Thus the uproar fifteen years ago when Endara named Solis as
his National Security Advisor during his Presidency.)

Bio Note

15. (SBU) Born in Panama in 1936, Guillermo Endara Galimany
was a long-time associate and confidant of three-time
president Arnulfo Arias Madrid, to whom Mireya Moscoso was
married until his death in 1988. He served briefly as
Minister of Planning under Arias in 1968 until a military
coup terminated the administration. Endara later founded the
Arnulfista Party, from which Moscoso expelled him in 2003
after he announced his candidacy for president on the
Solidarity ticket. In 1989 Endara was elected president in
an election that dictator Manuel Noriega annulled. Operation
Just Cause restored his presidency and removed Noriega in
December 1989. Endara is recognized for consolidating an
economy sacked by years of military rule in less time than
expected but the coalition supporting him was weak and slowly
disintegrated. To his credit, Endara held power during
unstable times. He survived several attacks on his life and
at least one foiled coup d'etat attempt by former Panamanian
Defense Force loyalists. His administration is remembered
for good economic times, honest but not always adept
administration, and fractious politics.


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