Cablegate: Panama: The Campaign of Arnulfista Presidential
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 03 PANAMA 000924
DEPT. FOR WHA/CEN/BRIGHAM
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/16/2014
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR PM POLITICS FOREIGN POLICY
SUBJECT: PANAMA: THE CAMPAIGN OF ARNULFISTA PRESIDENTIAL
CANDIDATE JOSE MIGUEL ALEMAN. IMPLICATIONS FOR U.S.
REF: A. PANAMA 0802
B. PANAMA 0828
C. PANAMA 0875
Classified By: Ambassador Linda E. Watt for reasons 1.4 (b) & (d)
Summary: Behind and fighting the Anti-Moscoso Vote
1. (C) Arnulfista Presidential Candidate Jose Miguel Aleman,
a distant third in most public opinion polls, seeks to emerge
from President Moscoso's shadow to place first in Panama's
May 2 elections. Neutralizing Aleman's greatest logistical
asset, the three-party coalition that backs him and its
political machine, President Moscoso has become his greatest
liability. While Aleman's opponents blame the Moscoso
Administration for Panama's every woe and promise to remedy
all, Aleman has to tiptoe around Moscoso's policies,
particularly those that he helped implement as her Foreign
Minister (September 1999 - January 2003). Post-election,
Aleman must also break Moscoso's grasp on the Arnulfista
Party, over which she currently presides with an iron grip.
Many political insiders believe that the party's strong
grass-roots structure will propel Aleman past current number
two, former President Guillermo Endara, but few deny that
Endara and Aleman will compete for the same voters, who
dislike Martin Torrijos and his Democratic Revolutionary
Party (PRD). In the unlikely case that Aleman is elected,
the USG can expect continued close law enforcement
collaboration from the GOP, the same direction on trade and
foreign policy as Moscoso, and a focus on Panama's
maritime/transportation infrastructure. END SUMMARY.
Who is Jose Miguel Aleman?
2. (SBU) Arnulfista Party presidential candidate Jose Miguel
Aleman is a successful lawyer with extensive exposure to the
U.S. and a track record of activism in the Arnulfista Party.
Jose Miguel is the son of Roberto "Chato" Aleman, a veteran
political activist for the now-defunct Liberal Party. His
mother renounced her U.S. citizenship during the negotiation
of the Torrijos-Carter treaty. Aleman's first public sector
appointment was as Vice-Minister of Government and Justice
under President Guillermo Endara (1989-94), now his campaign
opponent. During the Endara Administration, Aleman
represented Panama in negotiating a Mutual Legal Assistance
Treaty (MLAT) with the United States. More recently, Aleman
served as President Moscoso's Foreign Minister from September
1999 to January 2003. Born on May 8, 1956, Jose Miguel
Aleman obtained a 1978 B.A. from Ripon College in Wisconsin
and a 1981 J.D. from Tulane University. Married to the
former Victoria Eugenia Dutari, Aleman has two sons. In
addition to his native Spanish, he speaks English fluently.
3. (C) Aleman is a true politician, ready to squeeze
political mileage out of non-issues. Many critics claim that
Jose Miguel began campaigning for the Arnulfista Party's
nomination for President from the time he entered the Foreign
Ministry. Aleman himself sheepishly admitted to DCM that he
was planning his campaign well before leaving the Foreign
Ministry. That tendency made dealing with Jose Miguel as
Foreign Minister occasionally problematic for Embassy Panama
when he turned tired issues like unexploded ordnance (UXO) on
former U.S. military facilities or weapons testing on San
Jose Island (SJI) into political footballs to win over
Panama's electorate on perceived hot-button issues.
Who supports Jose Miguel?
4. (SBU) Estimating support for Jose Miguel Aleman is tough,
because public opinion polls are unreliable (Reftel B) and
Arnulfista and MOLIRENA loyalists are split between Endara
and Aleman. Jose Miguel Aleman is running as the candidate
of a three party coalition representing the Arnulfista Party
(PA - 194,207 members), the National Liberal Republican
Movement Party (MOLIRENA - 108,663 members) and the Liberal
National Party (PLN - 51,369 members). With a maximum
backing of 354,239 registered party members, Jose Miguel
needs votes from independents and dissidents from the parties
that oppose his candidacy to become Panama's next President.
Aleman will have difficulty tying down Arnulfista and
MOLIRENA votes because his opponent, Guillermo Endara, is a
founding member of the Arnulfista Party whose running mate,
Guillermo Ford, helped found the MOLIRENA Party.
5. (SBU) In addition to his six siblings (one sister and
five brothers) and Arnulfista stalwarts from the Moscoso
cabinet, Aleman receives strong support from others, like
Carlos Raul Piad and Maria Alejandra Eisenmann. Piad,
Aleman's Campaign Manager is a dedicated Arnulfista loyalist
who is currently the Party's Secretary General and served as
the General Manager of the state-owned savings bank (Caja de
Ahorros) from September 1999 until late 2003. Eisenmann, a
successful attorney and social activist, was Secretary
General of the Aleman Foreign Ministry. Eisenmann eventually
resigned from her MFA position, alleging that there was too
much corruption in the Moscoso Administration. She helped
Jose Miguel focus the areas of his platform that address
women and children.
What obstacles does Aleman face?
6. (C) Aleman's number one liability is President Mireya
Moscoso. Moscoso angered Aleman's opponents for the
Arnulfista presidential nomination by publicly declaring her
support for Aleman well before the party's June 2003
convention. Two other substantial negatives for Jose Miguel
are Moscoso's open campaigning on his behalf and that of
other Arnulfistas, which many contend violates a
constitutional prohibition, and the perception that her
administration is both inept and corrupt. As noted in Reftel
C, the Endara camp is banking on votes from Anti-PRD voters
who want a candidate who has broken ties with President
Moscoso and the Arnulfista Party under her leadership.
7. (C) Aleman's number-two liability is the psychological
weight of public opinion polls that consistently show a wide
gap between him and frontrunner Martin Torrijos. For
instance, an April 6 La Prensa poll showed PRD candidate
Torrijos at 48%, Solidarity candidate Endara at 29%, and
Aleman at 16%, with Ricardo Martinelli trailing even further
behind at 7%. Earlier editions from the same series of polls
won Jose Miguel the dubious honor of being the most disliked
candidate from November 2003 through February 2004 (the last
month that question was included).
8. (SBU) Finally, critics question whether Aleman will have
the political will to follow through with his promises to be
more transparent than President Moscoso. Jose Miguel is the
only candidate who has presented a sworn declaration of
assets for public scrutiny, but most believe he did it only
to highlight questions about the source(s) of Martin
Torrijos' wealth. If elected, Aleman has promised to
immediately eliminate President Moscoso's regulating decree
that crippled Panama's Transparency Law, but critics note
Aleman was on the cabinet that approved that decree. In an
April 16 RPC News interview, Aleman also promised to publish
on the internet copies of all checks drawn on public funds,
but Moscoso too promised to subject all expenditures to
public scrutiny during her campaign, but has refused to do
so. Ironically, despite Aleman's pro-transparency stance, it
was not until well after he left the Foreign Ministry that
his old office's internet portal began providing even basic
information on Panama's diplomatic activities.
What would an Aleman presidency mean for the USG?
9. (C) The USG could expect continued excellent law
enforcement and security cooperation with the GOP under an
Aleman administration despite the fact that Aleman took
several politically driven stances as Foreign Minister that
created headaches for this Embassy. For instance, to earn
political mileage, he revived the dead issues of Unexploded
Ordnance (UXO) and San Jose Island (SJI). Despite this
populist pandering, Aleman and the Arnulfistas are not
anti-American nationalists like some of the PRD old guard.
The Arnulfistas tend to view security cooperation
pragmatically as a way to build goodwill with the United
States while obtaining logistical and/or financial support.
10. (C) Jose Miguel Aleman's populist rhetoric is second
only to Endara's. For instance, Aleman proudly takes credit
for Panama maintaining WTO-maximum tariff levels on selected
agricultural products. Nevertheless, the Aleman campaign
team still views trade liberalization and an FTA with the
U.S. as major pluses. Taking advantage of the mistaken
perception among Panamanian voters that privatization
inherently brings with it greater cost and poorer service,
Aleman opposes privatizations of any type because they would
violate (paternalistic) Arnulfista doctrines. Aleman has
also vowed not to privatize Panama's water utility or Social
11. (C) Current Panama Canal Authority (ACP) Administrator
Alberto Aleman Zubieta is Jose Miguel's cousin and there is
no indication that Jose Miguel would seek to replace him.
Jose Miguel Aleman also has a comprehensive plan for
infrastructure development. He wants to expand Panama's
Atlantic and Pacific Canal-area Ports and those near its
western border with Costa Rica, as well as upgrade the roads
between them, particularly the Panama-Colon highway.
Comment: Behind the skirt?
12. (C) Like Panamanians, including Martin Torrijos, who
accused Aleman of "hiding behind President Moscoso's skirt,"
Emboffs are curious whether as president Jose Miguel Aleman
would be able to sufficiently distance himself from President
Moscoso to run a clean and transparent government. He has
made attractive promises to create jobs, improve education,
reduce utility costs, and increase government transparency,
but so did President Moscoso in her 1999 campaign. Her
tolerance for graft and her administration's meddling in
legislative, judicial, and environmental matters show
Moscoso's disregard for fundamental principles of
transparency, separation of powers, and due process.
13. (C) A growing movement within the Arnulfista Party led
by banker Alberto Vallarino and Legislator Jose Blandon
Figueroa, among others, seeks to remove Moscoso and those
close to her from party leadership. Vallarino left the
Arnulfista Party in 1999 and obtained an unprecedented 17% of
the nationwide vote as a third-party candidate. Many
Panamanians looked for Vallarino to run again in 2004, but he
dropped out of the race in January 2003, creating the vacuum
that Endara filled. Vallarino decided not to seek the
Arnulfista Party nomination after Moscoso announced her
decision to hold a nominating convention instead of
primaries. Vallarino knew he stood a good chance of winning
a nationwide secret vote among all registered party members,
but Moscoso could easily twist arms among Party delegates
before a nominating convention.
14. (C) The Alberto Vallarino/Mireya Moscoso rivalry within
the Arnulfista Party has been divisive. In 1998, Aleman
supported Vallarino's failed bid for the Arnulfista's 1999
presidential nomination, but quickly backed Moscoso when she
came out on top. Perhaps with Moscoso no longer running the
government and people like Vallarino and Blandon to back him
up, Aleman might be able to convince her to run the party in
a more transparent and democratic manner. However, the
likelihood of Moscoso changing her "caudilla" top-down style
is remote, even if (as expected) Aleman loses the election on
May 2. Many observers believe that Moscoso is more willing
to concede such a defeat than loosen the tight reins she
holds over the Arnulfista Party leadership.