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Cablegate: Panama: Who Is President-Elect Martin Torrijos And

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 001015

SIPDIS


DEPT. FOR WHA/CEN/BRIGHAM, INR/B, AND OPS CENTER
NSC FOR TOM SHANNON


E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/02/2014
TAGS: PGOV PINR PREL PM POLITICS FOREIGN POLICY
SUBJECT: PANAMA: WHO IS PRESIDENT-ELECT MARTIN TORRIJOS AND
HOW WILL HE GOVERN?

REF: A. 03 PANAMA 3173
B. PANAMA 0145
C. PANAMA 0205
D. PANAMA 0802
E. PANAMA 1014


Classified By: DCM Christopher J. McMullen for Reasons 1.4 (b) & (d)


SUMMARY: MARTIN TORRIJOS WINS MAY 2 GENERAL ELECTIONS
--------------------------------------------- --------

1. (SBU) At 7:35 p.m. local time (8:35 p.m. Washington time),
Panama's Electoral Tribunal declared Martin Erasto Torrijos
Espino the winner of Panama's May 2, 2004 General Elections.
It appeared that voter participation would exceed 75%.
Torrijos' five-year term as President will commence September
1, 2004. Torrijos' Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD)
joined forces with its historical opponent, the Popular Party
(PP) to propel him to victory. Torrijos has surrounded
himself with young, primarily US-educated professionals like
himself and has changed the face of the PRD by marginalizing
"old guard" supporters of former President Ernesto Perez
Balladares (1994-99). Torrijos is a little-known quantity in
governing style, largely because his government experience is
minimal. Torrijos and those closest to him have shown strong
indications that they intend to work closely with U.S.
officials, especially on security, law enforcement, trade and
investment. Torrijos is married and has three children. His
wife, the former Vivian Fernandez Bello, whose parents were
born in Cuba, is a successful professional woman in public
relations. Like her husband, Mrs. Torrijos speaks English
well. End Summary.


PERSONAL BACKGROUND
-------------------

2. (SBU) The son of former Panamanian dictator Omar Torrijos
and Xenia Espino, a former Air Panama flight attendant who
was not Omar's wife, Martin Torrijos was born on July 18,
1963. Torrijos' maternal grandparents raised him during his
early years in the town of Chitre, 251 km. west of Panama
City in Herrera Province since his mother traveled often for
work. At approximately age 12, Torrijos moved to a Panama
City apartment with his mother. Torrijos has publicly
praised his mother and maternal grandparents for raising him.


3. (SBU) Omar Torrijos only recognized Martin Torrijos as
his son when he was in his teens, and sent him to St. John's
Military Academy in Wisconsin to attend high school with his
half-brother Omar Jr., under the "parental" supervision of
Colon-born business Cirilo McSween, who later "adopted"
Martin and Omar after their father's 1981 death in a plane
crash. Torrijos, who spent ages 15-29 (1978-1992) mostly in
the United States, earned bachelors degrees from Texas A&M in
political science (1986) and economics (1988). During
1989-91, before Ernesto Perez Balladares (EPB) called
Torrijos back to Panama to help reorganize the PRD in 1992,
Torrijos helped manage several McDonald's franchises owned by
McSween's Cirilo Incorporated, as well as insurance and
banking interests in the Chicago area.


4. (C) Torrijos is a quiet deliberator who has only recently
come out of his shell as a decisive leader. Many interpret
his reserve as a sign that he lacks substance and is easy
prey for manipulation. Torrijos, who considers himself a
"self-made man," is exceedingly self-conscious about giving
the appearance that others maintain or manipulate him.
Opponents' probes during the campaign regarding the source of
Torrijos' personal wealth angered him greatly because he
understood that they sought to "prove" the supposition that
he owes all of his wealth to proceeds of Panama's corrupt
21-year dictatorship. Torrijos' Campaign finance manager
Ubaldino Real, who met him at Texas A & M, noted that
Torrijos' reluctance or inability to describe his assets and
business interests tends to exacerbate rumors of ill-gotten
wealth by making it appear that he is trying to hide
something.


5. (C) Martin Torrijos married Vivian Fernandez Bello, whose
parents are Cuban, in 1990. They have three children,
Daniella, Martin Jr., and Nicolas. Vivian has a successful
public relations firm, but has stated that she will take time
off to support Martin's five-year presidency. Both Martin
and Vivian have a profound interest in programs to assist the
handicapped. Their ten-year-old daughter Daniella has
spastic cerebral palsy, but thanks to the best medical care
available, she has developed only slightly slower than other
children her age.

POLITICAL/GOVERNMENT EXPERIENCE
-------------------------------

6. (SBU) After officially registering with the PRD on May
14, 1993, Martin became PRD Youth Committee chairman in 1994.
When EPB became president in 1994, he named Martin as Vice
Minister of Government and Justice. Torrijos kept a low
profile as Vice Minister, which led his opponents to
criticize his apparent lack of governing experience,
particularly during the recent campaign. While
Vice-Minister during EPB's 1994-99 term Torrijos also served
on the Board of Directors of several government entities,
including the now-privatized Civil Aviation Authority and
state-owned telephone utility INTEL, and the Prison
Modernization Commission.


7. (SBU) After EPB lost a 1998 referendum to permit him to
run for another term, Martin competed against and defeated
current Panama City Mayor Juan Carlos Navarro and several
others for the PRD's 1999 presidential nomination. Viewing
Martin as the least threatening to his future prospects, EPB
grudgingly made way for Torrijos' 1999 run for president.
Rumors have circulated for over a year in Panama that EPB,
eyeing a 2009 comeback for himself, even surreptitiously
backed Torrijos opponent Guillermo Endara.


8. (SBU) Since his May 1999 loss to Mireya Moscoso,
Torrijos' sole purpose was winning the presidency in 2004.
When Torrijos (38% of vote) lost the 1999 election to Moscoso
(44% of vote), he dedicated himself full time to recruiting
new PRD Members and consolidating his control over the party.
Some of Torrijos' closest associates have estimated that up
to half of the PRD's 474,000 registered voters as of January
2004 joined the party to follow him. Regardless of the exact
figure, Torrijos has tremendous appeal with Panamanian youth
and has managed to break some of the anti-PRD stigma,
particularly with those who are too young to remember the
harder years of Panama's 1968-89 military dictatorship.


LIKELY POLICIES
---------------

9. (SBU) In addition to "yes we can," Torrijos' campaign
mantra was "more jobs, more security, zero corruption."
Torrijos has proposed creating jobs by "revitalizing"
export-capable economic sectors, such as agriculture and
manufacturing; increasing productivity and competitiveness
(through training, education, and investment in
infrastructure); prioritizing tourism, maritime services and
ports, transport, fisheries, communications, and financial
services such as "growth industries"; concluding a
Panama-U.S. free trade agreement; and rationalizing public
finances, reducing regulations, and completing the
Colon-Panama highway. First Vice President-elect Samuel
Lewis Navarro has asserted that a U.S.-Panama bilateral Free
Trade Agreement (FTA) is about investment, not trade. He
touted the FTA for its positive effects on procurement and
contracting as the main lever to get foreign financing for
Canal expansion, which will be the biggest infrastructure
project in the Hemisphere.


10. (C) Martin Torrijos made platform proposals on public
security (delinquency and criminal behavior) and national
security (protecting Panama's borders and Canal). Torrijos
said his platform will include six areas on which his
administration would focus to improve overall security: (1)
social and education programs, (2) Public Force (PPF)
structural reforms, (3) administration of justice efficiency,
(4) prison system improvements, (5) territorial and border
security and (6) civil society participation. Torrijos has
his pick of trained security professionals from the
now-defunct Panamanian Defense Forces who can help him
structure his plans, and he has reached out to the Embassy as
a potential partner in advancing some areas of mutual
interest.


11. (C) Torrijos will have to back up his pledge to reduce
corruption with concrete action, beginning with the selection
of individuals with solid reputations to serve in key
positions. The prior PRD administration under EPB was
notably corrupt and after five years out of power, PRD
stalwarts are hungry for power and its perquisites, observers
say. Torrijos' first cousin, Hugo Torrijos, until recently
Torrijos' campaign manager and finance chief, is heavily
implicated in a multi-million dollar scandal involving Ports
Engineering and Construction Company (PECC), but remains
close to him. Many observers think that Torrijos himself may
be implicated in the multi-million dollar CEMIS scandal
(although we have not seen any evidence yet to support those
allegations). Torrijos skillfully handled the PRD primaries,
but opponents have criticized him for promising government
jobs to primary losers to keep them in the party. Embassy is
looking forward to seeing how well Torrijos keeps his promise
to revitalize the government transparency law by eliminating
President Moscoso's restrictive implementing decree, which
effectively gutted the law.


KEY CHALLENGE: STRUGGLE WITHIN THE PRD
--------------------------------------

12. (C) An internal PRD struggle for positions and influence
in a new government may quickly become Torrijos' first major
challenge. Several sources close to Torrijos insist that he
held off showing his cards on key job assignments in a
Torrijos government, believing that his likely decisions
would anger Perez Balladares supporters and others of the old
guard. Although the Torrijos inner circle is comfortable
shutting out the old guard after election day, many have
insisted that Torrijos would owe political "debts" to them.


13. (C) The emergence of young leaders like Torrijos has not
purged the PRD of its "old guard" or followers of former
President Ernesto Perez Balladares (1994-99), but it has
rejuvenated party membership and offers much better examples
to follow. Like his closest friends, his running mates (See
Septel), and advisors, Torrijos is a US-educated modernist,
well-versed in doing business with Americans. In fact,
Torrijos has cast himself as "Panama's Tony Blair," a free
market liberal with strong social conscience. If "change
comes from the top" in Panama's top-down political structure,
his leadership could greatly improve US-Panama relations in
the long run by improving governance in Panama. But much
will depend on the durability of his resolve to change, and
how well he can keep the "old guard" at bay in the
post-election scramble for plum positions in the next
government.
WATT

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