Cablegate: Panama Foreign Minister Meets Ambassador Watt

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 002362



E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/15/2014

B. PANAMA 2289


1. (C) In a September 7 meeting with Foreign
Minister Samuel Lewis Navarro, Ambassador Watt
discussed the Secretary's recent visit to Panama
and President Torrijos' travel plans to the UN
General Assembly in New York. The Ambassador also
discussed ways Panama could contribute to the
corruption case of former Nicaraguan President
Aleman, proposed Uighur resettlement, Panama's
disrupted relations with Cuba and Venezuela,
student visas, a U.S. Desk at the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs (MFA), and Panama's opposition to
whaling. End Summary

Secretary Powell's Visit

2. (SBU) Accompanied by acting DCM, the
Ambassador congratulated Foreign Minister Lewis
September 7 on Secretary Powell's successful
September 1 visit to Panama and highlighted the
Secretary's positive reaction to President
Torrijos' inaugural address. She also shared the
Secretary's impression of Panama's potential for
achieving the goals -- pension reform, anti-
corruption, economic growth, and Canal expansion)
set out by President Torrijos. Lewis shared the
positive evaluation of the Secretary's visit and
expressed appreciation for his attendance.

Foreign Minister's Upcoming U.S. Travel

3. (SBU) Foreign Minister Lewis noted that
President Torrijos and he would travel to New York
for the U.N. General Assembly in September and
they are planning to attend a reception hosted by
President Bush. Lewis added that he will be
available for bilateral meetings in Washington if
necessary, as he also plans to attend the
swearing-in of Panama's new Permanent
Representative to the OAS. (NOTE: After the
meeting, the Torrijos administration announced the
appointment of former President Aristides Royo
(1978-82) to the OAS seat. END NOTE.)

Torrijos Visit to Washington

4. (SBU) Recognizing that the U.S. Presidential
election would present some complications, the
Foreign Minister highlighted President Torrijos'
interest in an early visit to Washington to meet
President Bush to discuss matters of mutual
interest, such as Canal Expansion, investment
opportunities, and political and security

Agrement Request

5. (SBU) Foreign Minister Lewis presented
Panama's formal request for Agrement for
Ambassador-designate Humbert, noting that this was
the first agrement request made by the Torrijos
government. Ambassador Watt promised to forward
the request to Washington and to process it as
quickly as possible. (see Reftel A.)

Nicaraguan Ex-President Aleman Corruption Case
--------------------------------------------- -

6. (C) The Ambassador followed up on A/S
Noriega's discussions during the Secretary's visit
and provided additional background material on the
corruption case pending in Panama against
Nicaraguan ex-President Aleman. The Ambassador
urged Panama to move forward with its case against
Aleman, noting that it would send a strong signal
of Panama's interest in fighting corruption.
Lewis said that President Torrijos had already
told him that he wanted to pursue the matter and
do "everything Panama could" in that regard. The
Ambassador and Foreign Minister agreed that on the
need to convince Attorney General Sossa to move
ahead. Foreign Minister Lewis added that the
Torrijos Government was following closely a
developing corruption case involving Costa Rica's
former President and another case involving Banco
Nacion, an Argentine-owned bank. With regard to
the latter, the Foreign Minister expressed his
concern about corruption allegations involving
Panama's judicial system, in particular the
Supreme Court.

Uighur Resettlement

7. (C) The Ambassador asked the Foreign Minister
for an update on Panama's thinking regarding
possible resettlement of Uighur detainees from
Guantanamo Bay, which she had discussed with him
previously. The Foreign Minister candidly replied
that it would be difficult for Panama to agree to
accept those individuals given the lingering
controversy over former President Moscoso's pardon
of the four Cubans accused of plotting to
assassinate Cuban President Castro. He said that
in his view accepting the Uighurs would not be
good for either Panama or the U.S. at this time.
He feared that resettlement of the Uighurs would
be seen as incompatible with the strong stand
against terrorism that had been expressed by the
Torrijos government in the wake of those pardons.
The Foreign Minister said he hoped the USG would
understand that position. (See Reftel B.)

Relations with Cuba and Venezuela

8. (C) The Foreign Minister noted that he would
make no more public comments about re-establishing
relations with Cuba in the wake of the pardons.
He added that the Torrijos administration had done
a good job of distancing itself and the USG from
Moscoso's decision to pardon the four individuals.
At the same time, relations with Venezuela were
back on track, and Panama was preparing an
agrement request for its Ambassador-designate to

Student Visas

9. (SBU) The Ambassador encouraged Lewis to
consider extending the validity of visas issued to
American students in Panama. Reciprocally, the
USG would be able to consider extending visa
validity for Panamanians studying in the U.S.
Lewis, a Georgetown University grad whose son
studies at Georgetown, said he had already begun
working on this and would follow up with concerned
GOP agencies. The Ambassador and Foreign Minister
agreed that it would be beneficial to increase the
number of U.S. students in Panama.

Central America Chief of Mission Meeting

10. (SBU) Lewis reiterated his and President
Torrijos' interest in meeting with participants in
the upcoming CentAm Chiefs of Mission meeting. He
offered full cooperation in ensuring the success
of the meeting.

U.S. Desk at MFA

11. (SBU) Lewis said he would establish a United
States Desk at the MFA, dedicated to responding to
routine Embassy requests (such as diplomatic
notes, extradition requests, etc.) The Ambassador
noted that she wanted to establish smooth working
relationships between the Embassy and the Ministry
but not overburden the Foreign Minister.

Whaling Issue

12. (SBU) Foreign Minister Lewis said that
Panama's opposition to whale hunting was "non-
negotiable." He cited it as an example of the
need for consistency in Panama's foreign and
domestic policy. Since Panama is trying to
encourage tourism in the Bay of Panama (a breeding
ground for whales) it would be inconsistent to
encourage/allow hunting.

Relations with the Dominican Republic

13. (SBU) Lewis said that the meetings between
Torrijos officials and the Dominican Republic
delegation at the September 1 inauguration had
gone very well. The Ambassador and Foreign
Minister agreed that the two new governments
shared similar challenges and also had much in
common that could be a basis for collaboration.


14. (SBU) Foreign Minister Lewis told the
Ambassador that Parlacen is ineffective and very
expensive but contained "all the vices" for
Panamanians, including immunity for former
officials. He said that other Central American
countries were also critical of Parlacen, with the
exception of El Salvador, which saw the body as
providing space for the political opposition.
While the Torrijos Administration would consider
proposals to reform Parlacen, Lewis thought major
changes during the next five years are unlikely.

Challenges of New Government

15. (SBU) The Foreign Minister said that the
Torrijos Administration is confronting the
challenges of governing and the need to maintain
fiscal discipline. He estimated that the Moscoso
government had added 50,000 government jobs in the
past five years. Within the Foreign Ministry
alone, he estimated 25% of the payroll was in
excess of requirements. He vowed to cut those
positions despite the political pressures to
provide as many jobs as possible to party

Priorities for U.S. Assistance

16. (C) In response to a question from the
Ambassador, Lewis predicted that Minister of
Government and Justice Hector Aleman would be a
good friend to the U.S. The Foreign Minister
encouraged the Embassy to work closely with Aleman
and supported an early Aleman visit to Washington.
He expressed interest in maximizing the
effectiveness of USG assistance programs targeted
at the Panamanian Public Forces and shared the
Ambassador's desire for complementarity between
U.S. and Panamanian resources devoted to security.


17. (SBU) With regard to the proposed
International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) for
Central America, the Foreign Minister said he
thought the best way forward would be for the
academy to fall under the umbrella of the Ciudad
del Saber (City of Knowledge). The Ambassador
said that the ILEA issue was currently on hold,
but promised to keep this in mind. The Ambassador
and Foreign Minister agreed that the Ciudad del
Saber could be more effective if it were better
focused and marketed.

18. (C) Comment: This was VP/Foreign Minister
Lewis' first bilateral courtesy call, taking place
prior to his formal greeting to the diplomatic
corps on September 10. Throughout the tour
d'horizon, Lewis emphasized the desire of
President Torrijos to foster a very close and
collaborative relationship with the United States.
Reflecting that commitment, Lewis joined the
Ambassador's 9/13 courtesy call to the Minister of
Government and Justice and met separately with
Embassy officers for a briefing on the nuts and
bolts of extradition requests, force protection,
and related issues. He intends to speak frankly
and asks the same of us. Lewis will capitalize on
his family's business and political connections in
Washington to promote Panama's interests. We
expect a more dynamic, well-run, and coherent
foreign ministry and foreign policy under his


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