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Cablegate: Das Fisk Tours Panama's Remote Darien Border Region

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PANAMA 002583

SIPDIS


SENSITIVE


DEPARTMENT ALSO FOR WHA/CEN
SOUTHCOM ALSO FOR POLAD


E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV SNAR PM POL CHIEF
SUBJECT: DAS FISK TOURS PANAMA'S REMOTE DARIEN BORDER REGION

SUMMARY
-------
1. (SBU) WHA DAS Dan Fisk and Ambassador Watt, with POL
Counselor and NAS Director, visited three locales in Panama's
rugged and remote Darien province October 6, including the
provincial capital, La Palma. They spent the day viewing
Panamanian National Police (PNP) border installations,
greeting Darien's newly named governor, inspecting USAID
projects, and meeting with local representatives. Newly
appointed PNP Director Gustavo Perez, who assumed office on
September 1, accompanied the Ambassador and DAS Fisk. The
trip provided Perez with his first opportunity to inspect PNP
bases at all three stops and talk with his officers in the
field. NAS Director briefed Perez on NAS assistance projects
in the Darien. The visit confirmed earlier impressions that
the PNP has enhanced its presence in the Darien in recent
years but it will need additional resources to firmly
establish government control in the province. End Summary.


Puerto Obaldia
--------------
2. (SBU) The Embassy's chartered plane touched down first in
Puerto Obaldia, a Caribbean coast settlement of 500
inhabitants about an hour by air from Panama City. The town
is very close to the border and is separated from Colombia by
a high ridge. DAS Fisk and the Ambassador accepted PNP
Director Perez's offer to fly them to the border about a mile
away at La Miel in his helicopter, which shadowed the
chartered plane's movements during the day. After inspecting
a gun emplacement on the shore, the party visited a PNP
barracks and command center. Also, two armed PNP go-fast
patrol boats were anchored in the harbor. The Department's
Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
(INL) has donated two other patrol boats to the PNP, one of
which was in La Palma when the group arrived.


Some Geography
--------------
3. (SBU) The northern Darien border region (on Panama's
Atlantic Coast) is extremely rugged, covered with thick
rainforest, and is the source of the north-to-south-flowing
rivers that crisscross the province. The province is dotted
with many abandoned dirt airstrips, some of them
WWII-vintage. Taken together, the difficult, practically
vacant terrain and shoreline (the province's population is
50,000), forest cover, airstrips, and meandering rivers make
it an ideal habitat for guerrillas, narcotraffickers, and
people smugglers.


La Palma
--------
4. (SBU) Next stop was La Palma, the provincial capital,
situated on the broad, scenic Tuira River estuary. Newly
named provincial governor Juana Lopez and the Alcalde (mayor)
came to greet the Ambassador and DAS Fisk at the airstrip.
The party moved to the municipal offices where a roomful of
local citizens were waiting. After the Ambassador gave an
impromptu speech, many of the citizens presented petitions
for local projects they wanted the Embassy to consider
funding. The Ambassador thanked the group for their
confidence in the United States but suggested that they bring
their needs to the attention of Panamanian government
representatives in the first instance. Ambassador and DAS
Fisk also toured PNP installations.


Sambu
-----
5. (SBU) In Sambu (also called Boca de Sabalo), the
Ambassador and DAS Fisk inspected USAID projects designed to
help local citizens (both indigenous Embera and
Afro-Panamanians) build community centers to host tourists.


Comment
-------
6. (SBU) Throughout the visit, 10-20 armed PNP personnel
provided security, whether by helicopter or patrol boat.
Their presence underscored the continuing reality that, in
many areas of the Darien, the PNP is the Panamanian
government's only presence.


MCMULLEN

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