Cablegate: Panama and Cuba: Nsc-Directed Review Regarding
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 PANAMA 002943
STATE ALSO FOR WHA/CEN AND WHA/CCA
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/12/2008
TAGS: PREL ETTC PGOV EFIN ETRD PM CU POL CHIEF
SUBJECT: PANAMA AND CUBA: NSC-DIRECTED REVIEW REGARDING
SUSPENSION OF TITLE III OF THE LIBERTAD ACT
REF: A. STATE 248337
B. PANAMA 2152
C. PANAMA 2176
D. PANAMA 1684
E. PANAMA 2524
Classified By: ACTING DCM JOHN DANILOWICZ FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D)
1. (SBU) Embassy Panama offers the following information and
analysis in response to Reftel A tasking.
CUBA AND PANAMANIAN POLITICS
2. (C) Six days before leaving office, late on the evening
of August 25, 2004, Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso
pardoned four anti-Castro Cubans who had been jailed since
November 2000 and convicted in April 2004 for conspiracy,
possession of explosives, and endangering public security
(Reftels B and C) in connection with an alleged plot to
assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro. Three of the four
pardoned prisoners are AmCits and traveled to Miami early on
the morning of August 26. The fourth, Luis Posada Carriles,
reportedly traveled to Honduras.
3. (SBU) The pardons caused an immediate rupture in
relations between Panama and Cuba. Newly inaugurated
President Martin Torrijos criticized the pardons in his
September 1 inaugural address and vowed to restore relations,
but Cuba was not willing to move quickly. Consular relations
were restored on November 19; the Cuban consulate re-opened
in Panama City on December 2, according to press reports.
4. (SBU) In recent days, local newspapers have raised doubts
about the legality of actions taken by former GOP officials
-- Minister of Government and Justice Escalona, Police Chief
Bares, and Immigration Chief Tapia, in particular -- who
allegedly ignored certain legal requirements governing the
travel of the four men and their exit from Panama.
5. (SBU) Under the Moscoso government, Panama maintained a
largely a neutral policy toward with the notable exception of
the August 25 pardons and with its 2003 decision to accept
Cuban citizen Ramon Aguilar Hernandez as a refugee after his
failed attempt to flee Cuba to the United States and his
subsequent detention by U.S. authorities in Guantanamo Bay
6. (SBU) Panama has routinely supported initiatives in
multilateral fora to promote human rights or to condemn
abuses worldwide. Individual GOP representatives have
expressed specific concerns about human rights abuses in
Cuba; however, in the recent past the GOP has not publicly
criticized Cuba for human rights abuses. Panama has
consistently joined its neighbors in the region by following
majority decisions on sensitive Cuba issues in multilateral
fora, like the 2003 annual UN resolution condemning the U.S.
embargo of Cuba. (See Reftel D.)
CUBA AND THE PANAMANIAN ECONOMY
7. (SBU) Merchandise trade with Cuba is not important for
Panama. In 2003, according to official figures, Panamanian
exports to Cuba amounted to less than one-tenth of one
percent of all Panamanian exports, while imports from Cuba
accounted for an even smaller percentage.
8. (C) Cuba's principal economic and financial connection
with Panama is its use of the Colon Free Zone (CFZ), where it
is a large customer. (See Reftel E.) Cuban government
businesses bought $208 million worth of merchandise in 2003
through the CFZ, where finance is relatively easy to arrange.
Overdue Cuban accounts receivable probably exceed the
official figure of $200 million. Panamanian businesses
holding these large debts believe they have an interest to
restrain local criticism of Cuban government policies, if
only to ensure continued interest payments and to stave off a
Cuban default. In fact, following the late August 2004 break
of diplomatic relations between the two countries, CFZ
merchants immediately protested, fearing Cuba might retaliate
by not paying its outstanding debts.
9. (SBU) Embassy has not been able to identify Panamanian
investments in Cuba.
10. (C) Cuba may be slow in paying its debts but, as the CFZ
represents a lifeline, fears of a default are exaggerated.
The chance of a default is low. USG action against Cuban
interests in the CFZ would affect a wide range of Panamanian
business interests and would create a major foreign relations
problem for the United States.