Cablegate: Panama: U.S. Southern Command General Craddock

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





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) In cordial, back-to-back April 4 meetings, U.S.
Southern Command General Bantz Craddock met President Martin
Torrijos and Canal Administrator (ACP) Alberto Aleman Zubieta
to underline close U.S. Panama cooperation on security
matters and to discuss the growing bilateral security agenda.
Topics included New Horizons, Canal security, High-Value
Transits (HVTs), Maritime Security, Canal expansion, drug
trafficking, gangs, annual Panamax exercises, and
international crime. Panama's new proposals for information
sharing and a "Strategic Alliance" with the United States
were mentioned but not elaborated. (See Septel.) End

New Horizons
2. (SBU) Accompanied by Vice President/Foreign Minister
Samuel Lewis, Minister of Government and Justice Hector
Aleman, and Consejo Chief Javier Martinez Acha President
Martin Torrijos told General Craddock on April 4 that Panama
has nothing but praise for the U.S. Defense Department's
annual New Horizons humanitarian operations (based in the
Azuero Peninsula for 2005) and suggested a venue near the
Caribbean coast for 2006. Torrijos repeated a suggestion
heard before that New Horizons build a road to connect
Panama's poor, isolated Caribbean coastal communities with
the remainder of the country. Siting New Horizons near the
Caribbean could help improve security for that largely
unpatrolled coast, Torrijos said. Gen. Craddock said his
staff hopes to reduce the current five-year planning horizon
to better support regional allies.

New Strategic Plan
3. (SBU) The GOP is "very eager" to present its strategic
plan to the U.S., which Torrijos claimed would make a major
contribution to the Global War on Terrorism, but he did not
offer specifics. (Note: MOGJ Aleman held in-depth
discussions in Washington with DOD and DHS on April 4, to be
reported Septel.) A "gateway" country, Panama depends on
secure maritime trade, travel, and communications to protect
its 2.5 million annual transit passengers, the
world's-largest commercial ship registry, and the five major
fiber optic cables that cross the Isthmus.

Drug Trafficking
4. (SBU) On drug trafficking Torrijos agreed with Gen.
Craddock that criminal organizations thrive in "ungoverned
space" and added that drug trafficking problems touch every
fiber of Panamanian society. The GOP has a broad spectrum of
counter-narcotics programs that include controlling the
movement of precursor chemicals and interdiction, Torrijos

5. (SBU) Gen. Craddock told Torrijos that he highly prized
Panama's support and cooperation for High Value Transits
(HVTs) of the Canal. Torrijos replied the United States
could "count on Panama." Commenting on the annual Panamax
Canal defense exercises, Gen. Craddock mentioned that Panamax
now includes some 12 different countries. Torrijos said
Panama would like to add Brazil to the Panamax list. A new
$5m program to improve regional maritime security -- Enduring
Friendship -- would provide communication links among
Caribbean and Central American nations, possibly beginning
with Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Bahamas, and Panama.
Enduring Friendship would enhance Panama's institutional
capabilities, Gen. Craddock said. (Note: Enduring Friendship
aims to strengthen regional governments' control of their
sovereign territory and provide for robust maritime
interdiction to better combat international crime and
terrorism. End note.)

Late April Gang Conference
6. (SBU) Torrijos told Gen. Craddock the Central American
presidents plan to invite him to a late April meeting to
focus dealing with vicious, well-organized gang members who
are deported under U.S. immigration law to their home
countries, where they overwhelm weak intelligence and
security systems.

ACP's Impressive Canal Operation
7. (SBU) In his meeting with ACP Administrator Aleman
Zubieta, Gen. Craddock praised the Canal's "extraordinary"
cooperation in facilitating HVTs and congratulated him for
his "impressive" overall Canal administration. Gen. Craddock
observed that the Panama Canal is a critical element in the
globalization of trade, which also explains why it is a
tempting and vulnerable target for terrorists trying to
attack Western interests. The USG is studying the maritime
security component of homeland security, Gen. Craddock said,
especially ports, shipping lanes, and key choke points, all
of which directly concerns Panama.

Canal Capacity Running Out
8. (SBU) Aleman commented that a looming capacity crunch is
driving the Canal's modernization and expansion plans. The
recent explosion in world shipping traffic is due to
globalization, the fall of communism, and the spread of free
market capitalism, especially China's entry into the world
economy via the WTO, Aleman explained, while the Canal and
other critical components of the global trading system are
racing to keep up. One reflection of the integrated global
system that now exists is the ACP's effort to sign MOUs with
many U.S. ports. Everyone is now part of the same system,
Aleman said; it's not a zero-sum game.

Canal Referendum Must Pass
9. (SBU) While the ACP faces no real engineering,
environmental, or financial problems in Canal expansion,
Aleman continued, the GOP needs to work harder to ensure
passage of a planned, constitutionally mandated 2005 or 2006
referendum. Aleman said he worries that many Panamanians
believe that they have no economic stake in the Canal's
future. A failure by Panama to modernize and expand the
Canal will have serious implications for world trade, Aleman
predicted. In that case, the Canal will become a "choke"
point for global seaborne commerce in the literal and
negative sense and will become relegated to a regional role.
South American countries have a huge economic stake in the
Canal's future, especially Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and
Chile. The InterAmerican Development Bank views Canal
expansion as the largest and most economically important
infrastructure project in Latin America, Aleman added.

Improving Canal Security
10. (SBU) The ACP is working hard to improve Canal security
(and of associated ports), Aleman said, but will need help
(read USG) to complete the job. Specifically, the ACP is
looking for outside assistance to train ACP personnel to
analyze critical shipping data. Panama lacks indigenous
capability for that type of analysis, he said.

11. (SBU) Cruise ships are among the Canal's most vulnerable
targets, Aleman continued, and he fears above all an "Achille
Lauro-style" terrorist hijacking that ends with blowing up a
cruise ship in Canal, possibly killing thousands of
passengers. Such a scenario would have catastrophic
implications for Panama's and the Canal's image and
operations. To prevent such an occurrence, the ACP wants to
share information with USG agencies to produce more reliable
intelligence on cruise ship passengers and crew, and also
needs better capabilities to analyze data.


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