Search

 

Cablegate: Panama's "Cosmetic" Cabinet Reshuffle.

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

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 PANAMA 001930

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPARTMENT FOR WHA/CEN/SCHIFFER AND INR/B
SOUTHCOM FOR POLAD

E.O. 12958:N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR PM POL SPECIALIST
SUBJECT: PANAMA'S "COSMETIC" CABINET RESHUFFLE.


Summary
-------

1. (SBU) The long-awaited GOP "re-organization," rumored
since last April, was finally announced by President
Torrijos on Saturday, September 3. Despite high
expectations for in-depth Cabinet changes, in the end, just
as GOP Embassy contacts predicted, changes were minimal,
leading many in the opposition to label them as "merely
cosmetic." (Note: a July 2005 Dichter and Neira poll showed
that 7 out of 10 Panamanians wanted Torrijos to make major
changes in his cabinet). Only two Cabinet members, four
Vice ministers and some national-level directors were
replaced. The most important changes affected the
Panamanian National Police, Customs and the Immigration
Directorate --all law enforcement agencies. The rest of the
changes were reshuffles within the government with the
arrival of newcomers who either have ties to the President
or to his Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD). Although
Torrijos could announce further changes, his "re-
organization" will not convince many Panamanians that
Panama's government now will move easily to solve what they
believe are the country's paramount problems: unemployment,
violent crime and, corruption. End summary.

Panamanian National Police (PNP)
--------------------------------
2. (SBU) Prior to making most of his appointments public,
on August 23, President Torrijos announced that Vice
Minister of Finance Rolando A. Mirones, Jr. would become the
new PNP Director General replacing Gustavo Perez. The GOP
held the change of command ceremony on September 5. Despite
numerous rumors about who would replace Perez, Mirones was a
surprise choice. Discipline ruled within the GOP's inner
circle, which successfully protected the identity of the
nominee. For over a month before his appointment, Mirones
had been attending security trainings below the radar of a
vigilant media. Mirones is a tax lawyer, whose only
previous public position before serving as Vice Minister of
Finance (2004-2005) was as Internal Revenue Director under
the Perez Balladares Administration (1994-1999). A Torrijos
insider told EmbOff that Mirones had been chosen "for being
a tough guy and a loyal one."

3. (SBU) During the 2004 presidential campaign, Mirones was
a constant TV guest personality defending the Torrijos
candidacy and the "new" PRD platform. A young but balding
lawyer, who the press nicknamed "Kojak," Mirones is
notorious for his bad temper, sarcasm and lack of patience.
During his year as Vice Minister of Finance, Mirones
submitted several formal complaints before the Public
Ministry on corruption cases committed by the previous
administration. Unfortunately, his rush to submit
complaints produced sloppy work. Improper legal formats led
to dismissal of several cases by the courts. Mirones' tough
stance on enforcing the Torrijos administration's February
2005 fiscal reforms gained him plenty of enemies among the
business and professional communities. Mirones' list of
achievements as Vice Minister of Finance for a year include
uncovering and transferring for prosecution over 100 illegal
vehicle exonerations; uncovering a network of corrupt
employees from the internal revenues directorate, and
identifying five relatively unknown law firms involved in
fraudulent requests for property tax exonerations. The
public has high expectations for new PNP Director General
Mirones as crime rate has increased and he is expected to do
something about it soon.

4. (SBU) During Mirones' change of command address, he said
that he would manage the PNP "rigorously, with discipline,
honor and transparency." It is still to be seen if, as PNP
Director General, Mirones does not favor his father-in-law's
well-known restaurant "Jimmy's steakhouse" in the PNP
biddings for procurement of meals. (Note: The PNP has
approximately 15,000 agents and its current food provider,
Niko's Caf, collects about $2 million every eight months.
End note.)

5. (SBU) Orcila Vega de Constable, formerly Director of the
Financial Analysis Unit (overseeing suspicious bank
transactions), was appointed Vice Minister of Finance to
replace new PNP Director General Mirones. Constable has
long ties with the PRD and was appointed with the influence
of First Lady Vivian de Torrijos, a close friend of hers.
Constable is a lawyer with a master's degree in maritime
law. Constable served as a public employee for over 20
years at the former Ministry of Treasury (now Ministry of
Finance).


Customs
-------
6. (SBU) New Customs Director Daniel Delgado Diamante
(nicknamed by the media "3D") arrives at the Customs
Directorate after his attempts to have a Vice Ministry of
Public Security created, which he would head, were
unsuccessful. Delgado is a former Panamanian Defense Forces
(PDF) Colonel, who got a law degree after the U.S. invasion
of Panama. Delgado is what some Panamanians refer to as
"recycled soldier," active in the governing PRD, who
successfully reinserted himself into society after his
military past. Delgado moves to Customs Director from the
Ministry of Foreign Relations (MFA), where he served as
Secretary General since September 2004, a position he held

SIPDIS
during the PRD Perez Balladares administration (1994-1999).
One of the PRD's security "experts", Delgado's widely
rumored "deepest desire" is to become PNP Director General.
Despite his recycling into civil society, Panama's PNP law
prohibits former soldiers to head the PNP. Many believe
Delgado's "military personality" is probably an asset for
managing Customs, an office with many internal procedural
and corruption problems. One of Delgado's first duties will
be to oversee the transference of the Customs Directorate
from the Ministry of Finance to the Ministry of Government
and Justice. Delgado has been an Embassy contact for many
years and has already expressed his intention to continue to
work with the Embassy in his new capacity.

7. (SBU) Delgado replaces Julio Kennion (Sept 2004-Sept
2005). In Kennion's case, Embassy contacts reported that he
was not working out within two months of his appointment in
September 2004. Kennion has been assigned a low-profile
position in the Presidential Palace.

National Security Advisor (Consejo)
-----------------------------------
8. (SBU) Torrijos' loyal follower, supporter, employee, and
political confidant Leonel Solis is the new Executive
Secretary at the Council for Public Security and National

SIPDIS
Defense, known as the Consejo. Solis is a hardcore PRD
member who has worked with Torrijos since Torrijos was Vice
Minister of Government and Justice under the Perez
Balladares administration (1994-1999). A straight talker,
Solis says what he thinks and is not afraid of defending his
point of view. Before being appointed at the Consejo, Solis
had served as Director of the Instituional Protection
Service (SPI), Panama's equivalent to the Secret Service,
whose offices are located at the Palace. From his position
as SPI Director, Solis was able to keep a low profile with
little public exposure, which allowed him to do private
political work for Torrijos.

9. (SBU) Solis was considered by many to be a "natural"
to replace Gustavo Perez at the PNP, yet Solis always told
EmbOffs that he was lobbying not to get the PNP Director
General's position for several reasons, the most important
one being his bad relationship with Minister of Government
and Justice Hector Aleman, who would have been his
immediate supervisor at the PNP. Once at the PNP, Solis
would have bypassed Aleman and reported directly to
President Torrijos. Aleman would have found that hard to
accept --probably a reason for Solis's appointment to the
Consejo.

10. (SBU) Although the Consejo's main offices are located
about 10-15 minutes away from the Palace, Solis has kept an
office near the Palace to keep himself close to the action.

11. (SBU) Solis replaces Javier Martinez Acha, Torrijos's
college roommate at Texas A&M and the godfather of
Torrijos's daughter. Martinez Acha reportedly had
escalating personal and professional disagreements both with
Torrijos and First Lady Vivian Torrijos. Torrijos
repeatedly proposed appointing Martinez Acha as General
Manager of the state-owned savings bank, Caja de Ahorros,
only to refuse final confirmation of the appointment due to
their constant frictions.

Immigration
-----------
12. (SBU) Ricardo Vargas' appointment as new Immigration
Director was another surprise. Vargas had been Panama's
Ombudsman's First Alternate since 2002. An active member of
the governing PRD, Vargas is a young lawyer who belongs to
the PRD's "new" face, but whose family has ties to
"hardcore". During his time as Ombudsman's First Alternate,
Vargas specialized in monitoring prison conditions and
reporting on the former government's human rights
violations. Ombudsman Juan A. Tejada and most of his staff
are Partido Popular members (former Christian Democrats),
and many times had disagreements with Vargas, who they
considered overly critical of the Moscoso administration.
Ombudsman Tejada was known for raising public awareness of
corruption under the Moscoso administration, but also was
willing to give her credit for her accomplishments.

13. (SBU) Vargas replaces Ramon Lima, who was forced to
leave the Immigration Directorate after media reported that
his law firm, specifically his lawyer daughter, was
conducting immigration business before his office as
Director General. Despite the obvious conflict of interest,
Lima clung to his position and insisted that there were no
wrongdoings. Finally, forced by a private message from
President Torrijos to leave, Lima stepped out.

Cabinet changes -- Education
----------------------------
14. (SBU) Ministry of Education Juan Bosco Bernal and
Minister of Social Development (MIDES) Leonor Calderon were
the only Cabinet members replaced. Bernal took the blame
for not being able "to control" striking teachers
associations during the CSS (social security) demonstrations
and strike in May and June 2005. Bernal will go back to
teaching at the University of Panama, though there are
rumors that he has been offered an ambassadorship. Bernal
was replaced by his former deputy, Miguel Angel Caizales, a
former head of Panama's Council of Rectors.

Social Development
------------------

15. (SBU) According to rumors, MIDES Minister Calderon had
long been frustrated by frictions with the First Lady's
Office over social issues and was apparently forced out by
the First Lady. MIDES follows children, women, family,
youth, disabilities and adoption issues, many of them
favorite topics of Mrs. Torrijos, who usually takes the
lead. As a MIDES office director recently told EmbOffs,
"the First Lady's Office should assist us, should support
us, because we are the ones who execute the plans not they.
Mrs. Torrijos does not want to understand that." As a
result of Calderon's departure, a Ministry Director and a
senior psychologist have threatened to depart. Calderon, a
loyal PRD activist with a good reputation within her party
and within local NGOs would not have willingly left her
position. Torrijos appointed her as Palace Coordinator for
International Cooperation, a position specifically created
for her.

16. (SBU) Calderon was replaced by Maria Roquebert, who will
took office on September 15, 2005. Roquebert was called
back from Germany were she was serving as Panama's
ambassador since March 2005. Before her appointment as
ambassador, Roquebert worked for Germany's Frederick Ebert
Foundation, where among others, she served as regional
director for Latin America. Roquebert is the sister-in-law
of Jorge Eduardo Ritter, a close advisor of President
Torrijos.

Comment
-------
17. (SBU) President Torrijos disappointed the Panamanian
public with his long-awaited Cabinet changes because they
turned out to be a mere reshuffle with no change in
government plans or strategies. Many Torrijos supporters
hoped he would make bold changes during the May-June Social
Security (CSS) reform crisis. They never materialized.
Internal critics have drawn attention to the GOP's feeble
public relations apparatus and have called for the
appointment of a professional public relations/
communications chief. Another evident issue is Torrijos's
apparent unwillingness to confront his ministers, even when
they are widely seen as ineffective or counter-productive.
Instead of confronting the people in his government who
impede his efforts, Torrijos prefers to reward them with
consolation prizes such as positions created within the
Presidential Palace. Many observers wished that Torrijos
had announced in-depth changes well before his September 1
address to the National Assembly, so that he could have
publicly addressed his new plans with his new
administration. That did not happen. Instead he waited
until September 3, a Saturday, during his visit to the tiny
town of Tole in the western province of Chiriqui to make the
formal announcements.

Arreaga

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
World Headlines

 

Climate Change: Record Northern Heat, Fuels Concerns Over US Wildfire Destruction

More than 78,000 acres of forest in the Sierra mountains in California has been lost due to wildfires. Photo: San Francisco Fire Department The northern hemisphere experienced its warmest August ever, the World Meteorological Organization ( WMO ... More>>

UN: Guterres Condemns Killing Of Journalists, Following Beheading Of Mexican Crime Reporter

© UNESCO | International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. Following the gruesome death of a Mexican journalist specializing in crime reporting, who was found beheaded on Wednesday, UN chief António Guterres has issued a statement condemning ... More>>

UN: WHO Warns Against Potential Ebola Spread In DR Congo And Beyond

Ebola is spreading in a western province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), raising fears that the disease could reach neighbouring Republic of Congo and even the capital, Kinshasa, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday. ... More>>

WWF: Living Planet Report Reveals Average Two-Thirds Decline In Wildlife Populations Since 1970

According to WWF’s Living Planet Report 2020 released today, global populations* of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish have suffered an average two-thirds decline in less than half a century. The decline is due in large part to the very ... More>>