Cablegate: Panamanian Reaction to 212 (F) Visa Revocation Of
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 002357
DEPARTMENT FOR WHA/CEN
SOUTHCOM ALSO FOR POLAD
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV PM POLITICS FOREIGN POLICY
SUBJECT: PANAMANIAN REACTION TO 212 (F) VISA REVOCATION OF
SUPREME COURT MAGISTRATE WINSTON SPADAFORA
REF: PANAMA 2351
1. (SBU) On the same day that Panama's National Assembly
Justice Affairs Committee dismissed a complaint filed by the
NGO Alliance for Justice against eight Supreme Court justices
for highly questionable rulings, on November 29, Embassy
Panama delivered formal notification to Winston Spadafora
that his U.S. visa had been revoked under section 212 (f) of
the Immigration and Nationality Act for corrupt acts.
Spadafora's son presented the visa for revocation on November
30. The Embassy made no announcement until the Public
Affairs and Political Sections received specific questions
from journalists and other contacts on November 30. The
first radio broadcast of the unconfirmed news occurred around
mid-day on November 30. Later that afternoon, an Embassy
spokesman presented the basic facts to several reporters
regarding the section of law under which the visa was
revoked. The next morning, December 1, all the major news
stations and newspapers covered the story. While President
Torrijos said he respected the USG's sovereign right to
revoke a visa, civil society and opposition parties peppered
the press with demands for Spadafora's resignation and
specific evidence of his corruption acts. Meanwhile,
Spadafora told the press that he is willing to face charges
if they are made public, pointed out that he had not been
formally accused of committing a crime, and stated his
intention to stay at his post "until the last day."
Revocation of Spadafora's visa underlines the Embassy's
commitment to the fight against public corruption in the face
of a reluctant administration. End Summary.
Spadafora's Reaction: Mea Ain't Culpa
2. (SBU) Winston Spadafora is the highest Panamanian
official to lose his U.S. visa due to corruption since the
revocation of former President Ernesto Perez Balladares's
visa five years ago. In the face of heated public calls for
his resignation, Spadafora has strenuously denied any
wrongdoing, telling the press that he has "never been accused
of corruption." Spadafora upheld the USG right to exercise
immigration policy, but demanded that the USG bring proof of
his corrupt acts before a court. (Note: Embassy has little
expectation that the GOP will use diplomatic channels to
request the information. End note.) He refused to resign
his position as Supreme Court magistrate. Spadafora vowed to
bring his case before the OAS and UN. Ironically, he is
suing two journalists for libel over a March 2001 story which
alleged corruption on his part in the construction of a road
past his ranch in Chorrera with public funds.
"The U.S. did what our own government wouldn't"
3. (SBU) Civil society's reaction to the revocation is
overwhelmingly positive. One day after news of the
revocation leaked, Panama's two major newspapers, Panama
America and La Prensa, ran front page stories about it,
relegating articles about President Torrijos's trip to Havana
to the inner pages. A La Prensa editorial supported the U.S.
decision and derided the "existing pact among local
politicians" which hinders the pursuit of corruption among
public officials. Echoing public frustration about the
government's disinclination to investigate and prosecute
corruption cases, the same editorial also called "painful"
the intervention by a foreign government into acts that
"should have been investigated and punished in Panama."
National Bar Association President Mercedes de Grimaldo
expressed sentiments similar to the editorial.
Smiling and Biting their Tongues
4. (SBU) In general, leaders of civil society and government
officials have made careful statements supporting the right
of the USG to issue or revoke one of its visas. Solidarity
Party legislator Marilyn Vallarino smiled broadly when
stating her support for the sovereign right of the USG to
revoke Spadafora's visa. Under Panama's criminal libel laws,
individuals cannot make a public accusation or imply that
they assume someone's guilt without evidence of its veracity.
For this reason, most individuals who have spoken publicly
about the revocation have qualified their statements as not
supporting an assumption of corruption.
5. (SBU) Anti-corruption Front spokesman Enrique Montenegro
called the revocation "good news." Panamanian Association of
Business Executives (APDEDE) President Enrique De Obarrio
said the revocation indicated a "perception of corruption in
the Court," while other officials mentioned the questionable
circumstances and public controversy surrounding Spadafora's
nomination to the Court. (Note: Spadafora's nomination is
linked to charges of bribery and public corruption within the
then-Moscoso administration and the National Assembly. End
note.) Democratic Change Party President Ricardo Martinelli
asked Torrijos to take "concrete actions and ask for the
resignation of all nine justices," while Solidarity Party
president Jose Raul Mulino asked Spadafora to resign.
Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) legislator Elizabeth de
Quiros was skeptical that proof of corruption existed but
added that it was not the part of another country to take
action on behalf of Panama. The Panamenista Party, the party
responsible for Spadafora's nomination to the Court, has been
notably silent. It is not the PRD, but the smaller
opposition parties leading the vocal charge against Spadafora
and Court corruption.
GOP Reaction: Damage Control
6. (SBU) On December 1, in an effort at damage control,
Justice Affairs Committee Chairman Freidi Torres called the
Embassy seeking a meeting with Ambassador Eaton to explain
the committee's decision to dismiss the complaint against the
justices. (See Reftel.) President Torrijos, who was elected
on a "zero corruption" platform, attempted to remove the
spotlight from a corrupt individual and signaled his lack of
interest in seeking a prosecution or a resignation. La
Prensa on December 2 noted Torrijos arguing that the problem
of corruption in Panama "goes far beyond individuals," is
pervasive and "requires the force of all to bring about a
transformation." Although it is unlikely that the revocation
of Spadafora's visa will spur the Torrijos administration
into action, the public overwhelmingly supports active
pursuit of public corruption.
7. (SBU) Torrijos's characterization of Panamanian society
as being pervasively corrupt probably indicates that he will
remain passive and indecisive as exemplified by his creation
of the Justice Commission, after Court magistrates hurled
mutual accusations of corruption at each other earlier this
year. One significant positive development of the visa
revocation has been the repeated requests for concrete
evidence by civil society and opposition parties who cannot
legally make statements that assume Spadafora's guilt.
Unfortunately, as noted above, the GOP is not likely to
request a look at the evidence through official channels.
Though the U.S. cannot otherwise release the confidential
information that justified the revocation, the action has
brought to the forefront a wave of keenly interested parties
who would use the revocation as a stepping stone for change.
Previously, evidence in high-profile cases of corruption
remained under the control of the Court and National Assembly
to do with as they saw fit. The revocation has provided
civil society with a near-smoking gun of Spadafora's corrupt
acts, placing the issue of unaddressed Court corruption
squarely in the public realm under the auspices of
international pressure to hold accountable corrupt public