Cablegate: San Miguelito and Panamaqs Growing Gang Problem


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1. (SBU) Gang activity in Panama is growing, but so too is the
GOPQs awareness of the problem as well as GOP and civil society
response to it. Gang activity is evident not only in the capital
itself, but also in small communities such as San Miguelito, also
part of the metropolitan area of Panama City. Pro-active groups,
however, are having a positive influence on at-risk teenagers around
the country. END SUMMARY.

Gangs in San Miguelito

2. (SBU) The San Miguelito Police Chief, Subcommissioner Christian
Hayer, said there were multiple gangs even in his district, during
his July 26th meeting with POL Intern (LEGATT NOTE: Most of the gang
activity takes place in the metropolitan area; San Miguelito is
outside of the municipality of Panama City, but still within the
metro area. END LEGATT NOTE). Hayer asserted that socio-economic
strife, broken homes with only one parent, and the lack of positive
role models contributed to Qthe social derailing of potentially
upstanding citizens.Q Gangs in San MiguelitoQs high-crime area
usually began with a score of members, according to Hayer, but then
usually divided into numerous smaller groupings in the wake of
inevitable disagreements among gang members. This proliferation of
groups was Qa double-edge sword,Q Hayer explained. One larger group
might allow the Panamanian National Police (PNP) to track gang
members closely, but such a larger group also created fertile ground
for growth of particular gangs, including internal structure and
hierarchy to some level. On the other hand, explained Hayer, small
factions made it hard to track gangs and their members. For
example, according to Hayer, former members of the QLos Sopranos
gang had recently formed the QCorazones NegrosQ gang. The
proliferation of smaller gangs, in turn, fostered internal gang
rivalries and greater hostility among gangs, thereby leading to a
more dangerous environment.

San Miguelito Gang Profile

3. (SBU) According to Hayer, the median age of gang members was
between twelve and seventeen. These minors quickly became involved
in committing armed robberies, homicides, and, in some cases, the
trafficking of drugs and firearms. Victims of gang violence in San
Miguelito were usually mini-market employees/owners, bus riders, and
average pedestrians, Hayer noted. While smaller gangs might feed
their drug habits with the proceeds gleaned from armed robbery,
larger gangs with established structure engaged in much broader and
more serious criminal activity. Hayer explained that ring leaders
of larger gangs owned nice homes in residential neighborhoods as
well as luxury cars. Hayer also confided that former police
officers were some of the identified ring leaders. Likewise,
prominent individuals, like Thonya Xiomara Hubbard (a/k/a Madame
Thonya), who was accused to having run a prostitution ring that
provided the services of minors, also lived in nearby residential
neighborhoods and enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle. Ring leaders, Hayer
clarified, were not likely to be found doing robberies or selling
drugs, but rather they only gave orders sending lower ranking gang
members to commit felonies. Ring leaders from larger gangs were
heavily involved with drug trafficking, usually involving ties to
Colombian nationals.

Confronting the Challenge

4. (SBU) Hayer has assigned two groups of officers to address the
gang issue, one assigned to collecting intelligence and the other
conducting raids and other operations against gangs. Hayer asserted
that his intelligence units had most gangs under surveillance.
There had not been any major crackdowns on gang activity in San
Miguelito, however, stemming in part from ignorance about QLaw 48,
a law approved in August 2004 that categorized and detailed
sentences for criminal gang activity and the sale and possession of
prohibited firearms. Hayer admitted that he had not seen the text
of Law 48 Quntil a couple of weeks earlier.Q Hayer hopes to begin
implementing Law 48 in San Miguelito within the next three months.
Whereas before, PNP could not detain identified gang members, Law 48
empowered the PNP to act against individuals who joined or
associated with three or more persons with the intent of committing
criminal activity. If convicted under this law, gang members could
be sentenced to one-three years imprisonment. Ring leaders or those
who support gang activity economically or logistically would face
three-five years imprisonment.

Tug-O-War Battle
5. (SBU) Hayer commented that PanamaQs judicial system was too
lenient on minors. Adolescents who committed serious crimes were
arrested and out on the streets a couple of days, if not hours,
later. PNP Director Rolando Mirones expressed his concern over the
current law in his July 28 comments to newspaper Panama America.
Concerned by the lack of action taken by judicial authorities in
implementing different aspects of the law, Mirones asserted that the
law sided with criminal adolescents and did not protect them from
themselves or protect society.

6. (SBU) Reflecting his frustration in dealing with the Juvenile
Court System, Hayer complained that a juvenile only needed to
complain about rough treatment or tight handcuffs to win a judgeQs
empathy and subsequent release. To be successful in addressing the
gang problem, Hayer called for a unified government approach and
cooperation among different government entities, including the PNP
and Juvenile Court System.


7. (SBU) Non-profit groups, as well as private businesses, however,
are working to prevent adolescents from falling into criminal
activities. QYouth Against CrimeQ (JCD), for example, modeled
itself after Youth Crime Watch of America and motivated young adults
to avoid falling into drugs, prostitution, and illicit activity.
JCD Vice President Giovanni Fletcher commented that JDC Chapters
were active in schools around Panama and held different activities
such as forums and sports matches as ways of keeping kids off the
streets. Although many great programs such as the one above were
active, Fletcher confessed that many organizations fell into
economic hardship and were unable to continue prevention programs
around the country. The USG granted JCD USD 40,000 both in 2005 and
2006 to fund one of its programs in the province of Colon.


8. (SBU) PanamaQs gang situation is nowhere near as serious as it is
in other Central American countries and should not be compared to
the chaos that maras cause elsewhere in Central America. Although
gangs in Panama try to emulate the prominent gangs of Central
America by tattooing themselves that identify them with their gang,
there is no sort of national network or hierarchy of the same level
found here. (LEGATT NOTE: Authorities are aware of the gang problem
and have control of it. END NOTE). Awareness of the problem early on
has prevented gang proliferation. The incorporation of proactive
measures learned from U.S. police anti-gang units has kept Panama
from progressing into the mara model found in other Central American
countries. However, greater intergovernmental cooperation is vital
if the GOP seeks to continue preventing an exacerbation of gang
activity in country. An awareness that Panama may need to reevaluate
its laws on minors is growing. END COMMENT.


© Scoop Media

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