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Cablegate: Panama Post: Edition Ii


DE RUEHZP #1052/01 1722055
O 212055Z JUN 07

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 001052



E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/20/2017


Classified By: POLCOUNS Brian R. Naranjo. Reasons: 1.4 (b) and (d).


1. (U) Welcome to edition II of the Panama Post! We hope
that our readership will enjoy the following items and that
they will enhance your understanding of Panama's political

-- Terrorist possible next National Assembly President;
-- Balbina Herrera may be Revolutionary Democratic Party
(PRD) nominee for president;
-- Catholic prelate calls for social justice; and
-- Paving the way to another PRD victory.

--------------------------------------------- ------
Terrorist Possible Next National Assembly President
--------------------------------------------- ------

2. (C) Pedro Miguel Gonzalez would be the next President of
the National Assembly, PRD National Executive Committee (CEN)
Member Samuel Buitrago said on June 20, confirming rumors
that the Panama Post has been hearing. Ineligible for a visa
for his terrorist activity, Gonzalez is wanted in the U.S.
for the 1992 murder of U.S. serviceman Zak Hernandez.
Buitrago acknowledged that the PRD CEN had discussed and
greenlight Gonzalez's candidacy. Asked by the Panama Post
how, of the forty plus PRD deputies, the PRD could settle on
a known terrorist as its next National Assembly President,
Buitrago answered, "We have our business; you have your

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3. (C) Comment: Rumors regarding the prospect that Gonzalez
would be the next President of the National Assembly have
been circulating and are now becoming more insistent. In our
on-going outreach to GOP officials and PRD leaders, post will
underscore that selection of Gonzalez for this post would be
seen in a very negative light, note that this development
would have a negative impact on our bilateral relationship,
and urge that a wiser choice be considered.

--------- -------------------------------------------
Balbina's Star Rising for PRD Presidential Nomination
--------- -------------------------------------------

4. (C) Current Minister of Housing Balbina Herrera would
likely win the PRD's presidential nomination, Buitrago told
the Panama Post on June 20. Buitrago said that current First
VP and FM Samuel Lewis was going nowhere in the PRD's own
internal polls, barely beating the polls' margin of error.
Lewis' reputation as the darling of the PRD elite was
eroding, Buitrago commented, as the party "elite and
oligarchy" (e.g., the powerful Motta clan) were accepting and
even championing in private Herrera. Presently, Herrera was
running about three percentage points behind current Panama
City Mayor Juan Carlos Navarro, Buitrago asserted. Herrera,
he argued, had wider appeal across the PRD spectrum and was
perceived as being a more of a team player, a critical
concern amongst the rank and file of Panama's largest party.
In contrast, Navarro was seen as selfish and likely to rely
upon and govern with only those PRD members who figured
prominently within his clique. Buitrago predicted a
three-way race in the PRD primaries for the presidential
nomination between Herrera, Navarro, and former President
Ernesto "El Toro" Perez Balladares that Herrera would handily

5. (C) Comment: The Panama Post has heard rumors for months
that Herrera was contemplating a presidential run. Herrera
herself has been decidedly coy and aloof, both in private
comments to the Panama Post and in public. Though Navarro
polls the best of all the PRD presidential pre-candidates,
there is a wide perception that he is reaching his limit and
will be held back by high negatives. Herrera is widely
admired for her adept political skills, especially at the
grass-roots level. While the writing may be on the wall that
Torrijos' preferred successor Lewis is not getting any
political traction, the Panama Post does not discount the
prospect that Torrijos -- in typical fashion -- will anguish
over whether to shift his backing to Herrera.

----------- -------------------------------
Archbishop: "No equality or social justice"
----------- -------------------------------

6. (U) "We need a development policy that achieves equality
and social justice," Panama's Archbishop Jose Dimas declared
during his June 17 homily before 15,000 faithful assembled at
Panama City's Roberto Duran sports complex for the
thirty-seventh annual Eucharistic Mass. In his unexpectedly
political comments, the prelate lauded Panama's exceptional
economic growth in recent years but -- in what has been
widely interpreted as a jab at the Torrijos Administration --
said that they had to lead to improvements in the quality of
life for all Panamanians. The Archbishop also, among other
things: (1) called for a law that favored the users of
public transportation; (2) urged GOP authorities not to rest
until justice was done regarding he diethylene glycol
poisoning case; and (3) rejected any increase in the price of
the basic food basket and fuel prices. Taken by surprise,
governing PRD representatives on hand for the mass --
including, Minister of Housing Balbina Herrera, Minister of
Public Works Benjamin Colamarco and National Assembly
President Elias Castillo, both of whom were seated in the
front row -- brushed aside the explicit criticism of the
government and said that these were promises that the PRD,
the government and the Panamanian people were committed to
fulfilling. Opposition politicians -- most notably former
President Guillermo Endara -- piled on to Dimas' comments to
more directly criticize the Torrijos Administration.

7. (SBU) Dimas uncharacteristically did not shy away from
hitting the GOP on three hot political topics. Siding with
public transportation users, Dimas' remarks were a slam PRD
deputies who, acting to protect the interests of public
transportation providers, have been stalling reform
legislation despite the enormous out-cry in the wake of a
horrific October 2006 bus fire. Perhaps sensing GOP
uneasiness with where the diethylene glycol poisoning case
would lead (some speculate that it might topple Minister of
Health Alleyne), Dimas added his voice to others calling
justice to be done. Finally, touching upon the rising cost
of living, Dimas addressed the most salient political issue
currently on voters minds. Responding to the opposition's
pile-on to Dimas' remarks, Presidential Communications
Secretary Erich Rodriguez Auerbach acknowledged on June 20

that the archbishop had "boxed the ears of all Panamanians."
Seeking to spread the blame, Rodriguez asserted that all
Panamanians, not just the PRD, needed to heed the prelate's

------ ------------------
Paving the Way to Victory
------ ------------------

8. (U) Former Noriega-era Dignity Battalion Commander and
current Minster of Public Works (MOP) Benjamin Colamarco is
in the midst of managing a road building boom in Panama City
timed to conclude three to five months before the May 2009
elections. In addition to extending the Southern Highway
(Corredor del Sur) around Panama City by building out into
Panama Bay, MOP is launching work on nine vehicle bridges and
numerous other road projects to alleviate pressure on Panama
City's congested and overburden roads. Opposition
politicians, however, assert that the Torrijos Administration
is using state coffers for its own political benefit.
Democratic Change (CD) Political Committee President Roberto
Henriquez, Movement of Liberal National Republicans
(MOLIRENA) President Gisela Chung, and Patriotic Union (UP)
co-President Anibal Galindo have rejected the PRD's use of
the roads projects for political proselytizing.

9. (SBU) Comment: The PRD has a long history of paving
Panama to win votes and support. Sitting on a significant
budget surplus, the Panama Post anticipates a mini-boom in
MOP projects -- in addition to canal expansion project being
carried out by the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) -- over the
next eighteen to twenty-four months leading up to the May
2009 elections.


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