Cablegate: Panama Post: Edition V


DE RUEHZP #1197/01 1942108
R 132108Z JUL 07

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 001197



E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/13/2017


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


1. (C) In this week's edition, the Panama Post takes a look
at the internal workings of the governing Revolutionary
Democratic Party (PRD) and the Patriotic Union (UP) party.
Also, the Panama Post reports that the Technical Judicial
Police (PTJ) reform effort is on hold and that its newly
appointed director has only a limited time to show progress
weeding corruption out of the PTJ's ranks and fighting major
crimes. Finally, one senior GOP official concedes that
Panama's RCTV statement was the price Panama paid to avoid a
Chavez visit. Also, the visit of Cuban National Assembly
President Ricardo Alarcon demonstrates that the Comfort visit
got under Cuba's skin. The following is a summary of our

-- Governing Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) National
Assembly Majority Leader handicaps the race for National
Assembly President;
-- Governing PRD National Assembly Majority Leader says PRD
"is a big mess;"
-- Former President Ernesto "El Toro" Perez Balladares may be
soliciting campaign donations by promising lucrative
construction contracts
-- Former VP Billy Ford discusses internal Patriotic Union
(UP) party dynamics;
-- Newly appointed interim Technical Judicial Police (PTJ)
Director Jose Ayu Prado has six months to clean house;
-- Presidential foreign policy advisor agrees Panama's RCTV
statement intended to keep Chavez away from the OASGA; and
-- Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon huddles
with Panamanian National Assembly President Elias Castillo to
discuss response to Comfort visit.

End summary.

--------------------------------------------- -----------
Nat'l Assembly Majority Ldr: Race for Assembly President
--------------------------------------------- -----------

2. (C) PRD National Assembly Majority Leader Leandro Avila
vented July 9 to the Panama Post about his frustrations with
President Martin Torrijos, both as PRD Secretary General and
President of Panama. "He is a dictator, the way he wants to
be. We cannot even blame the people around him; he is the
one making the decisions," Avila said, complaining about
Torrijos' ignoring the National Assembly. Avila said he
became even more upset because of Torrijos' effort to secure
a third term as National Assembly President for Elias
Castillo. "There are forty-two PRD deputies. Can't Torrijos
find another suitable National Assembly President? Why
Castillo again?" Avila then shared that PRD deputies, with
Castillo in the room, three times voted down a proposal to
change the National Assembly's internal by-laws to allow for
Castillo's re-election. Other candidates for National
Assembly President included: Hector Aleman, Pedro Miguel
Gonzalez, Raul Rodriguez, and Ruben de Leon. Avila asserted
that Aleman had been told by Torrijos to take a walk and said
de Leon was recovering from a kidney transplant and so was
not being seriously considered. Gonzalez had grown close to
Torrijos and had a better shot at the position than
Rodriguez, Avila assessed.

3. (C) Comment: Pedro Miguel Gonzalez is wanted in the U.S.
for the 1992 murder of U.S. serviceman Zak Hernandez and is
ineligible for a U.S. visa for terrorist activity. Current,
National Assembly President Elias Castillo has sought a
meeting with POLCOUNS to discuss his replacement, but was
busy with visits to Quito and Havana. Post has been putting
the word out on the street that Panama should think twice
about putting a terrorist at the head of the National
Assembly. Avila asserted that Gonzalez has been telling
deputies that, should he be elected National Assembly
President, he would be able "to smooth over his problems with
the U.S.," a false assertion post is working to shoot down.

--------------------------------------------- ------
PRD Nat'l Assembly Majority Ldr: PRD in "big mess"
--------------------------------------------- ------

4. (C) "The party is in a big mess, a big, big mess," PRD
National Assembly Majority Leader Leandro Avila told the
Panama Post July 9. "We are lucky that the opposition is so
disorganized and split that we will win in 2009, but who will
be our (presidential) candidate?" Panama City Mayor Juan
Carlos Navarro "is more fake than a three dollar bill," Avila
said. Minister of Housing "Balbina Herrera, however," Avila
said, "would be our best choice if (First VP and FM) Samuel
Lewis does not do better; I doubt he will. At least she is a
party person and is not ungrateful like Martin Torrijos."
Regarding recent reports of the PRD's impressive membership
drive, Avila said that the Electoral Tribunal (TE) would find
a large number of duplicate registrations. "I saw people
registering that had been registered with the PRD for years,"
Avila explained. Avila also confirmed rumors that the TE was
pressing the PRD to hold its internal elections in 2007.
"They have been talking about internal elections on Sunday,
December 16. December 16!?! For God's sake, who has
political party events in December?" Avila vented. Only
party zealots would participate. "That means there will be a
lot of buying of votes. A lot of money is going to go

5. (C) Comment: Normally, the PRD is a hermetically sealed
party. Highly disciplined, PRD loyalists are generally loath
to shed much light on the party's internal dynamics and
deliberations. The fact that it is becoming easier to find
PRD members willing to blab about the party is the best
indicator that there is a heightened degree of turmoil in the

--------------------------------------------- ----------
El Toro Solicits Campaign Funds With Contract Promises?
--------------------------------------------- ----------

6. (C) Former President Ernesto "El Toro" Perez Balladares
was soliciting campaign donations -- USD 2,500 per month --
by promising lucrative contracts to donors, a contact of
Sedrick Hodgens told the Panama Post. Ostensibly, Perez
Balladares wished to assemble a group of 10 to 20 businessmen
who would ensure a steady cash flow for the former
president's 2009 presidential campaign. Hodgens apparently
was actively trying to recruit the Panama Post's contact as a
contributor. Comment: The Panama Post can neither confirm
nor deny this report, but is not surprised that the campaign
money game has already started. Panama has neither any laws
regarding the amounts an individual or company can donate to
a campaign nor any reporting requirements for contributions
that are received.

Billy Ford Dishes Discusses Politics

7. (C) "I have been asked to consider running for president
of the Patriotic Union Party," former VP Guillermo "Billy"
Ford confirmed for POLCOUNS July 11, "but I do not want to
split the party." Ford asserted that current co-presidents
Anibal Galindo and Jose Raul Mulino had each separately
pitched Ford to run as president of the party, though both
had also wavered as to whether they themselves would run.
(Note: Galindo was president of the Liberal National Party
(PLN), and Mulino was president of Solidarity; both parties
united to form UP.) Ford said that recently, Galindo told him
that he was going to back out of the race and that he
believed Mulino would too. Mulino, however, told Ford that
he had decided to run. Ultimately, Ford said he did not want
to split the party between those members who used to belong
to Solidarity and those were National Liberals.

8. (C) Turning to candidates for President of Panama, Ford
reiterated that he had spoken with UP patriarch -- and uncle
to First VP and FM Samuel Lewis and father-in-law to
presidential aspirant Alberto Vallarino -- Samuel "Don Sammy"
Lewis Galindo regarding any effort to have UP align itself
with the PRD. "I will resign from the party if it aligns
itself with the PRD. I cannot go there," Ford said he told
Don Sammy. Ford said that Don Sammy, for his part, said he
would support his nephew should he win the PRD presidential
nomination, but would not seek to bring UP into alliance with
the PRD. If Lewis were the PRD's presidential candidate,
Ford said, Mulino would contemplate an alliance with the PRD
if it brought UP into government and Mulino into a vice
presidency. Conversely, if Vallarino were the Panamenista
Party presidential nominee, Ford said, UP would easily enter
into alliance with the Panamenistas. Former President Mireya
"Moscoso told me that wants to see Vallarino as the next
president of Panama," Ford told POLCOUNS. Acknowledging that
Moscoso was also reaching out to former President Guillermo
Endara and behind former Panamenista Party President Marco
Ameglio's drive for the presidency, Ford said he believed
Moscoso, who he characterized as a tough as nails politician
who wielded significant influence to shape the opposition,
was behind Vallarino. "End of the day though, all of this
means nothing. Endara is right when he says that parties do
not matter, candidates matter. We need to find a good
candidate," Ford said. "We also need to be unified, or we
will lose to the PRD." Regarding his own aspirations for
higher office, Ford added, "I told Endara that I do not want
to be his vice presidential running mate. I have done that
job; I am too old and tired for that. Taking the helm of the
Patriotic Union party would be enough for me."

9. (C) Comment: Ford clearly aspires to take the helm of UP
and believes that he can steer this party of some 120,000
members away from the PRD. Ford's strategy to lay back and
wait to be recruited is wise as Ford can rise to the top as
the party unifier. His interest in Vallarino being the
Panamenista presidential candidate serves Ford's interest as
it would clear the way for an easy UP-Panamenista union.
Interestingly, Ford had little to say about his former
running mate Endara, even when asked who the most eligible
presidential candidates were.

New PTJ Chief Has Six Months to Clean House

10. (SBU) Newly appointed Technical Judicial Police (PTJ)
Director Jose Ayu Prado told the Panama Post that he would
only have six months on the job and was unlikely to be
re-appointed by Attorney General Ana Matilda Gomez.
Regarding the future of the PTJ and whether it would
disbanded with most elements being absorbed into the
Panamanian National Police (PNP), Ayu Prado said that the PTJ
reform legislation was basically on "stand-by." The Attorney
General's Office and the Torrijos Administration had agreed
to a wait-and-see period until roughly mid-September during
which Ayu Prado would need to make progress on weeding out
corruption in the PTJ and make more progress on the
investigation of major crimes, particularly narcotics and
homicide cases. Ayu Prado said he traced the PTJ's internal
problems to weak integrity controls and poor management.

11. (SBU) Comment: The Panama Post agrees with Ayu Prado's
assessment that poor management and internal controls need to
be addressed. Post's NAS is already engaged to develop
strategies for supporting Ayu Prado in these endeavors.

--------------------------------------------- ------
Ritter: GOP's RCTV Statement Price to Avoid Chavez
--------------------------------------------- ------

12. (C) "Panama's statement that Chavez's decision to close
RCTV was a sovereign decision and that Panama would not
interfere in Venezuela's internal affairs was the price we
paid to ensure Chavez would not attend the OASGA,"
Presidential foreign policy advisor Jorge Ritter confessed to
POLCOUNS on July 12. Ritter said that Panama did not
negotiate this outcome with Venezuela. While Panama sent
emissaries to Caracas to pass the message that Panama did not
want a prospective visit by Chavez to the OASGA to rain on
Panama's parade, Ritter said that the decision to make the
statement -- which Ritter said he opposed -- was a unilateral
decision essentially to offer a sop to Venezuela. Ritter
said the Torrijos Administration was surprised at the level
of domestic backlash to this announcement.

13. (C) Comment: Ritter's explanation demonstrates the
lengths to which Panama, in its efforts to pursue "balanced,
friendly" relations with all countries that seek friendly
relations with it, will go to avoid a ruckus, especially when
it is hosting the big shindig.
--------------------------------------------- ---
Alarcon and Castillo Discuss Response to Comfort
--------------------------------------------- ---

14. (C) During Panamanian National Assembly's third and
final debate on the U.S.-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement
(TPA), Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon and
Panamanian National Assembly President Elias Castillo were
upstairs discussing ways to respond to the visit of the U.S.
Navy Hospital Ship COMFORT, Panamenista Deputy Francisco
"Pancho" Aleman told POLCOUNS on July 13. Aleman stated that
he was a member of the Cuba-Panama inter-parliamentary
exchange so that he could keep tabs on Cuban activities.
Castillo was accompanied by PRD Deputies Pedro Miguel
Gonzalez and Hector Aleman. Castillo and Alarcon discussed
how best to respond to the Comfort's visit including by
bringing more Cuban doctors to Panama, striving to do more
surgeries and treatments, and advancing a more aggressive
propaganda campaign. Aleman said he was stunned that Alarcon
was upstairs in the National Assembly building while
downstairs in the chamber deputies were preparing to approve
ratification of the U.S.-Panama TPA, the most significant
achievement in the bilateral relationship since the signing
thirty years ago of the Panama Canal treaties.

15. (C) Comment: Castillo, Gonzalez, and Aleman have a
known affinity for Cuban activities in Panama such as the
Operation Miracle (Operacion Milagro) eye surgery effort.
This huddle to discuss a response to the Comfort only serves
as another example to underscore the success of the Comfort's
C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 001197



E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/13/2017


Classified By: POLCOUNS Brian R. Naranjo. Reason: 1...

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