Cablegate: Panama Post Vii


DE RUEHZP #1309/01 2151721
R 031721Z AUG 07

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 001309



E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/03/2017


Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Luis Arreaga. Reasons:
1.4 (b) and (d).


1. (C) In its latest edition, the Panama Post covers the
following stories:

-- Pedro Miguel Gonzalez, wanted in the U.S. for the 1991
murder of U.S. serviceman Zak Hernandez, riding high in his
campaign to be President of Panama's National Assembly;
-- Jose Miguel Aleman to be Endara's vice presidential
running mate according to Solis, but Endara silent;
-- Cabinet renewal rumors (again);
-- Patriotic Union courts Alberto Vallarino;
-- Political commentator and human rights attorney Miguel
Angel Bernal joins Panama City Mayor's race (again); and
-- Third GOP official in ten months to be canned for

End summary.

--------------------------------------------- -------
Fugitive from U.S. Next National Assembly President?
--------------------------------------------- -------

2. (C) National Assembly Deputy Pedro Miguel Gonzalez,
through an unnamed fellow governing PRD Deputy, approached
Panama City popular radio talk show host and political
commentator Edwin Cabrera on July 23 seeking to discuss his
candidacy to be President of the National Assembly, Cabrera
told POLCOUNS on August 1. (Note: Gonzalez remains wanted
in the U.S. for the 1991 murder of U.S. serviceman Zak
Hernandez. He is ineligible for a U.S. visa on terrorism
grounds.) During their July 23 meeting, Gonzalez asked for
Cabrera's assistance to get the media off his back with its
scrutiny and criticism of Gonzalez's campaign to be President
of the National Assembly. Cabrera, who writes op-eds for
Panama City broadsheet daily La Estrella and edits that
papers political rumor column, said he told Gonzalez that as
a public official he should expect public scrutiny. Gonzalez
then asked whether Cabrera thought it would be possible to
"work out his difficulties with the U.S." were he to win
election. Cabrera, who had not spoken with EMBOFFs about the
matter, said that he thought the only way to "work out his
difficulties" would be to surrender to U.S. justice. Asked
how badly the U.S. would react, Cabrera said that he thought
the U.S. would react strongly, especially in the current
post-9/11 world, and that Gonzalez's leadership role would
raise difficulties for U.S. congressional approval of the
U.S.-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA). POLCOUNS
underscored for Cabrera that election of a terrorist to
President of the National Assembly would draw a harsh
reaction from the U.S. and would raise serious questions
about the degree to which the PRD had indeed changed from its
days as the party of the dictators, something that would have
a negative impact on U.S. congressional deliberations on the

3. (C) Cabrera said that he believed that Torrijos was
committed to securing the National Assembly Presidency for
Gonzalez. While First VP and FM Samuel Lewis did not want to
see Gonzalez's election cause bilateral problems, Gonzalez
said that Lewis, for political reasons, would not act to
block Gonzalez as he needed Gonzalez's support within the PRD
to secure its presidential nomination. Cabrera confirmed
that Gonzalez was one of Torrijos' primary conduits to the
National Assembly and added that Gonzalez, an effective
legislator, was widely popular among PRD National Assembly

4. (C) Warning the GOP on the problems Gonzalez's election
would create, Charge underscored to First VP and FM Samuel
Lewis, in an August 2 conversation, that Gonzalez's election
would "break new ground" and "jeopardize important issues
like the TPA." Noting that the U.S. could not remain silent,
Charge asked, how could U.S. Senators be expected to vote for
the TPA with a country that had a man accused of the
cold-blooded murder of a U.S. serviceman and other serious
crimes as its National Assembly President? Lewis confirmed
that Gonzalez had the votes, but Torrijos had not indicated
his position on this election. Lewis wondered out loud as to
whether there was a way for Gonzalez to meet with U.S. law
enforcement authorities to dicuss his situation. Charge
responded that Gonzalez could surrender himself to U.S. law
enforcement authorities; "It's that serious of a matter."
Lewis said that he "got the message loud and clear." During
a subsequent phonecall with Lewis, Charge emphasized that
Gonazalez's situation was a terrorism case, plain and simple.

5. (C) Comment: Cabrera's reaching out to the Embassy is
only the most recent of indications that Gonzalez's candidacy
may not have been derailed yet. Panama City Mayor Juan
Carlos Navarro told POLOFF at Colombia's National Day
reception on July 26 that President Torrijos was not getting
the U.S. message that Gonzalez's ascension to the helm of the
National Assembly would raise problems and concerns for
U.S.-Panamanian relations. Navarro asserted that that
Torrijos was committed to elevating Gonazalez to President of
the National Assembly. Also, the Panama Post has noticed an
up-tick in political rumor column speculation that Gonzalez
was on track for to be the next Assembly President, despite
loud and clear warnings from the "fulos (Americans)."
Gonzalez's family has a long-standing relationship with
President Torrijos. For example, Gonzalez's father has served
as a political mentor to President Torrijos. Gonzalez,
according to several PRD and non-PRD contacts, also serves as
a key channel of communication from Torrijos to the National
Assembly and reports back to Torrijos on the inner workings
of the legislature. Ultimately, no President of the National
Assembly will be selected without Torrijos' blessing,
regardless of how many votes a candidate might have among

--------------------------------------------- ----
Jose Miguel Aleman: VP candidate or Trojan Horse?
--------------------------------------------- ----

6. (C) "Remember I told you that (former President
Guillermo) Endara had chosen his vice presidential running
mate?" Endara advisor Menalco Solis asked POLCOUNS in an
aside at Ambassador's July 23 lunch for Endara. "Well, here
he is," pointing to Panamenista member and former
presidential candidate Jose Miguel Aleman. Endara himself
did not mention that he had selected Aleman as his running
mate. During lunch, Endara and Aleman professed to have
sustained extensive political and policy discussions "since
their 2004 losses to Torrijos," and strived to present
themselves as political soulmates. Their joint availability
with the press after lunch only stoked rumors that these two
also-rans would join forces in 2009. Aleman's brother told
Charge that the rumors that Jose Miguel Aleman had agreed to
become Endara's running mate.

7. (C) The following day, on July 24, Panamenista Party
President Juan Carlos Varela called POLCOUNS to say that he
had learned from Aleman that Endara's lunch with the
Ambassador had gone very well. For example, Varela knew
accurately that Endara said during lunch that, while the
"nationalist in him" wanted Noriega to return to Panama, the
realist in him preferred to see him go to France where he
would go to prision rather than run the risk of having
Panama's courts release him to "stroll the Balboa Avenue,"
Panama City's main drag. Patriotic Union (UP) Secretary
General Ricky Fabrega asserted to POLCOUNS on July 26,
"Aleman is a Trojan Horse out to trick Endara," a sentiment
with which political commentator and radio talk show host
Edwin Cabrera concurred on August 1.

8. (C) Comment: Aleman showed up with Endara at the
Ambassador's residence for lunch the day after he was elected
to be a member of the Panamenistas' Board of Advisors, an
election that was portrayed in the press as a successful
exercise by Varela to seize the reins of this party from
former President Moscoso. Aleman's engagement with the Moral
Vanguard of the Nation (VMP) is undoubtedly feeding Endara's
and Solis' preconceived notion that "life long Anulfista"
Endara will be able to easily scoop up the Panamenista
presidential endorsement. Appearing to base his judgement on
political faith rather than strategy, Solis previously
asserted to POLCOUNS that the Panamenistas would ultimately
back Endara. Varela's self-assured satisfaction that he was
aware of what Aleman was up to was either evidence that
Aleman was a Trojan Horse or that Varela was badly
miscalculating. Time will tell.

Cabinet Renewal on the Horizon?

9. (C) Minister of Government and Justice Ogla Golcher
speculated to DCM on August 1 that Torrijos was prepared to
"renew" his cabinet. Golcher, who had witnessed the Public
Safety and National Defense Council (CSPDN)'s increasing
control of operations that normally reported to her ministry
like immmigration, told DCM that she would not be railroaded
by CSPDN Director Erick Espinoza or Deputy Director Marcel
Salamin. Golcher added that Customs Director Daniel Delgado
had complained to her about the CSPDN's excessive instrusion
in its operations.

10. (C) Comment: Yes, rumors of cabinet changes yet again.
The Panama Post will not hold its breath awaiting action on a
cabinet shuffle, but would be remiss if it did not report
these latest rumors. As for the CSPDN, the Panama Post has
noticed the increasing degree to which the CSPDN's tentacles
appear to be popping up across the GOP.

Patriotic Union: Angling for Vallarino

11. (C) "This next week will be critical for Patriotic Union
Party (PUP)," party Secretary General Ricky Fabrega told
POLCOUNS on July 26. "(Billy) Ford is in place as party
president; now we need to get Alberto Vallarino to join us."
While Ford "is desperate to run for President of Panama,"
Fabrega said that Vallarino had better name recognition,
polled better, and was probably the only figure capable of
unifying the oppostion. If Vallarino joined PUP, the
Panamenistas would be left without a viable candidate, a
Panamenista-PUP alliance would be inevitable, and VMP would
collapse, Fabrega asserted. Hopefully, no challengers to
Ford's candidacy to be party presidenbt would emerge by July
31 when the period for nominations for party positions would
close. While some scoffed that Ford was a "newcomer" and
should not be rewarded with the PUP presidency, Fabrega said
that increasingly the rank-and-file understood that the
fusion of the old Solidarity and Liberal National parties all
UP members were "newcomers." By squaring away the senior
party leadership and bringing Vallarino in as a likely
presidential candidate, Fabrega said he thought PUP would
have a bright future.

12. (C) Comment: Fabrega is probably placing too much
importance on Vallarino, and his belief that with one move
Vallarino's joining PUP would collapse Endara and force the
Panamenistas into alliance with UP. Nonethless, many
political observers are carefully watching Vallarino to see
what moves he makes. (Editorial Note: Update your
rolodexes. Patriotic Union now wishes to be known as the
Patriotic Union Party, so scratch out UP and pencil in PUP.)

Bernal for Mayor

13. (SBU) Long-time POL contact, political gadfly, and human
rights lawyer, Miguel Antonio Bernal announced his candidacy
for Panama City Mayor on July 29. Bernal ran a distant
second to current mayor Juan Carlos Navarro in 1999. Calling
for Panama City voters to end the "monopoly" by the
Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) on the city's
mayorshiop, Bernal announced that he would accept support
from whatever parties wished to support him, though he
acknowledge that PRD would not even offer him a "piece of
candy." Comment: While he will likely be able to collect
the requisite 70,000 signatures to get on the ballot, Bernal
stands almost no chance of defeating either current PRD
Minister of Housing Balbina Herrera or current Panamenista
National Assembly Deputy Jose Blandon, but will likely add a
lively element to the campaign.

--------------------------------------------- ---
Third GOP Official to Get Boot for Mismanagement
--------------------------------------------- ---

14. (C) In response to the "luxury cell" scandal, the GOP
was going to fire Prison Director Carlos Landero, Minister of
Government and Justice Olga Golcher told DCM on August 1. On
Landero's watch, imprisoned drug kingpins upgraded Panama's
normally grim and grungy cells in a "maximum security prison"
by installing plasma screen televisions, comfortable living
room furniture, and even remodeling bathroom areas with new
tile work and comodes, as extensively reported in Panama's
news media. Golcher commented that Landero would be the
third GOP official in the past twelve months to get the boot
for malfeasance and/or mismanagement. Two weeks ago,
Torrijos dismissed Jose Gomez, commander of the Institutional
Protective Service (SPI), after members of this praetorian
guard weighed into a crowd of peaceful protestors near the
presidential palace beating and mandhandling several
demonstrators. Last November, in the wake of the October 23
bus fire tragedy, the head of Panama's Ground Transportation
and Transit Authority (ATTT) was fired for lax enforcement of
safety standards.

15. (C) Comment: While Golcher is right that Landero, if
fired, would the third removal of a Torrijos Administration
official for mismanagement, it should also be noted that each
removal happened only in the wake of enormous public outcry
in an effort to staunch political hemmoraghing. Gomez's
removal, for example, came only days after his SPI officers
-- adorned in Chavez-esque red berets, as characterized by
Panama's media -- brutally assaulted peaceful demonstrators
imploring Torrijos to act nine months after dozens of
hundreds of Panamanians died because they ingested
GOP-produced medicines adulterated with dietheylene glycol.
Faced with similar outrage in the "luxury cell" matter,
Torrijos is likely to kick out Landero. In other cases of
apparent mismanagement, the GOP has not removed officials.
For example, with respect to the dietheylene glycol
poisoning, the Torrijos Administration has been upset at the
Attorney General's aggressive investigation of Social
Security System (CSS) Directors, including one with close
ties to Minister of the Presidency Ubaldino Real, PRD
Majority Leader Leandro Avila, and Minister of Housing
Balbina Herrera. Also, rather than remove former Immigration
Director Ricardo Vargas for mismanagement, including for
improper issuance of visas to "criteria" countries without
CSPDN concurrence, Torrijos instead installed Vargas as the
Public Defender or Ombudsman (Defensor del Pueblo).


© Scoop Media

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