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Cablegate: Panama: Wanted Felon/Terrorist Closer to Securing

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHZP #1408/01 2331758
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 211758Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1020
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEKJCS/CJCS WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RUCNFB/FBI WASHINGTON DC
RUMIAAA/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 001408

SIPDIS

NOFORN
SIPDIS

NSC PASS TO USTR

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/17/2017
TAGS: PREL PTER KCRM KJUS ETRD PM
SUBJECT: PANAMA: WANTED FELON/TERRORIST CLOSER TO SECURING
NATIONAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENCY?

REF: (A) PANAMA 1346 (B) PANAMA 1309

Classified By: Ambassador William A. Eaton. Reasons: 1.4 (b), (c) and
(d).

-------
Summary
-------

1. (C) "President Torrijos and (1st VP and FM) Samuel Lewis
informed (National Assembly President) Elias Castillo and
(National Assembly President aspirant) Deputy Pedro Miguel
Gonzalez on August 14 at the Decameron resort that Torrijos
would back Gonzalez to be the next President of the National
Assembly," governing Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD)
legislative majority leader Leandro Avila told POLCOUNS on
August 17. (Note: Gonzalez is wanted in the U.S. for the
1991 murder of U.S. serviceman Zak Hernandez and is
ineligible for a U.S. visa on terrorism grounds.) Confirming
Panama City broadsheet La Estrella's August 16 story that
Gonzalez would be the PRD's nominee to be President of the
National Assembly, Castillo told POLCOUNS on August 16,
"There is no question that Pedro Miguel has the votes,"
Castillo said. Stating that he had asked Lewis if Gonzalez's
election would have a negative impact on U.S.-Panamanian
bilateral relations, Castillo asserted that Lewis responded,
"The Americans could be handled," and, "It would not be a
problem."

2. (C) These assertions contrast with separate assurances
given to then-Charge by Lewis and Minister of the Presidency
Ubaldino Real that Torrijos would "take care" of this problem
and that Gonzalez would not be the next President of the
Assembly. Both indicated that the Embassy should not be
surprised to read press reports indicating that Gonzalez
would get the top spot in the Assembly. They explained that
Torrijos would ensure that Gonzalez steps down as a candidate
but only after he appeared as the virtual winner. Torrijos
could not afford to be seen as succumbing to American
pressure and needed to give Gonzalez an elegant way out. In
consultation with the Department, post has accepted these
assurances after having made it clear to both Lewis and Real
the consequences of Gonzalez's elevation that would not bode
well for the U.S.-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA) and
our bilateral relations. End summary.

--------------------------------------
Torrijos and Lewis Greenlight Gonzalez
--------------------------------------

3. (C) On August 14, President Martin Torrijos and First VP
and FM Samuel Lewis called current President of the National
Assembly Elias Castillo and Pedro Miguel Gonzalez to a
meeting at the Decameron resort in Panama's interior, PRD
Majority Leader Leandro Avila explained to POLCOUNS on August
17. At that meeting, Torrijos stated that he would support
Gonzalez to be the next President of the National Assembly.
Avila indicated that he was irate at the "undemocratic"
fashion in which the PRD was making this decision. Avila
also explained that Gonzalez was Torrijos' primary liaison
with PRD deputies, not the majority leader (Avila) as was
normally the case. Furthermore, Avila said he was concerned
about negative impact that Gonzalez's election and presidency
would have. "How can we have a National Assembly President
who is afraid of traveling for fear of being arrested?" Avila
asked.

4. (C) Avila laid out the following chain of events. Avila
explained that Gonzalez's chances of becoming National
Assembly President rose after Castillo failed to secure
support to amend the legislature's by-laws to enable
Castillo's election for a third term. (Note: Current
National Assembly rules permit its president to hold a
maximum of two one-year terms.) On Monday, August 13, Avila
said that fellow PRD National Assembly Deputy Hector Aleman
told him that since Castillo was no longer an option that
Aleman's name had been "crossed out" too. Aleman said that
would only leave two candidates standing: Deputy Raul
Rodriguez and Gonzalez. Avila asserted that Aleman explained
that Raul Rodriguez was not "trustworthy," thought he "was
above the rest," and had "his own agenda," so therefore
Gonzalez would be the better option. According to Avila, on
Tuesday, August 14, Torrijos and Lewis, accompanied by Panama
Province Governor Gladys Bandiera, met with Castillo and
Gonzalez at the Decameron resort. Torrijos indicated he
would back Gonzalez, Avila asserted, and it was decided that
Gonzalez would host a breakfast on Wednesday, August 15 with
all PRD National Assembly Deputies to lobby for his
candidacy. On Wednesday, August 15, thirty-two PRD deputies
attended Gonzalez's breakfast. (Note: Castillo told
POLCOUNS on August 16 that he was the organizer of this
meeting and that thirty-five PRD deputies attended.)
According to Avila, seven or eight PRD deputies lauded
Gonzalez's political experience. "The whole show became
almost like a launching of Gonzalez's campaign to become
National Assembly President." Panama City broadsheet La
Estrella reported in its Thursday, August 16 edition that
Gonzalez would be the PRD's nomination for President of the
National Assembly.

5. (C) Asked what his reading of this sequence of events
was, Avila said, "Torrijos supports Pedro Miguel, but does
not want to do it directly. Instead, Torrijos wants to make
it look like Gonzalez's candidacy was an initiative of the
PRD's National Assembly deputies." Avila also asserted, "If
we had done our internal elections democratically and without
Torrijos' intervention, it would be a different story, but
Torrijos does not let us do that." "I fear that Torrijos
believes that he can manage the risk that Gonzalez's election
would entail for ratification of the U.S.-Panama Trade
Promotion Agreement (TPA)," Avila said.

--------------------------------------------- -----------
Castillo: Gonzalez PRD Nat'l Assembly Presidency Nominee
--------------------------------------------- -----------

6. (C) On August 16, the same day as La Estrella's story,
National Assembly President Elias Castillo granted POLCOUNS a
long-standing request for an appointment. "There is no
question that Pedro Miguel has the votes," Castillo said.
Stating that he had asked Lewis if Gonzalez's election would
have a negative impact on U.S.-Panamanian bilateral
relations, Castillo asserted that Lewis responded, "The
Americans could be handled," and, "It would not be a
problem." Furthermore, Castillo asserted that at the August
15 meeting with PRD deputies, no PRD deputies voiced any
concerns about the impact that Gonzalez's election would have
on U.S.-Panamanian bilateral relations. During the meeting,
Castillo received a call from Lewis and told him that he
needed to see Lewis urgently regarding a "personnel matter."

-------------------------------------
Torrijos to Ask Gonzalez to Step Down
-------------------------------------

7. (C) Minister of the Presidency Ubaldino Real told to
Charge on August 17 that Torrijos would ask Gonzalez to step
aside. Real explained that Torrijos did not want to be
perceived to be seen to be caving in to the "gringos." "Sit
tight, and you will see that this matter will soon be
resolved," Real told Charge. This conversation followed a
telcon between then-Charge and Lewis, in which Lewis
regretted that the Embassy meeting with Castillo had
complicated Torrijos' task. Lewis asked that Embassy say
nothing else and repeated assurances that Torrijos would ask
Gonzalez to step down.

------------
U.S. Message
------------

8. (C) Post's message to GOP counterparts has been
consistent. While underscoring that ultimately it is
Panama's sovereign decision who it elects as its National
Assembly President, GOP officials should be cognizant of the
negative impact that the election of Gonzalez would have on

the bilateral relationship. Gonzalez's problems are of a
judicial, not a political, nature. Notions that Gonzalez
could reach an "understanding" with the USG once elected
President of the National Assembly are foolhardy; if he wants
to address this issue, Gonzalez should surrender to U.S.
justice. As a practical matter, Panama should consider how
the election of somebody the U.S. considers a felon, wanted
for the murder of a U.S. serviceman, would play in this
post-9/11 era when the U.S. has thousands of troops deployed
worldwide in the global war against terrorism. Finally,
Gonzalez's election could have a negative impact on efforts
to secure U.S. Congressional approval for the TPA.

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Comment
-------

9. (C) Post is concerned about Torrijos' ability to manage
the growing momentum to install Gonzalez as President of the
National Assembly. While remaining hopeful that Torrijos
will deliver on his assurances that Gonzalez will step down
as a candidate, post is also aware that both Torrijos and
Lewis need the support of Gonzalez's wing in the PRD. Lewis'
diplomatic responsibilities are colliding with his political
aspirations. Torrijos has a long-standing relationship with
Gonzalez and his family. Gonzalez's father was one of
Torrijos' political mentors, and Gonzalez is one of Torrijos'
most trusted acolytes in the National Assembly. Avila noted
that it was interesting that the PRD had not yet set the date
for its National Executive Committee (CEN) meeting to bless
the decision to make Gonzalez its nomination for National
Assembly President. (Note: The PRD's 45 members dominate
the 75 member National Assembly. The PRD's nomination will
be the chamber's next President.) That meeting will need to
happen some time between now and September 1 when the next
session of the National Assembly is inaugurated. Castillo,
whose efforts to clear the way for his own re-election to a
third consecutive term were stymied by Gonzalez, is spoiling
for a fight with Gonzalez. Aleman, who is out of favor with
Torrijos, is most likely looking for ways to elbow his way to
the head of the race for National Assembly President by
pushing Gonzalez out of the way. Real's message that
Torrijos would soon ask Gonzalez to step aside is welcome
news, but post remain vigilant as the matter continues to
evolve.

10. (C) While Post has accepted Torrijos' assurances, post
will examine possible ways to respond should Gonzalez indeed
be elected, possibly for starters to include boycotting the
September 1 opening of the National Assembly and issuing a
press statement that lays out the reason for such an action.
Given the Torrijos Administration's confidence that its close
relationships with Washington (including with POTUS and the
Secretary) provide it ample maneuver space in the bilateral
relationship, post believes that it is important for both
post and Washington to hit the GOP hard together so that
neither Torrijos nor Lewis can perceive any daylight between
the Embassy and Washington.
EATON

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