Cablegate: Panama: Somber 1st Vp & Fm Unloads Privately With
DE RUEHZP #1738/01 3061855
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
R 021855Z NOV 07
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1366
INFO RUEHME/AMEMBASSY MEXICO 3679
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 1152
RUEHUB/USINT HAVANA 0083
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUCNFB/FBI WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC
RUMIAAA/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
S E C R E T PANAMA 001738
E.O. 12958: DNG: CO 11/02/2017
TAGS: PGOV PREL ECON KCRM KJUS PTER CU VE MX PM
SUBJECT: PANAMA: SOMBER 1ST VP & FM UNLOADS PRIVATELY WITH
Classified By: Ambassador William A. Eaton. Reasons: 1.4 (b) and (d).
1. (S) "I do not trust Pedro Miguel Gonzalez (PMG)," First
VP and FM Samuel Lewis confessed to Ambassador while
conceding that President Martin Torrijos was unlikely to
dissuade PMG from stepping down from the Presidency of the
National Assembly thereby clearing the way for the U.S.
Congress to consider the U.S.-Panama Trade Promotion
Agreement (TPA). (Note: PMG is federal under indictment on
five counts in connection with the 1992 murder of a U.S.
serviceman.) This aspirant to succeed Torrijos as president
acknowledged that his political future at risk; "That is what
is in play." Lewis preidcted that current Minister of
Housing Balbina Herrera might well be the governing
Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) candidate for president.
Lewis also predictedhis views on the state of play in the
opposition and touched upon Cuba, Venezuela, and Mexico. End
PMG Unlikely to Step Down
2. (S) "President Torrijos is in the midst of delicate
discussions with Pedro Miguel," Lewis told Ambassador,
seeking a way for PMG to step down. "We realize that the
window of opportunity for the TPA is closing and that we have
to do something this week." Lewis asked that the Embassy
"keep radio silence" for the next week so as not to
complicate these sensitive negotiations. Sighing, Lewis then
broke from his "talking points" and confessed, "I do not
trust Pedro Miguel." Lewis was pessimistic that anything
would come from Torrijos' discussions with PMG and added that
PMG did not really care if he scuttled the TPA.
Lewis' Political Future
3. (C) "I'll be keeping a very low profile over the next few
months," Lewis said, avoiding the press and steering clear of
public events as much as possible. "I've become a lightning
rod within the PRD. My visibility at this time will hurt
Martin and what we have been trying to accomplish within the
PRD." Expressing his frustration with the "leftward and
backward drift" of the PRD, Lewis asserted that the PRD's
future was in pragmatic and pro-trade policies, not nostalgic
frolicking with echoes of the past. He expressed his worries
regarding the current divisions within the PRD, the weakening
of Torrijos' political position, and belief that the PRD's
prospects for reelection in 2009 could be jeopardized. "We
had hoped the party would choose continuity as its path to
reelection. That path is in jeopardy." Asked if all this
meant that he would not be the PRD's candidate for president,
Lewis shrugged, frowned and confessed that he did not know
what political future he might have; "That is what is in
play." He said that he needed to lie low for awhile to see
if the political panorama changed in his favor.
Balbina's Political Future
4. (C) Balbina and her supporters are behind the scenes
making a very strong and aggressive push for candidacy for
president, Lewis said. "She has enormous support within the
party," he said, "and barring any major change in the
political climate, she will be the PRD candidate for
president." Allegedly, PMG was also toying with the idea of
throwing his hat in to the ring in the race for president,
but Lewis dismissed that as evidence of the "dream world" in
which PMG lived.
5. (C) Lewis commented that Torrijos and he had been
"surprised" with Democratic Change (CD) Party President
Ricardo Martinelli's sustained high standing in the polls.
Regardless of whatever efforts the opposition might undertake
to unify themselves behind a sole candidate, Lewis said he
believed that Martinelli would run for president. "The
problem with the opposition," he said, "is that they are
spending all their time debating who should be their leader
instead of designing a compelling political platform to unify
the opposition and gain widespread public support." Former
President Mireya Moscoso was pushing Alberto Vallarino's
candidacy to lead the opposition, but Vallarino was awaiting
his "coronation" rather than doing the hard work of
campaigning nationwide, Lewis said. "Do not discount
(Panamenista Party President) Juan Carlos Varela's ability to
scuttle Vallarino's ambitions despite La Dona's (Moscoso's)
support." "The election of Pedro Miguel has handed the
opposition an election-winning issue on a silver platter,"
Lewis asserted. There were some in the PRD who still thought
that the PRD's organizational strength and nationwide
presence would guarantee reelection, Lewis explained; "Do not
count on that any more. The PRD is on the ropes now,"
because of the PMG and TPA issue.
6. (C) Lewis reminded Ambassador that he would be heading to
Cuba next this weekend to lead a Panamanian trade delegation.
He acknowledged that some in the U.S. would "misread" his
trip. Lewis said that he would call WHA A/S Shannon to
inquire whether there was "any water" that he could carry for
the U.S. during his visit to the island. Lewis committed to
share with Ambassador his impressions and insights from his
visit once he had returned.
7. (C) Asked if recent newspaper gossip column items
asserting that Torrijos would visit Chavez soon were true,
Lewis laughed and said that the current Venezuelan Charge
d'Affaires in Panama was "even crazier" than the former
Ambassador. Though he had never met with the him, Lewis
explained, the Venezuelan Charge was telling his
interlocutors that he had met Lewis, and was "quoting"
conversations that never happened and promises that were
never made. "I could not even pick him out of a crowd."
Lewis confirmed that Torrijos had asked to meet Chavez on the
margins of the Ibero-American Summit in Chile where Torrijos
would talk about energy and push back on Venezuela's proposed
ambassador to Panama. Though Panama had denied agrement,
Chavez refused to withdraw the nomination and continued to
push it. Panama was concerned about the proposed Venezuelan
ambassadorial candidate's reputation and track record as
Consul General in Sao Paolo for inciting leftist groups.
Torrijos would complain to Chavez about the interference of
his Charge in Panamanian internal affairs, including his trip
last weekend to Bocas del Toro province where he pushed
leftist groups to support the "Bolivarian movement."
8. (C) Lewis noted that he just returned from Mexico where
he had tried unsuccessfully to negotiate an agreement between
Panamanian airline COPA and Mexican airline Mexicana. Lewis
said he was struck by how well the Calderon Administration
was doing. "Fox said the right things, but could not
deliver. Calderon's folks are tough negotiators, but when
you reach agreement, they actually deliver on their
promises," Lewis commented.
9. (S) Lewis clearly sees the writing on the wall that his
presidential candidacy, barring some intervention from a
benevolent God, is dead. Also, for the first time, he seemed
genuinely depressed and pessimistic about the prospects for
the TPA in the U.S. Congress. Furthermore, he was quite blunt
about his frustration with the Torrijos Administration's
ability to "fix" the PMG problem and the long-term disastrous
effects that this failure would have on Panama, on the PRD,
and him. Lewis came across as beleaguered and sad. Lewis
seems to be increasingly uncomfortable in the PRD where he
feels like an outsider.