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Cablegate: Panama: Raul Rodriguez to Be New Assembly

VZCZCXYZ0006
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHZP #0616 2101651
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 281651Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2339
INFO RHMFISS/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUCNFB/FBI WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000616

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/25/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL KJUS PM
SUBJECT: PANAMA: RAUL RODRIGUEZ TO BE NEW ASSEMBLY
PRESIDENT

Classified By: Classified by POLCOUNS Brian R. Naranjo for reasons 1.4
(b) and (d)

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SUMMARY
-------

1. (C) President Martin Torrijos has chosen Raul Rodriguez
to be the new President of the National Assembly, replacing
Pedro Miguel Gonzalez (PMG) who is under federal indictment
in connection with the 1992 murder of a U.S. serviceman.
Sources from both the ruling Democratic Revolutionary Party
(PRD) and leading opposition party (Panamenista party) have
shared this information in recent days. END SUMMARY

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PMG Out, Rodriguez in
---------------------

2. (C) PRD majority leader and National Assembly Deputy
Leandro Avila told POLOFF on July 24 that President Torrijos
had called Raul Rodriguez on July 23 to give him the news of
his selection. According to Avila, this decision was made in
conjunction with leading Presidential candidate Balbina
Herrera, who was close to current National Assembly
President, Pedro Miguel Gonzalez (PMG). (NOTE: PMG is under
indictment in the United States in connection with the 1992
murder of a U.S. soldier). Avila said that although Herrera
remained close to PMG, her relationship with the U.S. was of
great importance and she did not want PMG to be an obstacle
to strengthening that relationship. Also, Herrera was also
keeping at a distance PRD National Assembly Deputy Hector
Aleman, a strong supporter of PMG's candidacy for Assembly
President and frequent critic of the U.S.

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3. (C) Panamenista National Assembly Deputy Alcibiades
Vasquez confirmed this story in a conversation with POLOFF on
July 25. Vasquez characterized it as an order directly from
Torrijos.

4. (U) Raul Rodriguez is a National Assembly Deputy in his
first term, who has worked at the Electoral Tribunal. He has
previously served as Vice-president of the Assembly (NOTE:
Although Assembly sessions run for five years, leadership is
elected yearly.) The PRD caucus in the National Assembly
will meet in the coming weeks to formally select its
candidate to be the chamber's president. Controlling 45 of
the chamber's 75 seats, it is a foregone conclusion that
whomever the PRD caucus chooses will be the next President of
the National Assembly.

-------
COMMENT
-------

5. (C) PMG is widely perceived by the political class in
Panama to be the reason that the U.S. has not yet ratified
the Free Trade Agreement (FTA). He will continue to have a
role in politics as a member of the PRD's National Executive
Committee (CEN). Although Herrera, the leading Presidential
candidate from the ruling PRD, is putting distance between
herself and PMG during the political season, they remain
close. In stepping aside, PMG is fulfilling the commitment
he made in a letter to Torrijos in May to not run for
re-election. END COMMENT
MESA

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