Cablegate: Panama Post: Edition 13, Volume Ii


DE RUEHZP #0697/01 2341952
R 211952Z AUG 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000697


E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/21/2018


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


1. (C) Panama's opposition panorama is beginning to clarify
as two opposition coalitions are emerging. Presidential
candidate Ricardo Martinelli announced recently that his
Democratic Change (CD) had reached an alliance agreement with
Patriotic Union (UP), an alliance that UP is expected to
ratify at a party convention in November. Meanwhile,
presidential candidate Juan Carlos Varela's Panamenista Party
appeared to have essentially sealed, though not have
announced, an alliance with the Movement of Liberal
Republican Nationalists (MOLIRENA). Moral Vanguard of the
Nation's presidential candidate Guillermo Endara appeared to
be looking for a soft landing to allow him to exit the race,
and most observers believed Endara would ally with the
Panamenistas. Minister of Canal Affairs Dani Kuzniecky
shared with POLOFF some of President Martin Torrijos'
political views regarding the evolving PRD internal race and
the broader general election campaign. In this edition of
the Panama Post, our headlines are:

-- Cabinet Minister Dishes on Dynamics in Torrijos
-- Panamenista and MOLIRENA Parties Essentially Allies
-- Ford to Take Leave of Absence from UP
-- "I'll be Martinelli's VP candidate"
-- Dealing with the "Moscoso" Factor
-- Endara Hangs in for Now

End summary.

--------------------------------------------- -----------------
Cabinet Minister Dishes on Dynamics in Torrijos Administration
--------------------------------------------- -----------------

2. (C) "Torrijos now realizes how little time is left (in
his Administration) and is working at full steam, something
he should have been doing before," Minister of Canal Affairs
Dani Kuzniecky told POLOFF on August 15. "He's finally
getting operational after taking three years to learn to make
decisions, and he is now giving firm and specific orders."
Kuzniecky also commented, "Torrijos has been left alone. His
friends like (former Minster of Government Ubladino) Uba Real
and (former Minsiter of Industry and Commerce Alejandro) Andy
Ferrer deserted him after fulfilling their personal interests
and that leaves only a handful of ministers who are
multitasking and giving him our full support." In
particular, First VP and FM Samuel Lewis was "working
incessantly" for Torrijos, Kucniecky said, highlighting
Lewis' legendary loyalty to Torrijos.

3. (C) Governing Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD)
presidential nomination candidate "Balbina (Herrera) is
desperate to identify a vice presidential running mate, but
is having no success," Kuzniecky said. "I was not even
flattered when (PRD fundraiser and behind the scenes
operative) Jimmy Arias invited me to lunch to offer me the
vice presidential position under Balbina." All the previous
VP offers had gone to individuals with similar
characteristics, Kuzniecky explained, they were "white,
younger than her, and well-to-do men," including Ferrer,
Panamanian Ambassador to the U.S. Frederico "Freddy" Humbert,
and Lewis. "I told Arias, 'Thanks, but no thanks, I'm not
even a (Revolutionary Democratic Party) PRD member,"
Kuzniecky explained.

4. (C) Recently, Kuzniecky said that Torrijos had invited him
to a one-on-one lunch, "which is something we do not do often
as I am not part of his political team." Torrijos told
Kuzniecky that he would not indicate publicly whom he
supported in the PRD primary, Herrera or Panama City Mayor
Juan Carlos Navarro. That said, Torrijos allegedly confided
that he was "inclined to help Balbina somehow." Kuzniecky
then said he told the President, "I saw it coming, so I
immediately told him that Jimmy had already made me an offer
that I turned down. I bluntly told him that I would probably
not even vote with the PRD in 2009." In response, Torrijos
calmly said, "(Panamenista presidential candidate Juan
Carlos) Varela's political proposal is very similar to what I
offered in 2004. The government is spent and exhausted. The
likely government candidate (Herrera) smells of old rotten
bones, but Varela is the new chicken in the chicken coop.
It's a simple and easy decision." Regarding PRD presidential
nomination candidate Navarro, Kuzniecky said, "Martin cannot
help Navarro; they had a political confrontation in the past.
Furthermore, Samuel Lewis despises -- despises (using the
word in English and Spanish) -- his cousin (Navarro), so
Martin will not betray Samuel given his proven loyalty."

5. (C) Comment: Torrijos is keenly aware that time is
running out on his administration. Indeed, Kuzniecky opened
his discussion by showing his new "toy" that Torrijos had
just given him: a pocket-sized digital clock that counted
down the time left before his administration left office on
July 1, 2009. Kuzniecky portrays a president who has finally
decided to take action only to realize that there is not much
time left on the game clock and who is eager to secure a
partner for likely PRD presidential candidate Balbina Herrera
who can help assure Torrijos his legacy.

--------------------------------------------- ------
Panamenista and MOLIRENA Parties Essentially Allies
--------------------------------------------- ------

6. (C) Though the final "i"s still need to be dotted and the
final "t"s crossed, the Panamenista and Movement of Liberal
Republic Nationals (MOLIRENA) parties are essentially allies.
Still to be finalized are the details for a few local level
slates, POLOFF learned recently. This alliance-in-waiting
was on full display on August 12 at MOLIRENA's dinner in
honor of the 28th anniversary of the party's founding.
Commemorating key MOLIRENA leaders over the years, several
MOLIRENA speakers, including MOLIRENA President Sergio
Gonzalez-Ruiz, referred to Panamanista presidential candidate
Juan Carlos Varela (in attendance) as the future President of
Panama. MOLIRENA leaders and Panamenista leaders slapped
each other on the back, told war stories of past campaigns
together, and spoke as if an alliance had been announced and
formalized, neither of which has happened. Moral Vanguard of
the Nation (VMP) presidential candidate Guillermo Endara was
also present.

7. (C) Comment: Panamenista members nearly outnumber MOLIRENA
members two to one at this MOLIRENA event. VMP could only
fill about half of a ten person table. MOLIRENA, wracked by
in-fighting in recent years, has been greatly weakened by
defections to other parties (most notably former First VP
Guillermo "Billy" Ford but also youth leader Abraham
Carrasquilla who took several dozen youth members with him).
Ford was the only representative from the Democratic Change
(CD)-Patriotic Union (UP) alliance. Sitting next to POLCOUNS
through the dinner, Ford reminisced about the days when
MOLIRENA was the "life blood" of the anti-Noriega opposition
and visibly winced when speakers referred to him as the
"President of Patriotic Union." "I'll always be a
MOLIRENista," Ford said. Indeed, this August 12 dinner took
on the aura of a Panamenista-MOLIRENA-VMP alliance that would
compete against the CD-UP alliance and the PRD.

Ford to Take Leave of Absence from UP

8. (C) "I am going to take a leave of absence from Patriotic
Union (UP)," UP President and former First VP Guillermo
"Billy" Ford told POLCOUNS on August 15. Frustrated that his
party's VPs had not consulted with him before taking UP into
an alliance with Ricardo Martinelli's Democratic Change (CD)
party, Ford explained, "I was hoping to use our muscle to
broker a grand opposition alliance, but Jose Raul Mulino and
Anibal Galindo went behind my back and signed an alliance
deal with Martinelli." Ford acknowledged, however, that the
prospects for a grand alliance were very thin: Panamenista
presidential candidate Juan Carlos Varela had decimated his
primary opponent, CD presidential candidate was "thickheaded"
and dead set on running for president, and the governing
Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) prospects at a "sure
win" were starting to dim with the likelihood that Herrera
would win the PRD primary. Herrera was the ideal candidate
for the opposition to confront, something that ironically
complicated rather than facilitated opposition unity.

9. (C) Comment: Ford stood next to no chance at playing the
bridge building role to which he aspired. Ford was chosen to
preside over UP, a new political entity ormed by the uniting
of the Liberal National and the Solidarity parties, because
he was one of the few figures in Panama acceptable to all
members of this new party. Once former Panamanista
presidential aspirant Alberto Vallarino was knocked out of
the race, the die was essentially cast that UP would join CD
in an alliance. Vallarino is the son-in-law of
behind-the-scenes UP godfather and Panamanian politics puppet
master Samuel "Don Sammy" Lewis Galindo. (Don Sammy is also
First VP and FM Samuel Lewis Navarro's uncle.) His
son-in-law out, Don Sammy had little to gain from an alliance
with the Panamenistas. Furthermore, viewing Varela as the
weaker of the two Panamanista options, UP VP Jose Raul Mulino
calculated that UP could do better with Martinelli. Both
developments cleared the way for pro-Martinelli UP VP Anibal
Galindo to steer the party into alliance with CD.

"I'll be Martinelli's VP candidate"

10. (C) "I will be Martinelli's vice presidential running
mate," Patriotic Union (UP) VP Anibal Galindo told POLCOUNS
on August 13. Galindo said that UP would make its
announcement in mid-October and then formalize both its
alliance with Democratic Change (CD) and his VP candidacy at
a UP convention in November. Galindo said that UP would give
CD the structure and political discipline it needed to win.
Galindo saw little chance that CD and UP would be able to
join with the Panamenista and Movement of Liberal Republican
Nationalists parties to form a grand opposition alliance.

11. (C) Comment: Galindo has been angling for a vice
presidency for months now. The Panama Post has not yet been
able to confirm with the Martinelli camp whether indeed
Galindo will be Martinelli's running mate, but the Panama
Post believes that a Galindo vice presidential candidacy was
likely a key element of the CD-UP alliance pact.

Dealing with the "Moscoso" Factor

12. (C) "Juan Carlos (Varela) is not doing enough to pull
the Panamenistas together," Panamenista primary presidential
race also-ran Alberto Vallarino groused to POLCOUNS on August
14. Explaining that his support came from two key groups in
the party, Vallarino said, "The National Assembly deputies
who supported me are political animals; they know how to get
over things quickly and to adjust to the new political
reality. (Former President) Mireya Moscoso's crowd though,
profoundly distrusts Varela." Vallarino concurred that it
would be difficult for Varela who had defined himself
politically as being the one to clean up the party following
the mess created by Moscoso's exit from office under an
ethical cloud highlighted by serious corruption allegations.
"Varela campaign under the 'clean hands' slogan, and so he
needs to be very careful how he comes to terms with Mireya,"
Vallarino said.

13. (C) Jose Luis "Popi" Varela, Juan Carlos Varela's brother
and campaign manager, confirmed to POLCOUNS on August 18 that
they would have to reach some "understanding" with Moscoso if
they were to be able to unify the Panamenista party. "Juan
Carlos has tapped me to engage 'La Dona'," referring to
Moscoso. "I am going to try to convince her that she should
not fear a victory by my brother." Jose Luis Varela noted
that Martinelli had already tried to hit Varela hard with an
ad that linked Varela to Moscoso. "We did not ask the
Electoral Tribunal (TE) to quash that ad, because we are
prepared to attack Martinelli as another 'traditional'
politician by underscoring his ties to Moscoso. My brother
stands by his record of working to renew the party after the
Moscoso years."

14. (C) Comment: Slowly but surely, the Panamenista party is
unifying. Moscoso is a tough-as-nails political tactician,
and Popi may very well may be able to secure her commitment
to lie low and stay out of the limelight.

Endara Hangs in for Now

15. (C) Trailing badly in the polls, "there's no rush to
pull out of the race now," former President Guillermo
Endara's right-hand man Menalco Solis told POLCOUNS on August
12. For the time being, Endara's Moral Vanguard of the
Nation (VMP) party would keep plugging away on its campaign.
Solis, who was accompanied by his wife and National Assembly
Deputy Mireya Lasso, said that VMP would release a USD 1
million add campaign soon to advocate for the party and its
presidential candidate. Asked if that was essentially all
the cash that the party, Solis acknowledged, "Yes." Solis,
who previously has always brushed away suggestions that
Endara would exit the race, for the first time said that
Endara might step down in November or December.

16. (C) Comment: So what's keeping Endara in the race?
Three things are: Anamae, Mireya, and the party. First,
Endara wants to ensure his wife Anamae's place on an alliance
ticket ideally for Mayor of Panama City. Second, Solis wants
to ensure that his wife, Mireya Lasso, will secure the
support necessary to win re-election to her seat in the
National Assembly. Third, Endara wants to ensure that VMP,
which has lost nearly 30,000 or about half of its members in
recent months, continues to exist as a party; to do so, it
must secure a minimum number of locally elected seats. The
Panamenista primary by assigning candidates to virtually all
electoral openings complicated a Panamenista-VMP alliance
because now the Panamenistas would have to encourage somebody
to step down to make space for Anamae and Mireya.

© Scoop Media

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