Cablegate: Panama: Balbina Wins Prd Presidential Nomination,


DE RUEHZP #0737/01 2532003
R 092003Z SEP 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000737


E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/08/2018

Classified By: Ambassador Barbara J. Stephenson for
reason 1.4 (d)


1. (U) Balbina Herrera won the Democratic Revolutionary
Party (PRD) primary election September 7, becoming the
official presidential candidate for the largest party in the
country. Once Juan Carlos Navarro and Laurentino Cortizo
conceded, all the candidates met and joined President Martin
Torrijos, who is also PRD SecGen, at PRD headquarters for a
joint television appearance. Torrijos and Herrera,
accompanied Navarro and Cortizo and PRD National Executive
Committee (CEN) members on stage, made powerful calls for
party unity in order to ensure a PRD victory in the May 2009
elections. In her address Herrera positioned herself as a
candidate of continuity who would continue implementation of
Torrijos' "New Nation (Patria Nueva)," while offering a
message of hope for those who have been left out of the
recent economic boom in Panama. She specifically highlighted
the current foreign and economic policies as being on target.
End Summary.

A Victory From the Heart

2. (U) Torrijos' former Minister of Housing Balbina Herrera
won the ruling Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) primary
election September 7, becoming the official presidential
candidate for the largest party in the country. Herrera won
48.7% of the vote, while Juan Carlos Navarro won 39.1%, and
Torrijos' former Minister of Agriculture Laurentino Cortizo
won 9%. The PRD reported 60% participation, which, given
party membership of over 670,000, indicates that over 400,000
people voted in the primary. Herrera gave an emotional
victory speech, announcing to Navarro and Cortizo that she
was now turning the page on a rough primary camaign, and
that they had the door open to them. Herrera, whose campaign
slogan was "Torrijista from the Heart," - a reference to
former Panamanian dictator Omar Torrijos, not his son the
current President - described herself as a "daughter of the
process", who had been given the opportunity to rise through
education as a result of the policies of PRD founder Omar
Torrijos. She called on businessmen to realize that, while
they had a right to benefit from the economic policies of the
government, they also had a responsibility to see to it that
the benefits of economic development spread to the middle and
lower classes of society. On the 31st anniversary of the
Carter-Torrijos Treaty, she noted that this treaty had not
only given Panama the resources to confront its social
inequalities, but had put its relationship with the U.S. on a
foundation of mutual respect.

Torrijos and Balbina Call for Unity

3. (C) A brief media war broke out just before 7pm, when
the Navarro campaign apparently began leaking information
that the race was very close. Herrera's campaign countered by
leaking unofficial results that favored her. Torrijos, acting
all night in his capacity as PRD Secretary General, was in
the PRD electoral command post receiving the results all
night. As soon as Navarro's team began releasing their
information, PolCouns witnessed Torrijos call Navarro in,
after which the reports ceased. There was then a two hour
delay between Herrera's victory address, and the official
announcement at PRD headquarters, as PRD officials tried to
convince Navarro, who cried during his concession speech, to
participate in a joint television appearance with Herrera and
the other candidates. Finally, at 9 pm, Torrijos addressed an
enthusiastic crowd of PRD and GOP officials, with Herrera,
Navarro, Cortizo and several minor candidates on stage with
him. Torrijos gave a passionate speech in favor of unity,
saying the opposition could, "keep dreaming" about a PRD
split, which brought on enthusiastic applause. Torrijos
presented the primary itself as a PRD victory, as the party
was able to mount two strong campaigns, and generate a
massive turn-out for an internal election. Herrera then
followed with a speech that meshed well with Torrijos',
reinforcing a message of continuity. She hugged Navarro, and
insisted on her message from the earlier speech that she had
"turned the page," and that there was now only one party,
united and strong. Navarro's and Cortizo's presence smiling

and relaxed despite the emotion and tension of the day,
provided a powerful visual to back up Herrera's and Torrijos'
message. Herrera also publicly apologized to Navarro and
Cortizo for her campaign having challenged one of Navarro's
campaign ads, and getting it pulled off the air.

Continuity and Hope

4. (U) In her appearance with Torrijos, Herrera was even
more explicit than in her earlier speech in sending a message
of continuity. She told businessmen not to fear, saying the
current economic policy was "correct". She also called the
current foreign policy "correct." She repeated her call for
the fruits of economic growth to reach the middle and lower
classes, but pointed out that she was now not just the
candidate of the PRD, but of independents and even supporters
of the opposition who believed in that message of social
justice. She said there would be room for all social sectors
in her campaign. She defined the challenges of her eventual
government as improving the health care, education and
transportation systems, while pushing for decentralization of
the government.


5. (C) The tough primary campaign - perhaps the toughest in
terms of public attacks among PRD candidates - revealed
significant strain between those members moved by Herrera's
message of social justice and upward mobility and the middle
and upper class supporters who rallied around Navarro's
message of "strong arm (mano dura)" and to Cortizo's
intellectual campaign. Given the danger that a real split
could have developed, and as Navarro's melt down seemed to
encourage it, Torrijos and Herrera stepped in and brought
things back under control before any real damage was done.
The political theater of the PRD event was well
choreographed, and executed, in front of a hometown crowd
that knew that division is the PRD's worst enemy. At the same
time, Herrera presented a powerful vision of hope for the
increasingly restless Panamanian lower classes, despite her
defense of much of the Torrijos government's work. The hope
was not just contained in her promises, which included a
government evenly divided among men and women, but by her own
background. In the view of many Panamanians, Herrera's
persona -- not male, not white, not wealth and not elite --
is the primary evidence that she will be a change agent. She
has a real chance to portray the "process" from which she was
born as one that championed a meritocracy, and equal
opportunity, thus obscuring some of its darker aspects, with
which she has also been identified. Herrera's most
significant immediate challenge, however, will be getting her
message out beyond her base so it can be heard over the strum
und drang created by the opposition and independents fearful
of a return to the Noriega years.


© Scoop Media

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