Cablegate: Panama: A Speed Bump at the Mfa


DE RUEHZP #0793 2802122
R 062122Z OCT 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000793


E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/06/2018

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


1. (C) Next week Vladimir Franco, Director General of Legal
and Treaty Affairs in the Panamanian Ministry of Foreign
Affairs (MFA), is scheduled to be in Washington to discuss
the Perseus V case with U.S. officials. This cable is meant
to help Washington officials prepare for this visit, and to
alert Washington to recent changes in the operating
environment in the MFA. In February of this year 1st VP and
FM Samuel Lewis appointed Vladimir Franco to his present
position, following the resignation of Iani Quadri, who had
held the job since 1999. In addition, Franco serves as one
of five Directors General in the MFA, and is one of two who
regularly replace the Vice Minister while FM Samuel Lewis
travels, effectively sharing the number three slot in the
Ministry. This changing of the guard has had a profound
impact on the Embassy's day-to-day interactions with the MFA.
Franco's office is responsible for reviewing all legal
issues, including all dip notes, Temporary Duty Notices
(TDNs) that grant U.S. military personnel SOFA-like
privileges, and everything relating to treaties, such as the
Salas-Becker Agreement (SBA). He is also responsible for
negotiations over the possible sale of the old Embassy
building in downtown Panama City. While the Embassy
continues to enjoy an excellent working relationship with the
MFA in general, Franco and his office are now approaching all
these issues in a detailed and legalistic manner.
Inconsistencies and mistakes which were resolved with a quick
phone call under Quadri, such as mistaken language in a TDN
dip note, now frequently lead to long delays, and eventually
require intervention with Franco's superiors to resolve.
While not all of these delays are directly attributable to
Franco, he has shown no interest in being helpful in
resolving issues, in stark contract to Quadri. Post also
believes that Franco has leaked information on the Perseus V
case, to assist lawyers for the sailors who are trying to
overturn their convictions by arguing that their arrests
violated the Salas-Becker Agreement. Regarding the
Salas-Becker Agreement, in a recent meeting with Brad
Keiserman, NSC Director of Maritime Threat Reduction and
Chief of the U.S. Coast Guard Operations Law Group, and
EmbOffs, Franco referred to Panamanian lawyers, "who did not
believe the Salas-Becker Agreement was legal, because it went
far beyond the original agreement." It was clear to all
present that Franco included himself in that group.

2. (C) A member of the governing Revolutionary Democratic
Party (PRD) and a civil servant at the MFA, Franco's
grandfather founded the Communist Party in Panama, and Franco
was educated in the former Soviet Union. He is also a member
of the left-wing faction of the PRD. That said, his attitude
toward the U.S. is less that of an anti-American ideologue,
then of a Panamanian nationalist, suspicious of U.S.
intentions, and annoyed at perceived U.S. prepotency. Franco
does not spout anti-American rhetoric, or bang his fist on
the table. His weapon of choice is death by a thousand
bureaucratic paper cuts. It is his failure to help resolve
issues quickly which is proving move inconvenient than
anything else. But he will also not let us get any fastballs
by him. It should not be assumed that because we have a very
close relationship with Panama, and especially with President
Torrijos and FM Lewis, that the GOP will agree to anything
the USG asks of them. Officials like Franco are distributed
throughout the GOP, and slow down or block initiatives they
do not like.

3. (C) So why does Franco occupy the position he does? It
is likely that in his present position, Franco provides a
firewall for FM Lewis, protecting him from accusations from
the PRD's nationalist wing that he is too close the U.S.
Lewis has presidential ambitions for 2014, and cannot win
without the acquiescence, at least, of the PRD's nationalists
and leftists. Franco serves as an early warning system, and
slows the pace of things down so the MFA can examine the
potential political consequences. In the current political
environment, Post will have to take care that all USG
requests going to the MFA are clean and unambiguous. This may
end up being in the interests of both sides, but will require
great care in the drafting of the many documents U.S.
agencies prepare for the GOP on a regular basis.

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