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Cablegate: Panama: Ddd Takes Leave of Absence After Murder

VZCZCXYZ0001
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHZP #0818/01 2982311
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 242311Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2599
INFO RHMFISS/COMDT COGARD WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/DIRJIATF SOUTH
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
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 000818

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/23/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL PM
SUBJECT: PANAMA: DDD TAKES LEAVE OF ABSENCE AFTER MURDER
ACCUSATION FROM 38 YEARS AGO

REF: PANAMA 00725

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

-------
Summary
-------

1. (C) President Martin Torrijos accepted Minister of
Government and Justice Daniel Delgado Diamante's (DDD)
request for 30 days unpaid leave, at DDD's request, following
newspaper revelations about a killing the Minister committed
38 years ago. DDD admitted he was responsible for the
killing, but claimed it was a "police action" for which he
had already been investigated, and punished. This version has
been challenged by the victims family in an investigative
report in the daily La Prensa, which accuses DDD of murder.
DDD said he asked to be removed so he could concentrate on
defending his "honor." Presidential candidates Ricardo
Martinelli and Juan Carlos Varela called on President
Torrijos to remove DD permanently. DDD will be replaced
temporarily by Vice Minister for Public Security Rodrigo
Cigarruista. Cigarruista is not a powerful political figure,
and is probably being used in this position due to his low
profile, and lack of any Noriega-era connections. DDD had
become a lightning rod for those groups opposed to the
security laws, and Post will break off contact with him while
he is out of office to avoid involving the USG in an internal
Panamanian politico-judicial conflict. Post encourages all
USG agencies to avoid contact with DDD at this time. End
Summary.

-----------------------------
Ghosts Come Back to Haunt DDD
-----------------------------

2. (U) President Martin Torrijos temporarily removed
Minister of Government and Justice Daniel Delgado Diamante
(DDD) on October 22 by granting him leave without pay for 30
days. DDD had requested the time to dedicate himself to
"defending his honor" after the Panama City daily La Prensa
published a story on October 20 claiming that DDD had killed
Corporal Andres Garcia in 1970, while DDD was a Second
Lieutenant in Garcia's unit. The story contained extensive
testimony from Garcia's widow, sister and several soldiers
who witnessed parts of the alleged incident 38 years ago.
According to La Prensa's version of events, DDD shot Garcia,
who was allegedly unarmed, to death inside Garcia's home
after kicking in the door. The witnesses quoted in the story
claim that DDD was furious because a hungover Garcia had
refused his orders not to leave the base and go home. La
Prensa claimed that DDD was never investigated or punished
for the crime, but rather that Omar Torrijos ordered a
cover-up of the incident, out of respect for an old
friendship with DDD's father. Garcia's widow and the other
witnesses in the story all claim they were never called to
testify as part of any investigation, and that DDD was simply
transferred to an office job for a month after the incident,
before being named one of Omar Torrijos' body guards.
Garcia's widow was reportedly given a government job after
the incident.

--------------------
DDD Pleads - Guilty?
--------------------

3. (C) DDD has had several different reactions in the last
few days. He first admitted that he had killed Garcia,
calling it a "police action," thus implying that he had used
justifiable force. He has since claimed that he was already
investigated, and the case was closed. Attorney General Ana
Matilde Gomez has opened a formal investigation into the
case, but must first determine whether there was ever a
formal investigation, to avoid placing DDD in double
jeopardy. (Comment: This may be as far as the investigation
goes, since it may be impossible to determine with sufficient
certainty that he was not investigated. Gomez has already
noted that there is no requirement to keep records from that
long ago. End Comment) According to La Prensa, the documents
DDD presented to the Attorney General only indicate an
internal National Guard investigation, and claim that Garcia
was armed with a bayonet, and that he lunged at DDD. DDD has
also argued that he was already punished for his actions, and

there is a record of it in his service file. La Prensa has
published what it claims to be copies of his service file,
where nothing about the incident appears.

-----------------
Opposition Reacts
-----------------

4. (U) Presidential candidates Ricardo Martinelli and Juan
Carlos Varela called on President Torrijos to fire DDD
immediately. Martinelli accused Torrijos of being "afraid"
and said the former military officers in the government had
him "kidnapped", according to reports in La Prensa October
23. Varela, who called on DDD to be removed or to resign in a
La Prensa report on October 21, was saying that the security
of the state was at stake in comments reported in La Prensa
on October 23. Balbina Herrera praised DDD's decision to take
leave without pay according to the same paper, and said she
hoped everything would be "cleared up" and "turn out all
right." La Prensa also reported that leaders of the
Democratic Citizen's Network (RCD), which has led the
opposition to the security reforms (see reftel) called on
Torrijos to fire DDD immediately. Mauro Zuniga called having
someone who had admitted to killing a Panamanian as Minister
of Government and Justice "immoral," while Roberto (Bobby)
Eisenmann said President Torrijos was "committing political
suicide" by keeping DDD as Minister.

-----------------------
Who's Watching the Pot?
-----------------------

5. (U) The President named Vice Minister for Public
Security Rodrigo Cigarruista as Acting Minister of Government
and Justice until November 23. Cigarruista has no military
past, and is generally seen as a technocrat. He is also not
known to have any political powerbase within the ruling
Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD).


-------
Comment
-------

5. (C) DDD has become a self-inflicted casualty of the
security reform laws he has played such a key role in
promoting. It seems clear La Prensa began its investigation
around the time the security reforms were first mooted. The
accusation is well known, and DDD has even talked to EmbOffs
about it in the past. It had not been persued before now
because DDD was seen as a changed man, who had gained the
forbearance, and in some cases the respect, of the non-PRD
political elite. The security laws have had a profound impact
on how that elite looks at the Panamanian Defense Forces
(PDF) veterans (like DDD) who are in the GOP, and many things
are now being reinterpreted to fit the newly perceived
intention of this group to re-militarize Panama. DDD is seen
as the spearhead of this movement, and happens to be one of
the easiest people to attack. With several "skeletons" in his
closet (he was accused by the Truth Commission of being
involved in the death of Felix Serrano in 1983) and a very
bad temper, he is a perfect foil for the new "civilista"
movement. Unlike RDC's usual tactic of making accusations
unsupported by any evidence, La Prensa has done the kind of
quiet investigative work which, if continued, could bring out
many more ugly secrets from the time of the dictatorship
(there are already indications in the political gossip
columns of more cases on the way). This would be yet another
unwelcome outcome of the botched introduction of the security
laws for the Torrijos Administration.

6. (C) It is not clear what direction this will now go.
Gomez could very easily decide the case can not be
investigated for whatever technical reason, and DDD could
return. It is important to note that the accusation
implicates Martin Torrijos' father Omar Torrijos directly, as
being responsible for a conspiracy. So we may well have DDD
back soon. If so, it will become a huge political issue, with
the opposition and civilista leaders demanding Balbina
Herrera take a position on DDD - and by association on the
crimes committed throughout the dictatorship. If, as likely,
she backs DDD, it could hurt her significantly among
independents, and end up costing her the election. So it is
likely a brutal battle will be fought within the

Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) over what to do now.
Defend the legacy of Omar Torrijos to the bitter end, even at
the cost of Balbina Herrera's candidacy, or quietly cut DDD
loose?

7. (C) Cigarruista is a place holder for DDD. He has no
political weight to challenge other heavy hitters in the
government, and no past to attract the ire of the opposition.
If Cigarruista's appointment becomes permanent this may cause
a shift with the power structure of the GOP (this will be
examined septel). Post is most concerned about how the
civilista opposition to the security laws reacts to DDD's
removal from the stage. Determined to keep the security laws
as a front burner issue as the elections approach, they will
have to start looking for a new angle. In recent weeks the
USG has managed to stay entirely out of the op-ed pages. We
may be dragged back into the security reform debate by a
movement in need of a new target. In an effort to avoid this,
post will avoid contact with DDD and seek press on a range of
other issues - support for community policing, education,
exchanges (a surprisingly hot issue in Panama), protection of
the environment - with an eye to drowning for good the
"Militarization: Made in the USA" story line.
STEPHENSON

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