Cablegate: Panama: Gop "Profoundly Satisfied" with Results Of


DE RUEHZP #0933/01 3571539
R 221539Z DEC 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000933


E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/18/2018

REF: A. A: PANAMA 000623
B. B: PANAMA 00782
C. C: STATE 126055
D. D: PANAMA 00793

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


1. (C) Vladimir Franco, Director General of Legal and
Treaty Affairs at the Panamanian MFA, declared himself
"profoundly satisfied" with the results of two days of
bilateral meetings on the Salas-Becker Agreement (SBA)
December 17. The agreement, a corner stone of U.S.
counter-drug operations in the region, had become subject to
domestic criticism following the seizure by U.S. authorities
of eight Panamanian sailors off a Panamanian flagged ship in
2006 (see ref A). Following on an earlier meeting in which
the U.S. expressed regret for the seizure of the sailors and
promised never again to request jurisdiction over Panamanian
citizens under SBA (see ref B), the two days of sessions
(Dec. 16-17) succeeded in developing common proceedures to
implement SBA among the representatives of the numerous
agencies involved in the agreement within both governments.
In a side-bar meeting MFA Senior Advisor Adolfo Ahumada told
Brad Kieserman, Chief of the U.S. Coast Guard Operations Law
Group and NSC Director of Maritime Threat Reduction, that the
Perseus V crew members in U.S. custody remained a "pebble in
the shoe" of SBA, and that once they were back in Panama,
"Salas Becker (will be) at no risk." Ahumada urged the USG to
do everything possible to expedite their return to Panama
under existing prisoner exchange mechanisms. Asked about
Panama's willingness to prosecute pirates who attacked
Panamanian flagged ships (see ref C), Ahumada said he
sympathized with the problem, and said he would work to get
approval for such cooperation within the GOP. End Summary.

Profoundly Satisfied

2. (C) At the end of a two day bilateral meeting designed
to develope Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for the
impelementation of the Salas-Becker Maritime Cooperation
Agreement (SBA), Vladimir Franco, MFA Director General of
Legal and Treaty Affairs, declared he was "profoundly
satisfied" with the results, calling it a "great example of
how we can work together respectfully." The creation of the
SOPs is designed to minimize the possibility of future
problems with regard to the implementation of SBA, one of the
most important maritime counter-drug cooperation agreements
the U.S. has in Latin America. Panama's cooperation with the
U.S. under SBA became politically controversial in Panama
after the U.S. seized eight Panamanian sailors off a
Panamanian flagged ship in January 2006 (see ref A). While a
legal detention under U.S. law, the seizures contravened SBA
and the Panamanian constitution that forbids the extradition
of Panamanian citizens. On September 12, 2008 Brad Kieserman,
Chief of the U.S. Coast Guard Operations Law Group and NSC
Director of Maritime Threat Reduction, and EMBOFFs met with
MFA officials and conveyed an official expression of regret
on behalf of the USG, and an official promise never to
request jurisdiction over Panamanian citizens under SBA in
the future (see ref B).

Broad Participation Key to Success

3. (C) Franco had begun the meeting by noting that SBA was
vital to Panama and the U.S.'s fight against drug
trafficking, and that the mistakes that had been made in the
past by both sides needed to be overcome to save the
agreement. He specifically noted the Perseus V incident, and
said that the lesson for both sides was that SBA could not
continue to be implemented in an uncoordinated manner. He
noted that there had been meetings among different Panamanian
government agencies over the preceding two weeks to work out
their concerns over the implementation of SBA, possible
solutions, and coordinating mechanisms. He said they had
reached agreement on 95% of the issues, and needed our
agreement on only a few more to be able to complete a set of
SOPs that would cover the entire agreement. Franco led a
delegation that included representatives from MFA, the
Panamanian Embassy in Washington, the Ministry of Government
and Justice, the National Aero-Naval Service, Civil Aviation,
the Panamanian Maritime Authority, and the Attorney General's
office, including the two national drug prosecutors. Mr.
Kieserman led a delegation from the U.S. which included CAPT
Kevin O'Day, Chief of Law Enforcement for the U.S. Coast
Guard (USCG) 11th District, CAPT Tom Crabbs, USCG Liaison to
Joint Inter-Agency Task Force South (JIATF-S), Mr. Lou
Orsini, USCG Chief of Interdiction, CDR Harry Schmitt, Deputy
Chief of Law Enforcement for USCG District 7, CDR Sheryl
Dickinson, Staff Judge Advocate for JIATF-S, and LT Tamara
Wallen, Legal Advisor to the USCG Chief of Law Enforcement.
EmbOffs from DOS, DEA, TAT, and ODC represented the Embassy.

Jurisdiction Requests Major Issue

4. (C) Among the problems identified by the Panamanians was
the SBA provision for declining jurisdiction over
non-Panamanian citizens in criminal cases. SBA identified the
Panamanian National Maritime Service (SMN) (now National
Aero-Naval Service - SENAN) as the point of contact for such
decisions. Franco explained that SMN/SENAN was never
competent to take such decisions, and that this fact was the
origin of the Perseus V case. As a result, he proposed that
such requests only come through the diplomatic channel, from
the U.S. Embassy in Panama to the Panamanian MFA. The U.S.
delegation agreed, and this procedure will be written into a
joint SOP that will be used by both sides to implement the
agreement. At a subsequent meeting, MFA Senior Advisor Adolfo
Ahumada agreed with a U.S. proposal that a diplomatic channel
be set up to consider such requests over weekends and
holidays to avoid long delays for the USCG at sea. The
Panamanian side also announced that the SENAN operations
center would be the 24/7 point of contact for all requests
related to SBA, except for requests for jurisdiction. The two
parties also discussed the future of the ship rider program,
disposition of large ships seized in counter-drug operations,
and what Panamanian prosecutors needed from the USCG in their
evidence packets.

Resolving Perseus V

5. (C) In a pull-aside meeting with MFA Vice Minister
Ricardo "Dicky" Duran and Ahumada, Franco told Mr. Kieserman
and PolOff that the GOP had convinced five of the Perseus V
prisoners in various federal prisons in Texas to solicit
prisoner transfer, and that they hoped that the successful
execution of those transfers would convince the remaining
prisoners to solicit transfer. Franco requested USG
assistance in expediting the transfers. Ahumada described the
Perseus V prisoners as a "pebble in the shoe" of SBA, and
said that once they were all in Panama, "Salas-Becker (will
be) at no risk."

Piracy Cooperation

6. (C) Mr. Kieserman then noted the UN Security Council's
recent approval of Resolution 1851 and inquired if Panama
would be willing to prosecute acts of piracy against
Panamanian flagged vessels in the Indian Ocean (see ref C).
He said as more naval vessels were deployed in the area, the
likelihood of pirates being captured would increase. Noting
the jurisdictional difficulties involved in such
prosecutions, Mr. Kieserman asked that Panama show support by
taking on some of these prosecutions. He explained that there
would probably not be more than one or two cases a year, and
that the USG would provide logistical support for such
prosecutions. He also noted that SBA could be used to
authorize U.S. boarding of Panamanian flagged ships in piracy
cases, as the agreement refers to maritime law enforcement,
not just counter-drug operations. While noting there were
serious logistical issues for Panama to prosecute such cases,
including translation issues, and the availability of
prosecutors and staff, Ahumada said he was sympathetic about
the issue, and would push the issue within the GOP to secure
agreement to prosecute a limited number of cases to support
UN anti-piracy efforts.


7. (C) This meeting was a major success, in large part due
to the diligent preparatory work of the MFA, and especially
Vladimir Franco. Post has raised the issue of Franco's
uncooperativeness in the past (see ref D), due to his
tendency to look for reasons why things could not happen,
rather than for ways they could. SBA has been a major example
of that, but Franco has worked very hard to bring the
different elements of the GOP together to find ways to
overcome the inherent defects in the way the GOP has been
implementing SBA and has put the agreement on a sounder legal
and procedural basis than it has ever been. As our previous
cable suggested, Franco's legalistic nature has actually
benefited the USG. Pending the final transfer of the Perseus
V prisoners, Post believes the U.S. has finally put the SBA
crisis behind it. The successful conclusion of this process
would not have been possible without the leadership and
diligence of Mr. Kieserman, and Post wishes to express its
deep appreciation of his role throughout this process.

© Scoop Media

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