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Cablegate: Panama's Long Farewell to Parlacen

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DE RUEHZP #0702/01 2641147
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 211147Z SEP 09
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3756
INFO RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA 2860
RUEHGT/AMEMBASSY GUATEMALA 0007
RUEHMU/AMEMBASSY MANAGUA 0662
RUEHSJ/AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE 2058
RUEHSN/AMEMBASSY SAN SALVADOR 1591
RUEHTG/AMEMBASSY TEGUCIGALPA 0457
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RHMFISS/DIRJIATF SOUTH
RHMFISS/COMDT COGARD WASHINGTON DC

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000702

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/10/2019
TAGS: PGOV PREL PM
SUBJECT: PANAMA'S LONG FAREWELL TO PARLACEN

Summary
--------

1. (SBU) The Government of Panama (GOP) is attempting to
withdraw from the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN), a
decision based exclusively on domestic politics. The
departure is an easy way for President Ricardo Martinelli to
make good on his campaign promise to reform Panamanian
institutions and eliminate endemic corruption. The
administration has invested significant time and resources in
the withdrawal process, with Foreign Minister Juan Carlos
Varela, his Vice Minister and his Political Advisor traveling
throughout Central America to lobby other PARLACEN members to
let Panama go without a fight. Although the PARLACEN treaty
does not contain a formal mechanism allowing member states to
disengage, Varela plans on utilizing Vienna Convention
mechanisms to effect Panama's exit. Panamanian officials have
been careful to separate the PARLACEN affair from Panama's
participation in regional economic integration, including the
European Union - Central American Association Agreement. End
Summary.

Background: From Regional Peacemaker to White Elephant
------------------------------------------

2. (U) PARLACEN, established in 1991, evolved from previous
regional mechanisms such as the Contadora Group and the later
Esquipulas Peace Agreement, both of which were efforts during
the 1980's to end the violent civil wars then raging across
Central America. All Central American countries except for
Costa Rica are currently members. Each member state sends 20
deputies to PARLACEN, which meets once a month in Guatemala
City. Panama's current deputies were chosen according to the
proportion of the vote that their parties received in the May
2009 national elections, with two spots reserved for outgoing
President Martin Torrijos and Vice President Samuel Lewis
Navarro. PARLACEN deputies receive $4000 per month in salary
and expenses and, crucially, immunity from prosecution during
their five year terms.

It Only Hurts If You Care Too Much
----------------------------------

3. (U) Panama's PARLACEN exit stems from the 2009
Presidential campaign in Panama. Reflecting Ricardo
Martinelli's low regard for the organization, his Democratic
Change (CD) party neglected to hold a primary to choose
candidates for PARLACEN. Later, in a change of heart, CD
leadership unilaterally chose PARLACEN candidates. CD's main
rival, the evolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) then
challenged the CD nominees before Panama's Electoral Tribunal
(TE) on a technicality, claiming that the lack of a party
primary invalidated their selection. The TE ruled in the
PRD's favor and disqualified the CD candidates in March 2009,
two months before the general election. This meant that the
PRD would be sending 11 deputies to PARLACEN and CD would
send none. The pre-election timing and the PRD's method in
denying CD representation raised Martinelli's blood for a
fight. He criticized PARLACEN as a sanctuary for corrupt
politicians to avoid prosecution, and he vowed to withdraw
Panama if elected.

Loaded For Bear
---------------

4. (C) The Martinelli administration has staked an unusual
amount of political capital on withdrawing from PARLACEN. In
August, FM Varela met with Panamanian PARLACEN deputies to
inform them that Panama would leave the regional
organization. CD's partner in the ruling coalition, the
Panamenista Party, has six PARLACEN deputies, including
Mireya Montemayor, who told an Embassy contact that they were
asked during the meeting "not to question Martinelli's
decision in public." After the deputies complained harshly,
Minister of the Presidency Jimmy Papadimitriu stepped out of
the room and came back minutes later to say that all
Panamenista PARLACEN deputies would be appointed to positions
in the GOP. In a later meeting the same day, Papadimitriu
offered
to pay a salary to all members of the Panamanian
delegation, including the PRD contingent. A week later, FM
Varela, Vice Minister Meliton Arrocha, and political director
Alfredo Castillero Hoyos all traveled to Guatemala and El
Salvador to officially submit the request to leave. In bold
defiance, Torrijos and Lewis traveled to the Dominican
Republic and were sworn in as deputies.

5. (U) PARLACEN member states have invoked legal and
technical objections to Panama's departure. FM Varela,
however, cites the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of
Treaties as his legal justification for departure; Article 56
mandates a 12 month notice of intention to withdraw, and
article 65 requires a three month period in which other
parties to the treaty may raise objections and thus block
withdrawal. The MFA's intense lobbying efforts aim to ensure
that there will be no formal objections.

6. (U) Parallel to the diplomatic effort, Panama's corruption
czar, who is also first cousin to Ricardo Martinelli, opened
an inquiry into abuses by PARLACEN deputies of their
exemption from import taxes for automobiles. Earlier,
Martinelli stated on television that he would not sign checks
for Panama's PARLACEN deputies, calling the organization "a
bunch of losers...drinking with immunity".

7. (U) The Martinelli administration has made it clear that
Panama is still interested in economic integration, with FM
Varela stating in August that they "will move towards
economic and trade agreements with the European Union, but
the PARLACEN will not be a part of these trade agreements."
On his recent trip to Italy, President Martinelli asked
Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi for assistance in Panama's
efforts to join the European Union - Central America
Association Agreement without having to join the Secretariat
Central American Economic Integration (SIECA). Panama has
been relegated to observer status in the negotiations due to
its reluctance to join SIECA. The issue will not likely come
up before the end of the year, however, as negotions have
been postponed indefinitely due to the coup in Honduras.

Comment
-------

8. (C) PARLACEN is low-hanging fruit in President
Martinelli's drive to shake up, and shake down, a complacent
and corrupt political class in Panama. PARLACEN has few
supporters in Panama, and due to its ineffectiveness, its
loss will scarcely be felt. Most importantly for Martinelli,
extracting Panama from PARLACEN will deprive former President
Torrijos and the other PRD members of immunity from
prosecution for corruption during the former administration.
STEPHENSON

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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