Cablegate: President's Top Advisor Affirms Security Is Gop's Biggest


DE RUEHZP #0799/01 2961804
O R 231804Z OCT 09

S E C R E T PANAMA 000799


E.O. 12958: DECL: 2029/10/23
SUBJECT: President's Top Advisor Affirms Security is GOP's Biggest
Challenge, Requests US Help in Organizing Response


S E C R E T PANAMA 000799


E.O. 12958: DECL: 2029/10/23
SUBJECT: President's Top Advisor Affirms Security is GOP's Biggest
Challenge, Requests US Help in Organizing Response


CLASSIFIED BY: Barbara Stephenson, Ambassador, State, EXEC; REASON:
1.4(B), (D)

1. (S/NF) Summary: President Ricardo Martinelli's most trusted
advisor, Minister of the Presidency Jimmy Papadimitriu, has
appealed to the Embassy to assist him in focusing the president's
attention on security issues and bringing order to the GOP's
chaotic security policy apparatus. Papadimitriu lamented
Martinelli's limited attention span and the infighting among senior
GOP security officials, at a time when skyrocketing crime and drug
trafficking are threatening Panama's future stability and
prosperity. He acknowledged that the president's preoccupation
with political wiretaps had sidetracked more serious GOP security
efforts, and he asked the Ambassador to meet regularly with
Martinelli to give him the USG's views on security directly from
the source. End Summary.

2. (S/NF) During an October 21 meeting with Ambassador, DCM and
PolSec officer, Papadimitriu said he had come to realize that
citizen security is the key issue for the Martinelli government,
and that failure to address the problem could undermine the GOP's
success in other areas and threaten future investment and economic
growth. (Comment: This represents serious progress. When we met
last month with Papadimitriu to coordinate anti-gang and Darien
strategies, he had dismissed rising crime as a perception problem
driven by irresponsible media, a view we challenged. End comment)
He acknowledged that President Martinelli's preoccupation with
obtaining wiretap capability to keep tabs on his political
opponents (ref B) had diverted attention from serious action to
confront Panama's true security threats. He expressed regret that
the wiretap issue had been a source of tension with the Embassy.

3. (S/NF) Papadimitriu said he had advised Martinelli to tone down
his aggressive public campaign to destroy former president Ernesto
Perez-Balladares, and to focus his attention on citizen security.
He admitted that he has had limited success in that regard, and
that the president was still receiving a briefing first thing every
morning from intelligence chief Olmeido Alfaro on the activities of
his political adversaries. He observed that Martinelli's
hyperactive management style and exceedingly short attention span
made it difficult to direct him toward the necessary work of fixing
Panama's broken government administrative systems, which are the
greatest impediment to security reform.

Everybody and Nobody is in Charge
--------------------------------------------- --

4. (S/NF) Describing in great detail his frustration with the
chaotic state of GOP security policy, Papadimitriu complained that
senior GOP security figures -- Vice President Juan Carlos Varela,
Minister of Government and Justice Jose Raul Mulino, national
police director Gustavo Perez, and intelligence chief Olmeido
Alfaro -- were all continually jockeying for power. He said,
"Every one of them thinks he is in charge, and everyone has his own
version of what the gringos say." Papadimitriu said this situation
sowed confusion, because each claimed to have the Embassy's
endorsement for their pet projects and each brought Martinelli a
different view of the Embassy's positions on security issues.

5. (S/NF) The Ambassador told Papadimitriu that this was precisely
why she had pressed so persistently for their meeting to take
place. She suspected that the hours she and the Embassy security
team had been devoting to meeting with their GOP counterparts were
not resulting in a clear picture reaching the president., and that
she had personally spent many hours briefing GOPQncipals and had
provided extensive documentation. She assured him that we would
continue in that effort.

6. (S/NF) The Ambassador explained the Embassy's efforts to provide
President Martinelli with some quick wins on security -- chiefly
the dismantling of the FARC drug trafficking operation in the

Darien, which we believe is fueling the serious uptick in murders
in the capital -- in order to buy time for police reforms that are
as necessary as they are tedious. She explained that she had, in
the wake of her mid-September meeting with Martinelli (ref C),
moved on multiple fronts on the green light he had given her to
develop a comprehensive plan of action in the Darien. While she and
her team had repeatedly briefed the vice president/foreign
minister, the minister of government and justice, and service
chiefs, she wanted to be sure she was still acting within the
president's guidance.

The USG is Key

7. (S/NF) Papadimitriu acknowledged he was very worried about the
disarray in the GOP's security team, because he knows that security
is far and away the top concern among Panamanians and recent polls
show increasing concern that perceptions of citizen insecurity are
getting worse. He admitted that, "We are riding on a huge
honeymoon" that would soon end, and the GOP's perceived lack of
effective action on security could cause grave damage to the
president's image.

8. (S/NF) As for what to do, he first suggested that the
Ambassador join the GOP's regular weekly security briefings. He
then suggested the Ambassador meet every week with the president.
He then suggested that VP/FM Varela was the best GOP official to
coordinate GOP security policy. The Ambassador replied that there
were pros and cons to each of these approaches, and suggested
Papadimitriu let her know how the president wishes to proceed.

9. (S/NF) That evening, the AmbassadoQeceived a BlackBerry chat
message from the president stating, "Get Silver [the ringleader of
the FARC drug trafficking ring]. You have my blessing. Need to meet
every week." The Ambassador replied suggesting blocks of time
suitable for a meeting. To cover all the bases, she is hosting
VP/FM Varela for lunch on October 23 to review security and other
issues. At the request of MOGJ, she will also host the minister
and his service chiefs for breakfast on October 28.

10. (S/NF) Comment: Effective GOP coordination on security is
clearly still a work in progress. Embassy support to this effort
will remain robust.
C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000891


E.O. 12958: DECL: 2019/12/17
SUBJECT: Ambassador's November 25 Meetings with President, Vice
President, and Minister of the Presidency


CLASSIFIED BY: Debra L. Hevia, Political Counselor, State, POL;
REASON: 1.4(B), (D)

1. (C) Summary/Introduction: The Ambassador and DCM spent six hours
in meetings with top government officials on November 25 to work
through a number of specific security issues, as well as to agree
on a structure for better coordination on security issues. End
summary/ introduction.

The U.S. Is Panama's Partner


2. (C) The Ambassador and DCM met first with Vice President/Foreign
Minister Juan Carlos Varela and Minister of the Presidency Demetrio
"Jimmy" Papadimitriu, after which they all joined President Ricardo
Martinelli for lunch. The Ambassador turned to the top concern of
Panamanian citizens: security, noting that the Embassy's top
priority in Panama is security, and that violence threatens
long-term governance and prosperity. She assured the GOP that the
Embassy would strongly support both aggressive efforts against
traffickers and robust programs to keep youth out of gangs.
However, she expressed concern that many initiatives have been
stalled due to divisions within the government or a lack of
internal coordination, and in the case of the Council for Public
Security and National Defense (Consejo), leadership that has worked
directly counter to our bilateral information-sharing programs (ref

3. (C) The Ambassador detailed the many programs the USG provides
to assist Panama on security issues, including NAS assistance,
Coast Guard and Navy patrols, Southcom humanitarian and development
projects, gang-prevention initiatives, and 30 U.S. federal law
enforcement agents working side-by-side with Panamanian
counterparts. The Ambassador underscored that Panama does not need
to search for a partner on security issues; it already has one.

GOP: No Plan or Leadership on Security

--------------------------------------------- --

4. (C) Papadimitriu acknowledged the lack of GOP coordination,
saying that there is no consensus about security and no plan to
address it. He said the Ministry of Government and Justice (MOGJ)
was too unwieldy, and that Minister Jose Raul Mulino did not have
the full support and confidence of the government, but no one else
wanted the job. Papadimitriu added, "We don't have anyone who
wakes up thinking about security in the way you do. No one feels
accountable or responsible." Martinelli ridiculed Mulino, saying
that at Cabinet meetings he often talks for 20 minutes nonstop,
with an attitude that he knows more than everyone else because he
served in government previously, causing the other ministers to
stop listening and start working on their blackberries.

5. (C) The Ambassador asked who the GOP was considering naming as
the new minister of security, and Martinelli admitted he had not
thought about it, but it would not be Mulino. He said Director of
the Panamanian National Police Gustavo Perez wanted to remain in
his job, and Martinelli was happy to leave him there. The
Ambassador and DCM urged Martinelli to choose a strong manager, who
did not necessarily have to be a security expert.

Joint Task Force/Maritime Bases


6. (C) The Ambassador detailed how our efforts to help the GOP
stand up a small maritime task force that could operate off the
Darien's Pacific coast using existing Panamanian security resources
had spiraled into a vitriolic public debate about U.S. involvement
in "maritime bases" (ref B). Papadimitriu was dismayed, and asked
for a paper detailing the operation that the President could sign
off on as a direct order to Mulino and the service chiefs. (Note:
DCM provided a NAS-drafted paper the same afternoon, which
Martinelli signed.) Papadimitriu had not paid close attention to
the bases controversy but nor was he alarmed, as his internal
polling showed most Panamanians were not greatly concerned about
the bases. He agreed with the Ambassador and DCM that the GOP
needed to have a credible spokesperson on security issues, and
coordinate its messaging both internally and (where appropriate)
with the Embassy.

Global CST and Israeli Involvement


7. (C) The Ambassador expressed concerns about the proposals made
by Israeli security company Global CST, citing negative experiences
in Colombia and the difficulty of working with Israeli presence in
GOP ministries (ref C and D). Varela said the GOP could solve its
own problems without relying on contractors. Papadimitriu
expressed surprise at the reports from Colombia, as he believed CST
had been hired with Plan Colombia funds with the USG's blessing.
He said he did not want to do anything to harm Panama's
relationship with the U.S. and would ask CST president Ziv to stand
down, though he later admitted it would be difficult since CST had
spent its own money sending a large team to Panama to complete a
survey. In particular, Papadimitriu was receptive to the argument
that Panama did not need to buy expensive coastal radars or other
hardware recommended by CST. However, he liked CST's ideas about
creating a ministry of security and reorganizing the GOP security
structure, as well as their suggestion to recruit management talent
from the private sector. To sum up, Papadimitriu said he was
shocked by the conversation, and would not let Israeli influence
damage the U.S.-Panama relationship. Martinelli was similarly
taken aback, and emphasized that he did not want to endanger
relations with the USG, saying "We don't want to change friends."
He said he would call Colombian President Uribe to get the straight
scoop on CST.

Matador Judicialized Wiretap Program

--------------------------------------------- -

8. (C) Martinelli asked for additional wiretap assistance, saying
the GOP needed to catch ordinary criminals in addition to drug
trafficking organizations. The Ambassador and DCM suggested that
our judicialized wiretap program could be expanded, but it must
still be moved out from under the control of Consejo to preserve
the judicial quality of the evidence collected. Given the
President's opposition to putting it under the control of the
Attorney General, the Ambassador referred to the agreement VP/FM
Varela had worked out to move the Matador program under Panamanian
National Police Director Gustavo Perez. Martinelli confirmed his
agreement with that plan.

Moving Forward


9. (C) The GOP and Embassy agreed to continue this on-going
dialogue through a bi-weekly security meeting including Varela,
Papadimitriu, and Mulino on one side and the Ambassador, DCM, and
political-security officer on the other. Martinelli said that he,
Varela, and Papadimitriu were the "circle zero" of the GOP, and
that no important decisions were taken unless the three of them had
discussed it and agreed on a course of action.

Bio notes


10. (C) In general, Martinelli seemed more relaxed overall and less
aggressive than we have seen him in previous meetings. His general
tone was respectful and positive, in contrast with his previous
argumentative, drive-a-hard-bargain manner.

11. (C) Regarding the recent arrest of his cousin Ramon Martinelli
in Mexico on money laundering charges, Martinelli said he was
satisfied. If the Mexicans had not arrested him, the GOP had plans
to arrest him. He said Ramon had always been a "black sheep" and
was sullying the good Martinelli family name.

© Scoop Media

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