Cablegate: Panama Reluctant to Prosecute Pirates
DE RUEHZP #0839/01 3201907
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 161906Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0090
INFO RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA
C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000839
E.O. 12958: DECL: 2019/11/16
TAGS: PREL PGOV PM KPIR EWWT
SUBJECT: PANAMA RELUCTANT TO PROSECUTE PIRATES
REF: 09 STATE 110714
CLASSIFIED BY: Eric Geelan, POLOFF, STATE, POL; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)
Good Idea, But . . .
1. (C) Poloff delivered reftel demarche to MFA Director General
for Treaty and Legal Affairs Vladimir Franco October 29, following
up on an informal approach on September 22, which in turn followed
up on a discussion between USCG lawyers and MFA officials in
September 2008. Franco said that he understood the USG's concern,
and shared our belief that it was time for Panama to take on its
responsibilities as the largest ship registry in the world. He
noted however, that if he were to bring this requests to his
superiors, it would be rejected. He said the view of senior
government officials is that, "we don't want those people
(Africans/Somalis) here." He noted that the government was very
concerned with the recent wave of illegal migrants coming from
Somalia and other African countries, and while he saw no real
problem with the legalities involved, he believed it to be a
political non-starter in the current environment if advanced from
his level. He also noted that Panama's prisons were in very bad
shape, and severely overcrowded, which would tend to make the idea
of bringing people in from the other side of the world to imprison
them in Panama seem absurd to Panamanians. He did note that we were
offering unspecified assistance with prisons.
AMB to VP, or Even Bigger
2. (C) Franco suggested two ways to introduce the issue that
might give it a high enough political profile to overcome the
reluctance of the GOP to bring more east Africans into the country.
One was for the Ambassador to raise the issue with VP/FM Juan
Carlos Varela directly, or even with President Martinelli. The
other was for the USG to convoke the Ambassadors in Panama of the
leading countries in the Contact Group on Somali Piracy, and
conduct a group demarche. He said France, and one of the
Scandinavian countries had already raised this issue with the MFA,
though without any success.
3. (C) On November 12, the Ambassador encouraged Varela to
consider prosecuting Somali pirates that targeted
Panamanian-flagged ships. Varela responded that the GOP was willing
to consider trials in Panama, and asked if the pirates would have
to remain in Panama to serve their sentences, or could be
transferred to a third country.
Civil Responsibility Issue
4. (C) Franco also referred to the "civil responsibility issue,"
calling it a "ticking time bomb." He said Panamanian flagged ships
were not covered by their insurance policies for acts of war. He
believed it was only a matter of time before a tanker had a massive
oil spill, or someone got killed in an anti-piracy action.
According to Franco, in such a case the flag country could be sued,
along with the owner, and had ultimate legal responsibility. He
said the GOP and Panama Maritime Authority (AMP) were ignoring
this, though he believed it was a case of when, not if, such an
event would take place.
5. (C) Franco related that prior to our demarche, Panama had
received several requests that Panama assume civil responsibility
for potential damages from foreign governments whose warships were
going to escort Panamanian-flagged ships in the waters off Somalia.
As a matter of course, these countries send diplomatic notes to the
MFA asking Panama to accept civil responsibility if their warships
or sailors (who board the ships armed in order to protect them)
cause any damage to the escorted ship or third parties. These
requests are routed to the AMP, which has uniformly refused them
all. Since all but one of the ships was carrying humanitarian aid
to Mogadishu itself, the boats have all been escorted anyway -
except for one ship that was not carrying humanitarian aid, and
which the French government refused to escort when Panama refused
to accept civil responsibility.
6. (C) Post will continue to engage with the GOP on this issue,
but notes that it is not likely that Varela had cleared his
statements with other members of the GOP or President Martinelli,
and that a serious internal debate is likely for precisely the
reasons Franco lays out. The prison issue will be key - both
whether there is an alternative to incarceration in Panama, and
just how substantial the financial assistance for incarceration