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Cablegate: Security Dialogues with the Panamanian Government

VZCZCXYZ0381
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHZP #0887/01 3511737
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 171737Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0195
INFO RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RHMFISS/COMDT COGARD WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RUEABND/DEA HQS WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
RUEHGT/AMEMBASSY GUATEMALA
RUEHME/AMEMBASSY MEXICO 0047
RUEHMU/AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
RUEHSJ/AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
RUEHSN/AMEMBASSY SAN SALVADOR
RUEHTG/AMEMBASSY TEGUCIGALPA 0045
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000887

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS
NOFORN

E.O. 12958: DECL: 2034/12/16
TAGS: PGOV PREL PM
SUBJECT: Security Dialogues with the Panamanian Government

REF: STATE 112900; PANAMA 00571

CLASSIFIED BY: Stephenson, AMB; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)

USG-GOP Security Dialogues

1. (U) This cable is a response to ref A.

2. (C//NF) As Panama has no military, there are no formal POL-MIL
or MIL-MIL dialogues between the GOP and the USG. Our robust
security cooperation is coordinated through high level meetings
between the Ambassador and various senior GOP officials, including
the President, Vice-President/Foreign Minister, the Minister of
Government and Justice (MOGJ), and the Minister of the Presidency
(MINPRES). There has been a recent attempt to formalize a
bi-weekly meeting of the Ambassador, DCM, and Pol/Security officer
(POL/MIL, without the Military) and the VP/FM, MOGJ, and the
MINPRES. There has been one meeting so far, so it is unclear if
this format will solidify. If so, this meeting could become a vital
tool for coordinating with a government that has enormous problems
collaborating internally. Some issues will need to be taken to an
even larger group, including the security service chiefs, to make
sure everyone is on the same page. There is also a deep and wide
working level collaboration, including almost daily law-enforcement
and intel cooperation among several USG agencies and their GOP
counterparts.

Maritime Counter-Narcotics Coordination

3. (SBU) The GOP and the USCG recently held their second
bilateral meeting on the implementation of the Salas-Becker
Agreement, which details the rules for cooperation between the USCG
and the Panamanian National Aero-Naval Service (SENAN) on
counter-narcotics operations. It was agreed at this meeting that
these meetings will become annual, as was stipulated in the SBA
agreement but never carried out before this series of meetings. The
meetings have been very useful, establishing a mechanism for
clarifying misunderstandings, and bringing all members of the GOP
involved in maritime counter-narcotics work together with their
Embassy and USCG colleagues to establish effective SOPs.

Darien Coordination

4. (C) Post has also established a dialogue with the GOP on the
implementation of the USG/GOP Darien strategy, which is being
partially funded by 1207 funds. This dialogue has mostly been with
officials from the Ministry of the Presidency, who are in charge of
coordinating the civilian "all of government" approach for the GOP
on the joint strategy, designed to deny the FARC safehaven in the
Darien. Coordination of the security aspects of this strategy have
taken place at the meetings described in paragraph one.

Assessment

5. (C//NF) The Embassy is highly involved in Panamanian security
affairs, and frequently acts as the GOP's strategic planning and

analysis arm, due to the lack of security expertise within the GOP.
The GOP now consistently briefs visiting delegations the exact
analysis of the security situation in Panama that Post's LESWG
briefed to the incoming government on June 23 (ref B). The
Embassy's forward leaning position on security has been necessary
because the GOP does not have great bandwidth on security issues,
but faces a grave crisis as narco-trafficking skyrockets, and crime
rates and gang activity climb at alarming rates. This creates a
situation where the Embassy makes bold strategic and tactical
proposals, that often end up getting diluted and/or modified as the
GOP attempts to execute. The Embassy's proposal for the GOP to send
two interceptor boats and 20 men to Puerto Pinas, on the Darien
Pacific coast, to work with JIATF-S assets in the area to cut the
littoral drug-trafficking route is a case in point. The idea was to
create a strong presence in one critical area, which was key to
FARC drug trafficking, rather than dispersing limited assets
through Panama's territorial waters. After two months of inaction,
the idea evolved into a proposal to create 11 naval stations -
which will severely tax Panama's limited personnel, equipment and
logistical capability. The Joint Task Force that was part of the
proposal may yet prove to be effective - showing why coordinating
security strategy with the GOP is worthwhile, though not always
easy.

6. (C) This problem is the result of a weak leadership structure
within the GOP, where the President makes strong impulsive
decisions with minimal information, Ministers and security leaders
do not share information or coordinate actions, and there is no
middle level security bureaucracy to plan, evaluate or execute
strategies. Nevertheless, Panama is critical to U.S. national
security, and the Embassy will remain heavily engaged in this
issue. Critical to our success so far has been the tight
coordination among all Country Team members, leading to coherent
proposals that have inter-agency support. It is Post's evaluation
that our security dialogue is vibrant and essential, but that
implementation will continue to be a challenge.
STEPHENSON

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