Cablegate: Ambassador's November 25 Meetings with President, Vice


DE RUEHZP #0879/01 3491448
R 151448Z DEC 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000879


E.O. 12958: DECL: 2024/12/04
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
persuade them that neglecting to focus attention and resources on
Panama's burgeoning crime and gang problems would be disastrous.
The Martinelli Administration has taken on many tasks since July
and it has not prioritized security issues. However, the window is
narrow to reverse the alarming trend of rapidly increasing
narco-trafficking and the related violence. (Note: Director of the
Panama Canal Authority (ACP) Alberto Aleman recently told the
Ambassador that in the past, the ACP assessed silting and other
physical problems as the main threat to Canal operations. Recently
that assessment shifted, and the ACP now considers violent crime
and insecurity the major threat.) The Ambassador stressed that the
GOP must address these issues with urgency before it is too late to
bring the situation under control. Rather than hiring Israeli
company Global CST to address security issues, Panama should
understand that the U.S. is the logical partner in these efforts
given our long-standing close relationship and the tremendous
resources we have invested in Panama through many years. End

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 explained once again that
narco-trafficking is not a U.S. problem, as the government seems to
believe. The top concern of Panamanian citizens is security; the
Embassy's top priority in Panama is security; violence threatens
long-term governance and prosperity; and Panama's best strategy is
to push trafficking away from its shores and make it difficult for
organized crime networks to operate. 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 our inability to work 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. If the GOP
did not agree to put it under the control of the public ministry,
perhaps it could be administered under police control.

Moving Forward


9. (C) The GOP and Embassy will 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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