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Cablegate: Supreme Court Turnover Consolidates Presidential Power

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RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHZP #0007/01 0191916
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 191901Z JAN 10
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0327
INFO RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEHBE/AMEMBASSY BELMOPAN 0011
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
RUEHGT/AMEMBASSY GUATEMALA
RUEHME/AMEMBASSY MEXICO
RUEHMU/AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
RUEHSJ/AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
RUEHSN/AMEMBASSY SAN SALVADOR
RUEHTG/AMEMBASSY TEGUCIGALPA 0065
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000007

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 2020/01/19
TAGS: PGOV KJUS KDEM PINR PM
SUBJECT: Supreme Court Turnover Consolidates Presidential Power

REF: 09 PANAMA 907

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

1. (C) On January 4 the Supreme Court elected longtime member
Anibal Salas as president and chose recent appointee and former
drug prosecutor Jose Almengor as president of the court's criminal
chamber. Salas won six votes for president, including those of
Alberto Cigarruista and Winston Spadafora, his fellow appointees
from the Moscoso administration. Almengor, Alejandro Moncada, PRD
appointee Victor Benavides and Salas himself joined Cigarruista and
Spadafora in voting Salas in. The three judges that post deems to
be relatively uncorrupt, including previous court president Harley
Mitchell, abstained from the vote.

2. (C) The turnover drama was highlighted by Salas' appointment of
Zaira de Latorraca as his chief staffer after the National Assembly
rejected her last month as an alternate judge for Moncada (ref A).
PRD Deputy Mickey Aleman, a close friend of Almengor's, told
polcouns that after Latorraca was rejected, Almengor instructed her
to sit tight, because she would be taken care of. Aleman also
related that an inebriated President Ricardo Martinelli was
publicly overheard saying that he had made a big mistake by naming
Alejandro Moncada. It appears that he may have chose Moncada out
of spite towards the Panamenista Party members in the ruling
coalition who had strenuously objected to Martinelli's first
choice, former PRD member and current Electoral Tribunal magistrate
Gerardo Solis.

3. (U) The following is an organization chart of the Supreme Court.
There are four chambers, called "salas" in Spanish:

Civil Court:

Justice Alberto Cigarruista, President Appointed
by former President Moscoso

Justice OydC)n Ortega
Appointed by former President Torrijos

Justice Harley Mitchell
Appointed by former President Torrijos

Penal Court:

Justice JosC) Abel Almengor, President Appointed by
current President Martinelli

Justice JerC3nimo MejC-a
Appointed by former President Torrijos

Justice Anibal Salas
Appointed by former President Moscoso

Administrative Court:

Justice Winston Spadafora, President Appointed
by former President Moscoso

Justice Alejandro Moncada Luna
Appointed by current President Martinelli

Justice Victor Benavides
Appointed by former President Torrijos

General Matters Court
Composed of the Presidents of the other three courts.

4. (U) The Supreme Court has nine magistrates, appointed to
ten-year terms. Every two years, two judges are replaced,
staggering the tenure of the justices. Salas has been a member of
the court for eight years and will serve a two-year term as
president, where his main authority rests with his ability to set
the agenda for the weekly full plenary sessions of the court.
Apart from the weekly plenaries, which are held to address cases
with constitutional implications, the court is divided into four
three-judge chambers, three of which hear cases according to type;
civil, criminal, or administrative. A fourth chamber is composed
of the presidents of each of the first three and is dedicated to
internal court matters and licensing for attorneys. It is in these
chambers that the bulk of the court's work occurs, hearing cases
which have no bearing on constitutional law but which are not
resolved by Panama's lower courts. In addition to normal duties,
the court retains two powers with wide ramifications for Panama's
government; it has sole authority to remove and try legislators,
and it controls appointments to the courts immediately underneath
it. These lower courts, in turn, control appointments beneath
them, creating a cascade of judicial power from the top levels of
government.

6. Comment: President Martinelli now controls the executive,
legislative and judicial branches of government, and civil society
and the media are up in arms. Septel will detail the latest
developments in Martinelli's quest to rein in the Attorney
General's office, the last remaining independent government
institution.
GILMOUR

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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