Cablegate: Panama Pardons AntiCastro Cubans

Published: Thu 26 Aug 2004 10:42 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 PANAMA 002176
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/26/2014
REF: A. PANAMA 02152
B. PANAMA 0925
C. PANAMA 0672
Classified By: DCM Christopher J. McMullen for Reasons 1.5 (b) & (d)
1. (SBU) Late on August 25, outgoing President Mireya
Moscoso signed an executive decree pardoning four antiCastro
Cuban prisoners Luis Posada Carriles and AmCits Gasper
Jimenez, Guillermo Novo, and Pedro Remon (see Reftels) and
163 others, as one of her final acts as president. The GOP
immediately transported the four Cubans to Tocumen Airport,
where they departed on two chartered aircraft at 0650 August
26. The three AmCits arrived in Miami before noon. The
other prisoner, Posada Carriles, reportedly traveled to
2. (U) Panama recalled its ambassador in Havana on August
23 and expelled the Cuban Ambassador on August 25. Those
actions followed a strongly worded August 22 Cuban
communiqu, threatening an "automatic" rupture of diplomatic
relations if Panama released the prisoners.
3. (C) GOP sources stated that Moscoso made all decisions
regarding the antiCastro prisoners, only consulting a small
circle that included Minister of Government and Justice
Escalona and confidants including her sister First Lady Ruby
Moscoso de Young and National Police Director Carlos Bares.
Bares reportedly made all travel arrangements for the four
4. (U) The press and many commentators speculated that
Mireya and Ruby Moscoso both received bribes from Cuban
Americans in Miami. Other speculation focused on Moscoso's
alleged aim to curry favor in Miami and with USG officials,
possibly as an insurance policy against visa revocation
(under 212f) for official corruption. A lawyer linked to
the incoming party claimed to have the name of the European
bank where the millions of dollars in bribes would be
5. (C) Incoming Foreign Minister Samuel Lewis Navarro told
Ambassador August 26 that he had no prior notice of the
pardons, which he said "interrupted the judicial process."
He added that the Torrijos administration would try to repair
relations with Cuba. Presidentelect Torrijos stated
publicly August 25 that he would restore any break in
diplomatic relations with Cuba.
6. (SBU) Also on August 26, Colon governor Gassan Salama
resigned in protest of Moscoso's pardons. Although a member
of Moscoso's party, the governor reportedly accused Moscoso
of keeping common people in prison but freeing "terrorists."
(Comment: Other critics have called attention to Moscoso's
ongoing "Mano Dura" operations, which involve police sweeps
through poor neighborhoods. Cuba also has $250 million in
arrears in the Colon Free Zone (CFZ), which has worried some
CFZ proprietors who fear the rupture could further complicate
their efforts to collect their Cuban debts. End Comment.)
7. (U) On August 26, two groups of University of Panama
students demonstrated peacefully against the pardons more
than a mile from the Embassy. A group of 200 students
blocked four lanes of traffic on the Transistmica Highway and
another group blocked traffic in the neighborhood of Curundu.
8. (U) Moscoso stated publicly that she released the
prisoners for "humanitarian" reasons, implying that the
incoming Torrijos administration would extradite them to
Venezuela or Cuba, where they would be executed. Moscoso
called the August 22 Cuban note "insulting," although she
added that was not a reason for her decision.
9. (SBU) Moscoso's pardon also included prominent
newspaperman Roberto Eisenmann, and many other prominent
Panamanian journalists, who had been accused under Panama's
dictatorshiplegacy libel and slander laws.
10. (C) Speculation abounds as to Moscoso's motives in
pardoning the four antiCastro Cubans. Both Moscoso and her
sister have strong ties in Miami, where they own real estate
and spend a considerable amount of time. Coming at the end
of her term in office, the pardons cause few problems for
Moscoso but leave a mess for the incoming Torrijos
government, whose Democratic Revolutionary Party historically
has had stronger ties to Cuba. Even incoming FMdesignate
Lewis told Emboff that the language of Cuba's August 22 note
shocked him, and Mireya has taken advantage of that insult to
Panamanian honor to act the staunch Panamanian patriot.
Also, by pardoning the Cubans and the journalists
simultaneously, Moscoso somewhat softened the shock of
pardoning convicted felons, while responding to what her
critics have called her hypersensitivity to press criticism.
The Colon governor's resignation and the recall of Panama's
ambassador to Cuba will also cost them little because they
both would have left office along with Moscoso on September
1. The controversy will likely be aired by the press during
Secretary Powell's visit to the inauguration, especially
because Cuba has accused the Secretary of requesting the
release. (See Reftel A).
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