Cablegate: Panama Plans Assertive, Coherent Foreign Policy

Published: Wed 29 Sep 2004 09:51 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 04 PANAMA 002452
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/20/2014
B. PANAMA 2362
D. PANAMA 2274
Classified By: Ambassador Linda E. Watt for reasons 1.4 (b) & (d).
1. (C) The Torrijos administration plans to run a much more
ambitious foreign policy than its predecessor, aiming to sell
the Panama "brand" to the world. First Vice President and
Foreign Minister Samuel LEWIS Navarro has repeatedly
indicated to the Ambassador and EmbOffs that the Torrijos
team intends to establish a "coherent" foreign policy that
will feature especially close cooperation with the United
States and Colombia and higher profile relations with
important Western European countries, such as France and
Spain. "We need to make Panama a world player," he told
PolCouns in a recent meeting. Lewis and other GOP officials
have emphasized that Panama's most important international
partner is the United States. To that end, MFA intends to
establish a wholly new North America Desk solely responsible
for managing Panama's relationship with the U.S. and Canada.
(Note: Canada currently maintains a two-person Embassy in
Panama. End Note.)
2. (C) Also with an eye on closer cooperation with Mercosur
and on attracting Western-European investors and tourists,
the Torrijos administration has sought high-level
consultations with European and Latin American leaders even
before winning the May 2 election, and more intensively in
the transition period before Torrijos' September 1
inauguration. Both the President and the FM see Panama's
foreign relations program as a motor to drive to their
domestic agendas of increasing tourism, local employment,
economic growth and investment, security and Canal expansion.
Lewis also has spoken of making Panama's UN votes more
"predictable" although we doubt that they will be more U.S.
or Israel-friendly than in the past. End Summary.
3. (SBU) Foreign Minister Lewis mapped out the Torrijos
administration's determination to make Panama a "global
player" to attract foreign investment and create jobs.
"Panama has not had a foreign policy for years," Lewis
complained during a recent meeting with PolCouns. "One day
it's one thing, the next day it's different." Lewis
described the recent whirlwind of foreign visits that
Torrijos has made, saying, "We just wanted to touch base with
all these (foreign leaders) to begin to form a coherent
policy, and make Panama an ally of all peaceful, democratic
nations." Today, the world ignores Panama, Lewis continued.
Lewis and Torrijos want Panama to start playing a more
visible role in world politics, to help Panama in Canal
expansion, attracting investment, and creating jobs. Lewis
plans to use foreign policy to promote Panama as a friendly
country, a good place to invest and to visit.
4. (C) MFA Foreign Policy Director General Dario Chiru
(Undersecretary for Political Affairs) expanded on plans for
establishing a new Directorate General to manage Panama's
relationship with the United States and Canada during a
September 20 lunch with PolCouns. Chiru said the MFA wants
to establish a sole interlocutor to manage bilateral
relations on a day-to-day basis (like a State Department
country desk). Noting Panama's oft-mentioned "special
relationship" with the U.S., Chiru explained that the MFA
should try to ensure consistent policy coordination with its
largest and most important partner. (Comment: Panama's
strict top-down management culture makes it difficult to
imagine that this system would be entirely effective or that
MFA's not-yet-identified North America office director would
have sufficient clout to rapidly respond to multiple daily
USG to GOP requests. Nonetheless, the decision to dedicate
human resources to managing Panama's relations with the U.S.
is a promising step consistent with FM Lewis' vision and
repeated overtures to EmbOffs. End Comment.)
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5. (C) The GOP has acted quickly on a U.S. anti-corruption
priority consistent with its own "zero corruption" campaign
pledge, by opening investigations against former Nicaraguan
President Arnoldo Aleman and nine of his relatives and former
officials. The Aleman group is allegedly connected with 40
Panamanian bank accounts containing some $60 million, and is
under suspicion of money laundering. Ambassador Watt has
reinforced to FM Lewis the A/S Noriega September 1 message to
Torrijos (delivered during the inauguration) that an all-out
push on the Aleman case will help Panama show its seriousness
on corruption. (Reftel B)
6. (C) Torrijos has visited President Uribe in Colombia
twice recently, Lewis told PolCouns, once immediately after
the May 2 election, and discussed a possible Panama-Colombia
Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Maintaining close relations with
its big neighbor to the southwest is crucial for Panama
because of immigration, trade and investment,
counter-terrorism, money laundering, and narcotics issues.
In a Sept. 13 meeting with A/DCM and PolCouns, MFA Secretary
General Daniel Delgado confirmed that Colombia has been
pushing the idea of finishing the last uncompleted stretch
(108 km) of the Pan-American highway to establish a
high-speed link between the two countries. Panama has agreed
to "study" the idea for the new road, which would bisect its
Darien National Park. But Delgado signaled that Panama is
much more interested in Colombian proposals to build
electrical transmission lines to link the two nations, power
grids than a road. (Comment: Panama,s concerns about its
150,000-200,000 illegal Colombian residents decrease its
enthusiasm for a road. End Comment.)
7. (SBU) Just prior to his inauguration, Torrijos and Lewis
completed a southern cone Latin America tour (using Lewis'
private executive jet), meeting with five presidents in six
days. They discussed participation in Mercosur in meetings
with President Kirchner in Argentina and President Da Silva
("Lula") in Brazil. Also in Argentina, Torrijos and Lewis
met with Uruguayan President Batlle. They stopped in Chile
to meet with President Lagos. During a fuel stop in Lima,
they met unexpectedly with President Toledo when he invited
them to the Palace. Prior to his July 2004 visit to Europe,
Torrijos stopped in Mexico to meet President Fox, Lewis said.
(Note: President Fox has announced his intention to visit
Panama for its 101st birthday, November 3. Torrijos and Fox
apparently intend to resurrect a previously failed attempt at
a Free Trade Agreement during the visit. End Note.) Torrijos
also has met with Costa Rican President Abel Pacheco.
8. During an August 6 press conference in Buenos Aires,
Torrijos detailed Panama's interest in playing a more
prominent role in Mercosur, drawing on its strengths as a
logistics, transportation and re-shipment hub. Torrijos
emphasized Panama's advantages as a natural conduit for
channeling and processing Latin American goods intended for
the U.S. and other nations. Torrijos stressed Panama's
service industries and security, explaining that Mercosur
should think hard about using Panama as a hemispheric
merchandise distribution center. Torrijos also stressed the
pending FTA talks with the U.S. and future FTAs with other
nations as an added reason that Southern Cone companies
should trust their products to Panama's distribution
capabilities. (Note: La Prensa reported September 27 that
Panama intends to become a member of Mercosur. End Note.)
9. (C) During his summer 2004 Paris meeting with Torrijos,
President Chirac confirmed plans to visit Panama in 2005,
Lewis told PolCouns. The Canal remains an investment option
in France, Lewis explained, as a French/Belgian company has
been involved in Canal expansion studies. Increasing French
tourism is important to Panama, Lewis said, and Chirac and
Torrijos proposed the start of a new Paris-to-Panama KLM
route. Torrijos also met with the King Juan Carlos I of
Spain and Spanish President Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero.
(Note: Direct Madrid-to-Panama flights will begin in October.
End Note.)
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10. (C) The Torrijos administration is keenly interested in
international security cooperation (read: with the USG) and
came to power with explicit (if vague) intentions to improve
Panama,s security posture. Panama,s wide areas of concern
range from Canal, port, and container security to the
integrity of its ship registry (the world,s largest) and the
security of its identity documents for tens of thousands of
mariners. For Minister of Government and Justice (MOGJ)
Hector Aleman, the link between domestic security and foreign
investment could not be more clear. The GOP wants companies,
foreign investors, and tourists to feel safe in Panama. MOGJ
is well aware of Panama,s current shortcomings. "If
terrorists came to Panama right now, we would sell them
candy," MOGJ aide Severino Mejia told PolOff September 15.
"Panama has never had a mind to think about security issues
like terrorism, but we must." Mejia said that MOGJ hopes to
write or re-write organic laws to re-organize the 21 social
and security institutions -- including the Panamanian
National Police -- that comprise MOGJ to maximize law
enforcement and security. (Note: MOGJ Hector Aleman, MFA
Secretary General Daniel Delgado, and Consejo Director (NSA
equivalent and intelligence chief) Javier Martinez Acha
traveled to Washington during the week of September 27 to
meet Department of Homeland Security, Coast Guard, and
Department of Defense officials, including Deputy Assistant
Secretary Roger Pardo-Mauer. Aleman and Acha likely will
soon make concrete proposals to Torrijos on security. End
11. (C) To the dismay of the Torrijos administration, Cuba
has proved unwilling to quickly repair bilateral relations
that were severed following President Moscoso,s August 2004
pardon of four Cuban-born prisoners convicted in connection
with an alleged attempt to kill Fidel Castro in 2000. The
prospect of renewed relations with Cuba will likely remain
stalled for weeks, if not months. Many are speculating that
Castro may be trying to extract as yet unspecified favors or
concessions from the GOP exchange for re-establishing
relations. Panama continues to maintain relations with
Taiwan, although unfounded rumors of an imminent switch to
China (PRC) continue. Meanwhile, a political scandal is
unfolding regarding Taiwan's financial support to President
Moscoso's government. The press and the new administration
are wondering loudly, "Where exactly did all that money go?"
(See Reftel D.) The Venezuelan ambassador to Panama, Flavio
Granados, arrived in Panama less than one week after the
September 1 inauguration, patching the rift with Venezuela,
also dating from the pardon of the four Cubans. Panama has
not yet selected a new ambassador to Venezuela.
12. (C) The Torrijos administration seems determined to
multiply its options internationally, especially its economic
and investment opportunities. The new GOP has announced
intention to "clean up" its far-eastern consulates (such as
Hong Kong, Manila, Tokyo), long a lucrative source of graft
from the sale of mariner identifications and ship
registrations. Although FM Lewis has spoken of the need to
make Panama,s UN votes "more predictable," we doubt that
they will become notably more congenial to USG imperatives.
With regard to Israel, for instance, Panama B,nai B,rith
President Joseph Harari recently told PolCouns that, at a
meeting with Torrijos and Lewis, Harari asked whether Panama
will adopt a more pro-Israel stance at the UN. Torrijos and
Lewis replied that doing so could make Panama a
higher-profile target for terrorist attacks, a risk they are
unwilling to contemplate.
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