Cablegate: Panamanian President Torrijos On the Hustings With

Published: Wed 7 Dec 2005 03:58 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
..S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 PANAMA 002369
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/07/2015
Classified By: Ambassador William A. Eaton for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
1. (S) President Torrijos invited Ambassador Eaton to
accompany him on a November 25 helicopter visit to Cocle
Province for a series of civic, cultural and political
events. With each mile separating him from Panama City,
Torrijos relaxed and transformed into a gregarious
politician, enthusiastically greeting people along the way,
giving several stem-winding speeches, and clearly connecting
with his audiences. During private conversations throughout
the trip, the Ambassador raised Torrijos's November 30 trip
to Cuba, agricultural trade issues, the revocation of Supreme
Court Justice
Winston Spadafora's visa, the USG's apparently thwarted
ambition to provide cell phone intercept technology to an
anti-drug unit of the Judicial Technical Police (PTJ), the
Costa Rican border, the Free Trade Agreement, President
Bush's visit to Panama, and Panama's upcoming chairmanship
of SICA (Central American Security Integration). End Summary.
Trip To Cocle Province
2. (U) President Torrijos invited Ambassador Eaton to
accompany him (along with the Ministers of Health and
Public Works) on a Friday, November 25 helicopter trip to
the Cocle province towns of Aguadulce and Ola.
Torrijos Trip To Cuba
3. (S) Torrijos told Ambassador of his plans for a
November 30 trip to Cuba to accompany 78 Panamanians, with
airfare paid by Venezuela, to receive free cataract surgery
from Cuban physicians. Torrijos claimed that the visit
partly is an attempt to show Chavez that he has an
"independent" channel of communication to Cuba. (COMMENT:
Some of what Torrijos had to say was eyewash that
was mostly for our consumption. On Cuba, Torrijos's
comment that he's trying to maintain "Chavez-free" access
to Castro is a stretch. Castro himself will decide how
warm relations will become. As always, we are a bit
puzzled by the obeisance that the GOP feels compelled
to show to Cuba or why Torrijos should feel
compelled to return to Cuba at the head of a non-official
delegation so soon after his August 2005 trip to
reestablish diplomatic relations. There are most likely
several reasons. First of all, Torrijos faces no political
down-side domestically. By going, he is associating
himself with a Cuban program that benefits poor
Panamanians. Also, his trip pleases the pro-Cuban faction
within the PRD, also at little cost. His comment about
maintaining lines of communication without Chavez is silly.
Torrijos was not concerned about Chavez when he actually
was an issue some months back, when the Embassy warned him
that Chavez would try to intrude (and did intrude) when
the GOP traveled to Havana to re-establish diplomatic
relations in August. END COMMENT)
Agriculture Issues
4. (S) Torrijos said he plans to remove phyto-sanitary
controls out of the Ministry of Agriculture, which he
acknowledged is controlled by cattle ranchers. Those
issues, he said, need to be handled independently,
transparently and impartially. (COMMENT: This was
apparently an attempt by Torrijos to assuage US concerns
about protracted delays in issuance of U.S. beef import
permits. END COMMENT) The reorganization plans will be
made public in January.
Spadafora Visa
5. (S) Ambassador informed Torrijos that the Embassy was
moving ahead with the revocation of Supreme Court Justice
Winston Spadafora's U.S. visa and would inform Spadafora on
November 30. Torrijos asked Ambassador not to announce the
revocation, claiming that he is working with newly named
Supreme Court Chief Justice Graciela Dixon, to pressure
change and possibly resignations. Dixon would be a good
partner in cleaning up the Court, Torrijos said, but he
feared a visa revocation would make his negotiations with
Dixon "more difficult." Ambassador told Torrijos (to his
evident disappointment) that Spadafora's visa had already
been revoked but that the Embassy did not plan to make a
public statement other than to confirm the revocation, if
asked. Ambassador told Torrijos that Spadafora lost
his visa because his corrupt practices and activities as
Supreme Court Justice were undermining democratic and
judicial institutions in Panama. (COMMENT: Embassy
confirmed the revocation of Spadafora's visa on November
30, as rumors blanketed the city. We are skeptical about
Torrijos's suggestions that he and Graciela Dixon are going
to clean up the Court. However, seeing is believing.
We may assume that Torrijos has his own reasons for wishing
that the revocation never happened or that news
never got out, but we doubt that those reasons are the ones
he gave. END COMMENT)
DEA's Listening Devices Thwarted
6. (S) Torrijos said that he is determined to keep
proffered cell phone listening devices, to be supplied by
DEA, out of the hands of the Judicial Technical Police
(PTJ), which, he said, had spied on him when he was a
candidate for president. Torrijos said he wanted the
Consejo Nacional de Seguridad (the "Consejo") to manage
the project from the Presidency (i.e., close to him).
Ambassador explained that giving such technology to the
Consejo would be problematic, since U.S. laws required
that it be handled through judicial/law enforcement
(i.e., Attorney General) channels. Torrijos bristled,
and indicated that he would buy the necessary equipment
himself if the U.S. couldn,t provide it. He said he
is preparing legislation to permit the use of telephone
intercepts under carefully controlled circumstances to
prevent its use for "political" or "extra-legal" purposes.
Ambassador reiterated that the USG still wants to cooperate
and support Panama in the law-enforcement arena and would
look into what the USG legally can and cannot do.
(COMMENT: Torrijos may not want the PTJ and the Attorney
General to have the capability of listening to telephone
conversations because it could reveal wrongdoing, which may
eventually be traced back to the GOP or the Presidency.
There is also the issue of depositing the power under the
control of the President without accountability. END COMMENT)
Costa Rican Frontier
7. (S) Torrijos confided that he has been speaking with
Costa Rican officials about launching a joint intelligence
operation to round up gun runners operating between Costa
Rica and Panama. Almost in the same breath, Torrijos
lamented his inability to get the Costa Ricans interested
in building a bridge to facilitate cross-border trade near
Bocas del Toro.
Free Trade Agreement
8. (C) Ambassador Eaton shared his fears that the next
"round" of talks with USTR might be the last chance for an
agreement. He added that he sensed diminishing patience in
Washington for protracted discussions. The Ambassador said
that he hoped that Commerce and Trade Minister Ferrer will
go to Washington with Panama's best and final offer.
Torrijos gulped and soberly said that the two sides are
close to an agreement and that Ferrer would indeed go to
Washington ready to close the deal.
9. (C) Torrijos mentioned with great pride that he would
chair the Central American Security Integration (SICA)
starting in January. He said this is an opportunity to
advance regional security integration issues, but did not
provide any details of specific plans or initiatives.
President Bush's Visit
10. (S) Torrijos is evidently still basking in the
afterglow of President Bush's early November visit to
Panama. He mentioned that First Lady Laura Bush's office
had called the First Lady's office to discuss bird
migratory patterns in an effort to focus on possible dates
for a follow-up visit of Mrs. Bush to Panama. Torrijos
also said that former President Bush plans to visit Panama
soon on a private fishing visit.
Comment: Atmospherics
11. (S) Torrijos genuinely seemed to enjoy being on the
hustings. He personally drove his SUV from the helicopter
to the various events, honking his horn at passersby,
stopping to chat with folks along the road and on their
front porches, calling out to residents (by name). He
glad-handed enthusiastically, sweeping children and babies
into his arms (for great photo ops). His speeches were
lively (and funny), passionate, and clearly connected with
his audience.
More Atmospherics
12. (S) Ambassador also was struck by the number of people
who carried photos and posters of Torrijos's father, the
former military dictator Gen. Omar Torrijos. Martin
Torrijos seems to have a similar populist bent. In
unguarded comments throughout the day, Torrijos revealed
himself as a man determined to do the right thing and to
improve conditions in Panama. His heart seems in the right
place. His execution needs to improve to make his dreams a
View as: DESKTOP | MOBILE © Scoop Media