Cablegate: Panama: New Canal Minister Dishes

Published: Mon 2 Jul 2007 10:15 PM
DE RUEHZP #1111/01 1832215
R 022215Z JUL 07
C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 001111
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/02/2017
Classified By: POLCOUNS Brian R. Naranjo. Reasons: 1.4 (b) and (d)
1. (C) While ostensibly reaching out to make himself
available to address concerns U.S. firms may have concerning
the canal expansion project, recently appointed Minister of
Canal Affairs (and former Comptroller General) Dani Kuzniecky
was more intent on dishing on the Panama Canal Authority
(ACP) and cabinet dynamics during his June 28 meeting with
POL. If the Embassy received any complaints from American
companies regarding difficulties or problems with bidding on
canal expansion work, the Embassy should contact him
immediately, Kuzniecky said, "the sooner the better." Having
dispensed with his offer to assist the Embassy with U.S.
firms who had concerns about the canal expansion project,
Kuzniecky dished on his dealings with ACP Administrator
Alberto Aleman Zubieta and the ACP board and discussed the
inner workings of Torrijos' cabinet. End summary.
ACP Administrator and Minister Clash
2. (C) Asserting that Aleman "thought that he could
manipulate me since I am new," Kuzniecky relayed a clash that
he had the week of June 18 with Aleman, "the emperor,"
regarding the ACP's public relations efforts. Kuzniecky
said, "The PR campaign stinks. Aleman keeps up this nonsense
presentation highlighting the administration of the canal.
We are past that point. The referendum is over. We now need
to keep people informed of the progress that we are making.
To do so, Kuzniecky pressed against Aleman's refusal to
translate canal expansion-related documents into Spanish,
particularly those posted on the ACP's website. Responding
to Aleman's complaint that such a translation project was
"too expensive," Kuzniecky said he lost his cool and
retorted, "It is ridiculous the amount of money the canal
makes and the amount of money it wastes in needless and
useless studies. Now you are being thrifty with the money
needed to translate documents into Panama's official
language?" At the end of this meeting, Aleman invited
Kuzniecky to his office for coffee and to show Kuzniecky the
blueprints for the new office of the Canal Affairs Minister.
The minister told POL he passed on the coffee and told
Aleman, "I do not want a new office. We could use that money
for translation purposes." Kuzniecky said he read "hundreds"
of papers to get up to speed on canal operations and the
expansion process" and indicated that Aleman was surprised
"to find himself dealing with a lawyer who reads the fine
print." ACP Board Member Eduardo Quiros confirmed for
POLCOUNS on July 2 that the board had been pressuring Aleman
to more effectively publicize the ACP's implementation of the
expansion project, particularly the translation of key
information into Spanish.
ACP Board Dynamics
3. (C) Kuzniecky noted that the ACP Board was now meeting
once a week. Furthermore, each board member belonged to at
least two sub-committees that were also meeting at least once
a week. Kuzniecky provided POL the following insights into
the ACP Board's dynamics:
-- First VP and FM Samuel Lewis controlled ACP Board Member
Adolfo Ahumada's vote. (Note: Ahumada was re-appointed to
the board on June 29. He also serves as Lewis' closest
advisor at the MFA.)
-- Eduardo Quiros, a close associate of former President
Mireya Moscoso, controlled fellow Panamenista Party member
Norberto Delgado's votes. "Thank God," Kuzniecky said,
"Delgado is a jerk." Quiros also reaches out to Tono
Dominguez who Kuzniecky characterized as very smart and
apolitical. Kuzniecky asserted, "Dominquez hates Aleman."
Quiros told POLCOUNS on July 2 that Kuzniecky was a
"top-notch" minister who was quickly learning the ropes of
the ACP and particularly of the expansion project, a
remarkable endorsement for an ardent Panamenista to offer for
any PRD member like Kuzniecky.
-- Mario Galindo controlled the votes of fellow Movement of
Liberal Republican Nationals (MOLIRENA) party member Billy
-- Robert Roy and Eloy Alfaro were at times independent, but
Kuzniecky said at other times they followed the line of
former President Ernesto "El Toro" Perez Balladares, a member
of the governing Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD).
-- Abel Rodriguez, Kuzniecky said, was "an old engineer who
has lost his way."
-- Through newly appointed board member Ricardo de la
Espriella, current Panamanian President Martin Torrijos would
be better informed of developments on the ACP, Kuzniecky
-- Kuzniecky said newly appointed board member Guillermo
Chapman appeared to be more independent.
Kuzniecky Dishes Cabinet Dirt
4. (C) Referring to the ongoing investigations into former
head of the National Maritime Service (SMN) Ricardo Traad and
of the head of the Social Security System (CSS) Rene Luciani,
Kuzniecky asserted that President Torrijos had "not yet
recovered" from the "blows" Attorney General Ana Matilda
Gomez had delivered "one after the other" prior to the
Organization of American States General Assembly (OASGA) in
early June. Kuzniecky said Torrijos was more upset by the
Luciani case explaining, "Luciani has been a public servant
for thirty years and never before had a case before the
Attorney General. Then this matter comes up and, though the
Attorney General has to do her job, Ana Matilda does
everything to try to humiliate him." For example, knowing
that he was not at Luciani's mother's home, Gomez nonetheless
sent the Technical Judicial Police (PTJ) to raid his 84-year
old mother's home in search of Luciani. Ever since these
cases arose, "Torrijos' mood has been bad, and he curses more
often these days," Kuzniecky asserted. At the last cabinet
meeting (date unknown), Kuzniecky said that Torrijos told the
assembled ministers that he would soon resume holding cabinet
meetings in the interior so that citizens could confront them
directly with their questions as to why they were not doing
their jobs.
5. (C) Turning to rumors of a cabinet shuffle, Kuzniecky
said that the rumors had been circulating for months because
"Martin does not know how to get rid of people. He never had
the guts to ask me to leave as Comptroller General since he
could not fire me, but instead made me Canal Affairs
Minister." Immigration Director Ricardo Vargas, Kuzniecky
said, would not be fired, but instead would be "promoted to
Ombudsman (Defensor del Pueblo) with more money, more perks,
but no way to hurt Torrjos." (Note: On June 29, Vargas was
elected Ombudsman by the National Assembly.)
6. (C) During Torrijos June trip to Brazil, Kuzniecky said,
it became apparent that the relationship between Lewis and
Minister of Commerce and Industry Alejandro Ferrer had
deteriorated. "I noticed that they kept away from one
another." On one motorcade movement, Lewis confided to
Kuzniecky that Ferrer was "insufferable and had become a
burden," Kuzniecky added. Nonetheless, Kuzniecky conceded
that Ferrer remained very close to Torrijos.
7. (C) No U.S. company, to date, has come forth to Embassy
to complain about the bid process to participate in the canal
expansion project. Kuzniecky's remarkable candor though opens
the door a crack into the often hermetically sealed world of
the ACP's top leadership and especially of Torrijos' cabinet.
Post has learned from other quarters that the Attorney
General's high-visibility investigations have put Torrijos
and key figures in his administration (e.g., Minister of
Housing Balbina Herrera, Minister of the Presidency Ubaldino
Real) on the defensive. Torrijos' anguishing over cabinet
changes that seem to be perpetually in the offing but never
come to fruition has become a permanent element of
speculation on the political gossip circuit. As for
competition between Ferrer and Lewis, post is not surprised.
Lewis and Ferrer are associated with different law firms that
are often in close competition. Ferrer, with the recent
signing of the Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA), has enjoyed
at least a temporary ascendency relative to Lewis who himself
aspires to succeed Torrijos as president. Post has also
heard that possible presidential aspirant Balbina Herrera
sounded out Ferrer for support possible out of consideration
that Ferrer's strong reputation with business leaders might
bolster Herrera's standing with the private sector.
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