Cablegate: Torrijos Talks Security

Published: Thu 6 Sep 2007 10:09 PM
DE RUEHZP #1497/01 2492209
R 062209Z SEP 07
C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 001497
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/11/2017
1. (C) Summary: In a September 6 office call by SouthCom
Commander, ADM Stavridis, and Ambassador Eaton, an unusually
talkative Panamanian President Torrijos talked about a broad
range of security issues, but studiously avoided mentioning
the elephant in the room: his ongoing political crisis over
the election of Pedro Miguel Gonzales as President of the
Panamanian National Assembly. Torrijos previewed an
intensified campaign against drug lords, no change in
Panama's restrictive refugee policies, a commitment to
fulfill requirements necessary to re-start CNIES, pre-emptive
actions against violence planned by the SUNTRACS labor union,
improved wiretapping capabilities, frustration with the
Attorney General, changes in the Panamanian Police Force
leadership and structure, creation of a Coast Guard, and
comments on Colombia and Nicaragua. End summary.
--------------------------------------------- ---------
Torrijos goes after Colombian capos; gets armored limo
--------------------------------------------- ---------
2. (C) Torrijos announced that Panamanian Security forces had
identified 200 "capos" of the Colombian drug cartels that
were living and operating freely in Panama. He said that the
GOP was going after them and they expected the capos to
strike back. As a result of threats, Torrijos confided that
he is planning to buy an armored vehicle for himself. He
added that Drug Prosecutor Jose Abel Almengor (a close DEA
contact) had been whisked to a safe house with his family in
response to recent death threats. (DEA,s assessment was that
these threats were not credible). Nevertheless, Torrijos
asserted that his government would continue to fight
aggressively against drug trafficking in Panama before drug
cartels gained a permanent foothold here.
--------------------------------------------- -------------
We are not going to be pressured into taking more refugees
--------------------------------------------- -------------
3. (C) Part of the problem, Torrijos said, is that there are
large numbers of Colombian "refugees" in Panama. Costa Rica,
he said, had 50,000 Colombian refugees and 90 percent of
which are associated with drug trafficking and other criminal
activity. Torrijos said that Panama would not bow to UN
pressure to accept more so-called refugees from Colombia
since Panama didn't want to throw out the welcome mat for
criminals as Costa Rica had done.
Torrijos focuses on CNIES
4. (C) Ambassador pointed out that the Cooperating Nations
Information Exchange System (CNIES) is a tool that can help
both Panama and the United States in the fight against
illegal drug traffic. One of the remaining key steps before
that flow of information can resume is the issuance of a
Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) by Panamanian Civil Aviation
authorities. Torrijos seemed surprised that the NOTAM had
not been issued and promised to intervene personally to
ensure that it gets done quickly. Torrijos added that Panama
needs that flow of information and the cooperation it
represents in the fight against drug trafficking.
Troublesome labor union in GOP sights
5. (C) Torrijos praised the abilities of his newly appointed
Minister of Government and Justice (MOGJ), Daniel Delgado
Diamante (DDD), saying he had an excellent understanding of
security issues. Torrijos added that he now has a much
better flow of information from MOGJ since DDD calls him
every morning at 7 a.m. with a security briefing on
developments in the country. DDD, he said, was proactive.
He has great sources inside the restive trade union SUNTRACS
and finds out when they are planning demonstrations or
road-blocks and preempts the demonstrations by being on site
before the demonstrators. The demonstrators can demonstrate,
but they can no longer block the roads or incite violence.
6. (C) Torrijos said that SUNTRACS wants nothing less than to
overthrow the current political and democratic system by
violence, if necessary. "We cannot permit that," he said.
"Our national security is at stake," he added. Torrijos said
that SUNTRACS leaders had given one demonstrator a gun with
instructions to fire it into the air during a planned
demonstration to provoke a violent police response. This
worker, who was out of prison on parole, expressed to his
family his uneasiness about his role in inciting violence.
The family encouraged him to go to Panamanian authorities
with this information. He did and offered the GOP a list of
cell phone numbers of SUNTRACS leadership so that they could
tap them and hear for themselves the plotting of the union,s
--------------------------------------------- ------------
Wiretapping criminals is maddening even for the President
--------------------------------------------- ------------
7. (C) Torrijos said that he personally spent a day
negotiating with Attorney General Ana Matilde Gomez to gain
authorization to tap these phones. Gomez, now in hot water
with the Supreme Court for allegedly tapping phones without
proper prior authorization, balked at Torrijos' request.
Torrijos, undeterred, went to the Supreme Court, where he
debated for another half day before getting permission to tap
two phones. The Public Ministry then released the two phone
numbers to SUNTRACS attorneys, as required by Panamanian law.
Torrijos expressed his exasperation with his inability, as
the nation's chief executive, to initiate these sorts of
wiretaps when national security is at stake. He said he
wanted to tap the phones of not just these 20 SUNTRACS
leaders but any other SUNTRAC telephone number he could find.
He said that he didn't want to waste time getting judicial
approval for it either. He then quickly added that he, of
course, would never tap phones for political ends.
8. (C) Torrijos said that these anecdotes show how the Public
Ministry now "is a mess." He criticized the Attorney General
for firing her most experienced prosecutors, leaving in their
place a well-meaning but unprepared second or third string
team. (We share Torrijos, concern).
--------------------------------------------- --
Torrijos committed to reform security apparatus
--------------------------------------------- --
9. (C) Part of the solution, Torrijos, will be merging the
Technical Judicial Police (PTJ) into the National Police
(PNP). Although the Attorney General opposes this, Torrijos
said he'd push this through the National Assembly before the
end of December. "That will give us a year to make
adjustments so that we can institutionalize these changes
before I leave office," he said. He acknowledged that the
Attorney General and others believe he is "trying to recreate
a dictatorship," but added that he just needed a single and
clear chain of command in the police.
10. (C) Torrijos said that he planned to announce shortly a
change in National Police leadership. Although he praised
the leadership of current Police Chief Rolando Mirones, he
said that the uniformed police wanted and deserved to have
one of their own lead their institution. He did not say when
or by whom Mirones would be replaced. (Note: Rumors have
long circulated of a fierce antipathy between Mirones and new
MOGJ Minister DDD.)
11. (C) Torrijos said that he would also shortly break the
frontier division out of the National Police and create a
separate entity with the specialized training and equipment
they need. "You can't expect someone to protect the frontier
in the jungles of Darien one day and be a beat cop in Panama
City the next." Torrijos anticipated that creation of this
new entity would resuscitate allegations that he's trying to
"remilitarize" Panama.
Panama to establish a Coast Guard
12. (C) Torrijos reaffirmed his commitment to create a Coast
Guard, merging the Maritime and Air Services. Acknowledging
that this merger would create heartburn initially among
members of both services, he proposed naming a Coast Guard
chief who would then oversee the two separate services and
gradually work towards full integration. Torrijos gave no
indication of potential nominees or the timing of this merger.
--------------------------------------------- ----
Uribe visit could lead to more border cooperation
--------------------------------------------- ----
13. (C) During Colombian President Uribe's brief visit to
Panama to participate in the September 3, formal ceremony
launching the canal expansion and commemorating the 30th
anniversary of the canal treaty, Uribe crowed to Torrijos
about the recent killing of FARC drug lord Tomas Medina aka
Negro.8 Torrijos said that Uribe thought this was a
significant accomplishment and the panic heard in subsequent
FARC radio transmissions demonstrated its significance.
Torrijos further reported that Uribe had felt compelled to
accept Venezuelan President Chavez's offer of support in
negotiating hostage releases from the FARC. However, Uribe
said that he had carefully circumscribed the limits of
Chavez's authority, and Chavez had accepted those
limitations. Torrijos said that Uribe felt that Chavez, who
some have charged with aiding FARC and being a destabilizing
element in the region, was now on the hook to produce results.
--------------------------------------------- -
Nicaragua not ripe for change yet; wait a year
--------------------------------------------- -
14. (C) Torrijos praised the quick and generous assistance
the USG has provided Nicaraguans in the face of the
devastation of Hurricane Felix. "It's not just the right
thing to do for humanitarian purposes, but also for US
political purposes." He said that Nicaraguan President
Ortega and the Nicaraguan people understand and appreciate
the value of this much-needed assistance. Torrijos said that
we all have a stake in moderating Ortega's politics. "He
still sees the world through the eyes of the 1980s," Torrijos
said. "It will take him a year to understand the world has
changed." Torrijos said that Panama can and should play a
role in that conversion. That's why, he said, he
participated in the anniversary celebration for the
Sandinista revolution. "I had a role in that (revolution),"
he added sheepishly. Torrijos said that the INCAE Director
recently told him that his staff believed that Martin
Torrijos was uniquely positioned to influence Ortega. "I
want to do what I can," Torrijos said. He then announced,
seemingly to Sam Lewis' surprise, that he planned to conclude
a free trade agreement within 30 days with Nicaragua.
"Ortega doesn't like free trade, but he can call this
whatever he wants." He told Lewis that he planned to give in
to the last Nicaraguan demand: free importation of
Nicaraguan meat into Panama. Meat costs are rising in
Panama, he said, and this will help lower our costs.
15. (C) Torrijos seemed to pick up steam as he began talking,
perhaps because he could finally talk about subjects he
enjoyed rather than the current political crisis created by
the election of accused assassin Pedro Miguel Gonzalez as the
new President of the National Assembly.
View as: DESKTOP | MOBILE © Scoop Media