Viewing cable 04PANAMA2921

04PANAMA29212004-12-03 19:21:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Panama
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 03 PANAMA 002921 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/01/2014 
¶1.  (C) In a two-day visit to Panama November 13-14, 
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld met with Panamanian 
President Torrijos and top cabinet officials, visited and 
overflew the Panama Canal, laid a wreath at the American 
Battle Monument Commission's Corozal Cemetary, and held a 
news conference.  President Torrijos strongly signaled that 
he would welcome closer ties with the United States.  He told 
Sec. Rumsfeld that the Panama government (GOP) is preparing a 
formal security strategy and hopes to establish a maritime 
intelligence database to share with the U.S. and other 
interested nations.  As his public and private statements 
reflected, Sec. Rumsfeld was impressed by the GOP's operation 
of the Canal, by what he called Panama's "serious 
professional approach" to Canal security, and by Panama's 
high level of cooperation with the United States on 
counter-terrorism and law enforcement.  He also praised 
Panama's emerging national security agenda and its 
"comprehensive thinking" on external threats and how to 
address them.  Sec. Rumsfeld underscored Panama's potential 
value as a U.S. partner on security and intelligence-sharing 
due to its unique mix of Canal, port, border and maritime 
issues, and its central hemispheric location. 
¶2.  (C) Sec. Rumsfeld and Torrijos agreed that international 
cooperation is the key for success against terrorism and 
threats from international crime.  Aside from one 
journalist's question during a November 13 news conference, 
neither side discussed World War II-era chemical weapons on 
San Jose Island (SJI) or unexploded ordnance (UXO) in the 
reverted areas of the former Canal Zone.  Also, neither side 
brought up the activities of Colombian guerrillas in Panama's 
Darien border province.  Torrijos several times dodged 
Rumsfeld's probing strategic questions on the Peoples 
Republic of China (PRC), each time turning to the PRC's 
commercial importance as a Canal user and port operator. 
¶3.  (C) After Sec. Rumsfeld's departure several local 
newspapers attacked the GOP for its alleged plans to 
"re-militarize" Panama.  (See Reftel.)  Among issues strictly 
internal to Panama, reporters derided an alleged "Plan 
Rumsfeld," a spurious purported U.S. drive to militarize the 
region.  Despite negative publicity in the wake of Sec. 
Rumsfeld's departure (spurred in part by recent GOP missteps 
that revived local fears of a "remilitarization" of Panama - 
see Reftel), GOP officials and Panama's influential business 
sectors judged the visit a clear success.  End Summary. 
11/13 Meeting with President Torrijos and Cabinet 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 

¶4.  (SBU) A list follows of Panamanian and U.S. officials 
attending the November 13 meeting: 
GOP officials 

President Martin Torrijos 
First Vice President Samuel Lewis, 
Minister of Government and Justice Hector Aleman, 
Minister of the Presidency Ubaldino Real, 
Minister of Economy and Finance Ricaurte Vasquez, 
Ambassador to the U.S. Federico Humbert, 
Canal Administrator Alberto Aleman 
National Security Advisor Javier Martinez Acha. 
USG officials 

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld 
Ambassador Linda Watt 
Vice Admiral Jim Stavridis 
Defense A/S Peter Rodman 
Defense DAS Roger Pardo Mauer 
Defense Dept. Spokesman Larry DiRita 
Embassy notetaker 
¶6.  (C) During the November 13 meeting at Panama's 
Presidential Palace, President Martin Torrijos told Secretary 
of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that he wants closer relations 
with the United States.  Panama will establish a centralized 
intelligence and security database, based on information 
about ship movements in the Canal, ship and air passengers, 
and trade, to share with the USG and other interested 
parties, he continued.  Panama would seek U.S. 
¶7.  (C) Sec. Rumsfeld liked the maritime intelligence 
database idea and promised to discuss it in Washington. 
Expressing his affection for Panama, Sec. Rumsfeld explained 
that he first saw Panama in 1955 as a naval aviator and 
returned in the 1960s as a congressman.  Sec. Rumsfeld 
emphasized Panama's "uniqueness" in terms of what it has to 
offer the United States on regional and maritime security and 
intelligence sharing. 
¶8.  (C) Sec. Rumsfeld said that prospects for enhanced 
regional cooperation are extremely good, especially in light 
of the CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement) and the 
almost-completed bilateral FTA.  Sec. Rumsfeld believed the 
agreements would benefit Panama and the region. 
¶9.  (C) Turning to Panama's wider role in maritime security, 
President Torrijos said some 6,000 Panamanian-flagged vessels 
employ roughly 300,000 seamen (mainly Filipino and Chinese). 
Panama gradually would like to increase the number of 
Panamanian seafarers, which he said also might also help 
improve security.  About 12% of U.S. seaborne trade passes 
through the Canal, Torrijos said. 
¶10.  (C) Sec. Rumsfeld singled out for praise the September 
2004 Panamax exercises (which involved units from nine 
countries) as a positive example of regional cooperation that 
should continue.  Expanding on the scope that he saw for 
regional cooperation, Sec. Rumsfeld said that each country 
must decide on the proper role and mission for its security 
forces.  No single country can deal with all issues.  He 
touted Colombian and Brazilian air interdiction of 
weapons/drug planes.  The Canal is important to Panama and is 
important to the entire world, Rumsfeld said.  Panama Canal 
Administrator Alemn made an excellent impression when he 
described the checklist for inspecting ships transiting the 
Canal.  According to information that Aleman distributed, 
almost 120,000 American citizens annually arrive in Panama by 
air and nearly 270,000 arrive by sea. 
¶11.  (C) Torrijos said the GOP would concentrate on security 
and modernizing its public forces, and on trade, economic 
growth, poverty, rule of law and anti-corruption.  He pointed 
out that Panama at present is hampered by a large fiscal 
deficit.  Rumsfeld applauded Torrijos's efforts, especially 
anti-corruption initiatives, which would create a climate 
favorable for investment. 
¶12.  (C) Sec. Rumsfeld underscored that the USG wants to 
strengthen the Inter-American system.  To Rumsfeld's question 
about Venezuela, Torrijos said Panama wants good relations 
with every country in the Hemisphere, adding that only Cuba 
has no relations with Panama (Note: Cuba and Panama 
reestablished consular relations on November 19, 2004, but 
has not renewed full diplomatic relations.  End note.) 
Torrijos added he had spoken to Colombian President Uribe 
several times about law enforcement and anti-narcotics 
issues, and also about gas and electrical links, and recently 
signed an agreement to study a gas pipeline.  Torrijos 
outlined plans for Canal enlargement and the need to hold a 
referendum to gain public approval for the idea. 
¶13.  (C) Sec. Rumsfeld got bland responses to his repeated 
questions of how Torrijos viewed the Peoples Republic of 
China (PRC) and its role and influence in the region. 
Declining to speculate, Torrijos would say only that the 
PRC's usage of the Panama Canal and its commercial presence 
in Panama and the region are growing quickly.  Torrijos 
pointed out that the PRC is about to become second biggest 
user of the Canal and that the China trade is increasingly 
important for Canal and world trade.  As for the PRC's role 
in the region: "All I see is more merchandise," Torrijos said. 
¶14.  (C) Both sides avoided controversial subjects, such as 
the security situation in Panama's Darien border region, and 
the issues of unexploded ordnance (UXO) in the reverted areas 
of the former Canal Zone and chemical weapons on San Jose 
Island (SJI).  (Comment: Both Rumsfeld and Torrijos staked 
out distinct positions when asked about UXO or SJI in public. 
 When asked about UXO and SJI at a news conference 
immediately following his meeting with Torrijos, Sec. 
Rumsfeld said "the case is closed."  Torrijos later denied a 
reporter's suggestion that the case was closed.  The issues 
are unlikely to remain irritants in bilateral relations.  End