Viewing cable 04PANAMA2923
Title: PANAMA SEEKS SOLUTIONS TO ARMS-FOR-DRUGS TRADE

IdentifierCreatedReleasedClassificationOrigin
04PANAMA29232004-12-03 21:08:00 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 02 PANAMA 002923 
 
SIPDIS 
 
 
DEPARTMENT FOR WHA/CEN 
SOUTHCOM ALSO FOR POLAD 
 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/03/2014 
TAGS: PINS SNAR PGOV PREL PARM PM NI CO CR LABOR HUMAN RIGHTSPOLMIL
SUBJECT: PANAMA SEEKS SOLUTIONS TO ARMS-FOR-DRUGS TRADE 
CROSSING ISTHMUS 
 
REF: DAO CABLES 302219Z 
 
 
Classified By: DCM Christopher J. McMullen for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d). 
 
 
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SUMMARY 
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¶1.  (C)  Since the seizure of the "Otterloo" in 2001, a ship 
carrying about 3,000 weapons from Nicaragua through Panama to 
the AUC in Colombia, the Colombian armed groups (FARC and 
AUC) appear to be relying increasingly on smaller 
arms-for-drugs purchases, instead of purchasing large amounts 
of weapons with cash.  Most of the recent weapons seizures in 
Panama have been relatively small -- 30 to 50 weapons -- 
suggesting that the Colombian armed groups recognized their 
vulnerability with the Otterloo seizure.  Nonetheless, both 
the Pacific and Caribbean costs of Panama remain active 
arms-for-drugs corridors that GOP officials believe pose a 
serious threat to Panama's security.  Despite two impressive 
arms captures in September and November and extensive talk 
about the impact that arms trafficking has on Panama's 
domestic crime, budget woes and internal power struggles have 
prevented the Panamanian Public Forces (PPF) from taking a 
more aggressive stand against arms trafficking.  End Summary. 
 
 
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THE ARMS ROAD 
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¶2.  (C)  In a recent meeting, Panamanian National Police 
(PNP) Intelligence Officer Manuel Muy told PolOff that the 
standard arms trafficking route is by road via the 
Pan-American highway from Nicaragua through Panama. 
Traffickers then transfer the arms to boats along the Pacific 
coast of Panama to ferry them out to ships waiting in deeper 
water, ultimately for delivery to Colombian guerrilla groups, 
including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) 
and United Self-defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). 
Alternatively, Nicaraguan arms are sometimes smuggled by land 
into the Caribbean port city of Colon, where the arms are 
exchanged for drugs.  Indeed, Colon has become an 
increasingly dangerous city because of this arms-for-drugs 
trafficking that is run by Colombians with the assistance of 
Panamanian criminal elements. 
 
 
¶3.  (C)  On September 28 the PNP seized 36 high-caliber 
weapons, a grenade launcher, a Dragonov sniper rifle and 
ample munitions during a daylight raid on a dock less than 
200 yards from the Presidential palace in the center of 
Panama City.  The PNP was responsible for guarding the dock, 
but the PNP officials assigned to guard duty were evidently 
absent before the raid.  On November 5, the PNP seized a 
shipment of 40 AK-47 and a Galil rifle during a raid at a 
private residence 12 miles north of the capital.  The two 
seizures have lifted a veil from a problem that Embassy 
source say is growing steadily worse, one which has national 
security implications for Colombia and also potentially for 
Panama. 
 
 
¶4.  (C)  In previous discussions, Ministry of Government and 
Justice (MOGJ) Security Advisor Severino Mejia told PolOff 
that the arms trade is a grave threat to Panama because it 
increases the number of illegal weapons in the country and 
contributes to rising rates of violence and domestic crime. 
Mejia also told PolOff that the GOP believes the weapons are 
part of a routine weapons trafficking route bringing former 
Sandinista arms from Nicaragua to Colombian guerrilla groups. 
 Immediately after taking charge of the PNP, Director General 
Gustavo Perez said in a September 12 newspaper interview that 
illegal arms are a primary threat to Panama's public safety. 
Although Perez vowed to attack the problem, the PNP's meager 
resources will limit their ability to combat this 
Colombian/Panamanian criminal nexus. 
 
 
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THEORETICAL SOLUTION 
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¶5.  Panama's objective, according to MOGJ Security Advisor 
Mejia, is to prevent international arms traffickers from 
using Panama as an arms conduit.  MOGJ has proposed employing 
more PNP officers in Panama's western provinces closest to 
the boarder with Costa Rica where illegal arms enter Panama. 
MOGJ also would like to create 11 joint National Maritime 
Service (SMN) and National Air Service (SAN) sea and air 
defense rings off shore to make Panama uninviting to arms 
traffickers.  Severino told PolOff that his government hopes 
to force the traffickers to move off shore thereby 
eliminating the impact within Panama. 
 
 
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PPF FAILS TO GUARD THE DOCKS 
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¶6.  (C)  SMN and MOGJ sources have told EmbOffs that they 
plan to assign SMN personnel to guard docks where arms may be 
transiting.  Members of the PNP were assigned to guard the 
dock within shouting distance of the presidential palace on 
the day of the September 28 raid, but the PNP officers were 
conspicuously absent.  Embassy sources speculated that the 
PNP officers may have been bribed by the arms dealers to 
leave their posts.  PNP Director General Gustavo Perez has 
openly stated that corruption within the ranks is his 
greatest leadership challenge.  Perez has announced plans to 
investigate suspected police misconduct and improve the 
professionalism of the PNP.  SMN officials told EmbOffs that 
the SMN would take over guarding certain docks beginning in 
October, and after repeated comments, they promised the same 
for November.  Nonetheless, EmbOffs have seen no such 
reinforcement. 
 
 
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COMMENT 
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¶7.  (C)  Panama recognizes that it must take a stronger stand 
against international arms trafficking.  In 2001, a ship 
named "the Otterloo" carrying about 3,000 weapons from 
Nicaragua through Panama to the AUC in Colombia was seized. 
Arms trafficking patterns between Central America and 
Colombia seem to have subsequently changed.  Instead of 
purchasing large amounts of weapons with cash, the Colombian 
armed groups (FARC and AUC) appear to be relying increasingly 
on smaller arms-for-drugs purchases.  Recent seizures in 
Panama have been small -- 30 to 50 weapons -- suggesting that 
the Colombian armed groups recognized their vulnerability 
with the "Otterloo" seizure.  Nevertheless, both the Pacific 
and Caribbean costs of Panama remain key corridors in an 
active arms-for-drugs trade that GOP officials believe pose a 
serious threat to Panama's security. 
 
 
¶8.  (C)  Despite an extensive platform of security promises 
and a request from the MOGJ to increase the PNP budget and 
double the SAN and SMN budgets, fiscal realities and domestic 
spending priorities have forced the Torrijos administration 
to cut financial resources for all three public forces an 
estimated 3%.  While the probability of a coordinated PPF 
air, land and sea barricade against arms trafficking is 
unlikely in the coming year, the concept illustrates the 
concern within the Torrijos administration's public security 
forces and the ministry that controls them. 
 
 
WATT