Viewing cable 04PANAMA3034
Title: PANAMA PUSHES DISABLED RIGHTS UNDER THE TORRIJOS

IdentifierCreatedReleasedClassificationOrigin
04PANAMA30342004-12-21 22:30:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Panama
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 PANAMA 003034 
 
SIPDIS 
 
 
SENSITIVE 
 
 
DEPARTMENT FOR WHA/CEN 
SOUTHCOM ALSO FOR POLAD 
 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PHUM PGOV PREL ELAB PM LABOR HUMAN RIGHTSPOLMIL
SUBJECT: PANAMA PUSHES DISABLED RIGHTS UNDER THE TORRIJOS 
GOVERNMENT'S NEW SOCIAL AGENDA 
 
 
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SUMMARY 
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¶1.  (SBU)  In his first hundred days in office, President 
Torrijos has moved quickly to deliver on campaign promises to 
280,000 disabled citizens and their families to create 
practical and inclusive institutions to boost compliance with 
Panama's disability laws.  The president's personal interest 
has raised disabled rights on the national agenda and bodes 
well for improving the plight of the disabled. 
Paradoxically, despite a new constitutional amendment 
prohibiting discrimination against the disabled, the 
president's personal involvement in the new institutions may 
decrease their future chance for survival.  President 
Torrijos has a disabled child and his strong push for 
disabled rights could be viewed as a purely personal crusade. 
 On the other hand, his new initiatives will create a 
constituency for disabled rights which future politicians may 
be loath to try to dismantle.  This is the first report in a 
series on the Torrijos administration's social agenda.  End 
Summary. 
 
 
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TORRIJOS PLEDGED TO INCLUDE DISABLED 
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¶2.  (U)  Prior to the May 2nd election, President Martin 
Torrijos stood out in the 2004 campaign for actively courting 
the disabled vote.  In March 2004, Torrijos signed a pact 
with a local disabled rights group and the Ombudsman's 
office, promising to increase compliance with Panama's 1999 
disability law, to create an office to channel government 
resources to the disabled, and to develop a national policy 
for disabled rights.  Prior to taking office, Torrijos 
initiated a constitutional reform package that included 
articles prohibiting discrimination against the disabled 
population and that raised the Ombudsman's office to the 
constitutional level.  Similarly, First Lady Vivian Torrijos 
repeatedly stated that disability issues were her top 
priority. 
 
 
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NUMBER IMPACTED UNCERTAIN 
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¶3.  (U)  While the 2000 census counted 52,197 disabled 
Panamanians, activist groups estimate the actual figure to be 
closer to 280,000, citing World Health Organization and 
Pan-American Health Organization estimates that 10% of the 
global population is disabled.  Disabled rights activists and 
NGOs note that five times that number are impacted as family 
and friends of disabled people. 
 
 
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FRUSTRATION WITH LOW COMPLIANCE 
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¶4.  (SBU)  The disabled constituency was frustrated with 
Panama's dismal compliance with its 1999 disability law.  The 
comprehensive law provided for mainstreaming disabled school 
children, the right to rehabilitation services, mandatory 
employment of 2% disabled personnel, and accessible new 
public construction.  Nonetheless, since then the Ministry of 
Public Works has continued to build public schools 
inaccessible to disabled children; only some disabled 
children received special education; nearly all disabled 
children attending school were separated from other children; 
and health centers did not provide rehabilitation services 
outside of the capital.  The 2% employment requirement was 
not implemented and the government took no steps to train 
rehabilitation professionals to attend to its disabled 
citizens. 
 
 
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TORRIJOS CREATES INCLUSIVE INSTITUTIONS 
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¶5.  (SBU)  The Torrijos administration acted quickly to form 
inclusive institutions to address disability issues. 
Immediately upon taking office, Torrijos created by decree 
the National Secretariat for the Social Integration of the 
Disabled.  Located within the Ministry of the Presidency, the 
Secretariat coordinates and provides technical assistance to 
 
SIPDIS 
government and civil society efforts to integrate the 
disabled within Panamanian society.  In October 2004, the 
Secretariat installed the Council for the Social Integration 
 
SIPDIS 
of the Disabled, over which President Torrijos presides, with 
the First Lady's Office playing a key role.  The Council 
supports the Secretariat by involving civil society and 
government ministries in the formulation of policy for 
disabled residents.  For example, in consultation with 
disabled rights groups, council representatives advise the 
ministries they represent on accounting for the disabled in 
their budgets.  The Council also charges its members with 
boosting ministerial compliance with the 2% employment 
requirement. 
 
 
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A PRACTICAL APPROACH 
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¶6.  (SBU)  The Secretariat is taking a practical and 
inclusive approach to promoting disabled rights.  For 
example, the Secretariat's campaign to increase voluntary 
compliance with Panama's disability law uses a "friendly" 
approach to business compliance.  The Secretariat is also 
working with a civil society group that raised $3.5 million 
in a December 17-18th telethon for disabled children, 
including $260,000 from Cable and Wireless.  The telethon 
sponsors will provide the funds to construct and equip four 
disabled rehabilitation centers in provincial cities and the 
Torrijos administration will provide the land and personnel. 
 
 
¶7.  (SBU)   The Secretariat freely acknowledges the existence 
of substantial discrimination against the disabled in Panama 
and the government's current inability to comply with its 
1999 law.  Moreover, the Secretariat employs technical 
specialists who understand disabled rights issues and budget 
realities.  The Secretariat even uses Power Point to explain 
its national disability plan to aid in seeking international 
and civil society partners. 
 
 
¶8.  (U)  In December, the Ministry of Education's (MEDUC's) 
Director of Special Education announced that the GOP's 
centralized school for the disabled (IPHE) would work with 
MEDUC to permit 3,000 of the 8,000 current IPHE students to 
be mainstreamed in 65 schools throughout Panama in 2005. 
IPHE personnel will prepare teachers at the schools to work 
with disabled children. 
 
 
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A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT 
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¶9.  (U)  In November, the constitutional reform pushed by 
Torrijos's PRD party took effect, making discrimination 
against disabled persons unconstitutional and raising the 
Ombudsman's office to constitutional status. 
 
 
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COMMENT 
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¶10.  (SBU)  Torrijos's courting of the disabled vote and his 
activist policies have demonstrated the importance of 
including the disabled and their families in the national 
agenda.  Nonetheless, disabled rights are a personal issue 
for both President Torrijos and First Lady Vivian Torrijos, 
who have a disabled child.  Their personal commitment and 
experience augurs progress for disabled Panamanians over the 
next five years.  Indeed, the Torrijos administration's focus 
on this issue has already increased national awareness of 
disabled rights.  The Secretariat's coordinating and 
technical assistance function was sorely needed to increase 
even government compliance with Panama's disability law.  The 
Secretariat's practical and inclusive approach is 
 
SIPDIS 
encouraging.  Nonetheless, providing services to the disabled 
in Panama's remote areas remains an expensive and ambitious 
proposition.  The rural poor are probably too marginalized to 
participate in the Council. 
 
 
¶11.  (SBU)  The President's and First Lady's heavy personal 
involvement with the Council and the Secretariat also calls 
into question the sustainability of the new institutions 
under future administrations.  The Secretariat and Council 
are not government ministries and do not have permanent 
status.  Moreover, because they resulted from presidential 
decrees, the institutions may lack widespread political 
backing or could be viewed as merely Torrijos's personnel 
crusade.  Finally, with the Secretariat located in the 
Ministry of the Presidency and the President heading the 
Council, the new entities could quickly become mere shells 
under a chief executive with little interest in disabled 
rights.  Nonetheless, improved rights and benefits for 
disabled Panamanians over the next five years through 
inclusive institutions could strengthen the disabled rights 
interest group to the point that future administrations will 
need to pay attention. 
 
 
WATT