Viewing cable 04PANAMA353

04PANAMA3532004-02-13 22:21:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Panama
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 PANAMA 000353 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/12/2014 
REF: A. PANAMA 0040 
     ¶B. 03 PANAMA 3294 
¶1.  (C) Former Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) political 
operative turned independent consultant and analyst, Jose 
Isabel Blandon, told DCM and POL Counselor that the PRD's 
superior numbers and organization and a divided opposition 
probably will secure the presidency for Martin Torrijos on 
May 2.  Blandon predicted that many supporters of former 
president Guillermo Endara will fail to vote because they are 
disaffected from politics and because Endara's party, 
Solidaridad, lacks the electoral machine to get them to the 
polls.  Also, candidate Jose Miguel Aleman, with support from 
the Arnulfistas and MOLIRENA, will get far more votes than 
his current 8% in opinion polls suggest.  Besides an 
(improbable) misstep, Blandon said several things could 
derail Torrijos: further complications and bad publicity from 
the apparently corrupt activities of his cousin (and 
sidelined campaign chief) Hugo Torrijos, and internal party 
infighting.  According to Blandon, anti-corruption, Endara's 
strongest issue, resonates more with the press than with 
voters.  Blandon made no bones about his dislike for Endara, 
calling him "a danger to the country."  End Summary. 
Wary of Opinion Polls 

¶2.  (SBU) Blandon, who served Panama dictator Manuel Noriega 
as publicist and New York Consul General (See Bio Note, para 
9), now turned political consultant, recently discussed his 
view of the 2004 electoral campaign with DCM and POL 
Counselor.  Blandon presented a concise analysis of Panama's 
electoral dynamics to support his view that PRD presidential 
candidate Martin Torrijos will win the May 2 vote.  According 
to Blandon, Panama opinion polls have been notoriously 
inaccurate in past elections.  (The latest poll shows Martin 
Torrijos leading ex-president Guillermo Endara 42%-34% with 
Arnulfista candidate Jose Miguel Aleman in third place with 
8%.)  One fault is that polls focus too heavily on urban 
areas but do not concentrate on likely rural voters, Blandon 
pointed out. 
Party Loyalties Will Count 

¶3.  (SBU) Blandon predicted that 1.4 million (70%) of 
Panama's roughly 2 million voters will actually cast ballots 
on May 2.  Of those 1.4 million voters, around 1 million are 
registered party members.  (See Reftel.  Figures below were 
updated as of 12/31/2004.)  Party affiliation is strong in 
Panama, Blandon said, and party members tend to vote for the 
entire party slate.  That tendency is stronger in the 
countryside, where around 80% of the electorate will cast 
ballots.  Among the parties, PRD has the biggest membership 
base (435,000), the most effective electoral machine, and the 
most disciplined voters.  Endara's Solidarity party has 
relatively few members (73,000), most of whom joined in the 
past several months, the weakest electoral machine, and least 
committed supporters.  The Arnulfista-MOLIRENA-PLN coalition, 
Blandon continued, with over 300,000 members and over 2300 
candidates for national and local office, will doubtless 
produce much more than 8% of the vote for Jose Miguel Aleman. 
 Those facts will count heavily in the countryside, when 
election day comes.  (Note: PLN is the National Liberal 
"The Anti-System Vote Will Not Vote" 

¶4.  (SBU) Blandon said the 1994 and 1999 elections have shown 
a fairly constant baseline for the three biggest parties. 
The PRD can count on 32% of the vote; the Arnulfistas 21%; 
MOLIRENA 10%.  Endara appeals above all to disaffected voters 
who take a cynical view of politics, Blandon continued.  "The 
anti-system (Endara) vote will not vote," he said, certainly 
not in as large numbers as party members; in short, a large 
percentage of Endara supporters are not likely voters.  Also 
Endara's support mostly is urban, where voter turnout is 
relatively low.  Blandon predicted the following election day 
Torrijos   37% 
Aleman     32% 
Endara     21% 
Martinelli  4% 
unaccounted 6% 

Anti-corruption a Declining Issue 

¶5.  (SBU) Another historical reality confronting the Endara 
campaign is that third-party candidates fall short in Panama. 
 For instance, Alberto Vallarino, a highly placed Arnulfista 
who left the party to run for president in Panama's May 1999 
election under another banner finished with only 17% of the 
vote.  On the other hand, if Endara wins more than 25% of the 
vote, that could come at the expense of Aleman, Blandon said. 
 The PRD has never captured more than 37% of the vote, he 
pointed out, and PRD ally Partido Popular is limited in what 
it can deliver for Torrijos.  Anti-corruption, Endara's 
principal attraction for voters due to his clean record, in 
the end will have less effect on cynical voters than the 
press reports, Blandon predicted.  Endara could get elected, 
Blandon conceded, if either Torrijos or Aleman make a major 
Torrijos Also Has Problems 

¶6.  (SBU) Predicting a tough campaign, Blandon hastened to 
add that victory for Torrijos is hardly assured.  Trying to 
counteract the PRD's "lack of legitimacy with the private 
sector," Torrijos chose successful businessman Samuel Lewis 
Navarro as his first vice presidential running mate.  Blandon 
pointed to several potential problems that could cost 
Torrijos the presidency.  The first is the PRD's alliance 
with the Partido Popular (PP), the former Christian 
Democratic Party, which may not survive the election. 
Whether the alliance will help or hurt Torrijos is unclear. 
(Comment: Many observers point out that the PRD-PP alliance 
is inherently awkward because the Christian Democrats were 
fierce opponents of Manuel Noriega, whom the PRD supported.) 
Recently PP legislator Teresita de Arias publicized the abuse 
of tax "exonerations" by legislators who import luxury cars 
duty free, an action that angered many PRDistas who were the 
worst culprits. 
Cousin Hugo Could Prove Toxic 

¶7.  (C) But Torrijos faces still more potent internal 
dangers.  The first is his close relationship with first 
cousin Hugo Torrijos, a major source of finance for his 
campaign, who apparently is implicated in a corruption 
scandal dating from his late-1990's stewardship of Ports 
Engineering Consulting Corporation (PECC).  Martin has 
recently asked Hugo to step down as his campaign manager, 
Blandon noted, but can't really disentangle himself 
meaningfully from his involvement with Hugo.  Another problem 
for Torrijos are the 7 or 8 anti-Torrijos legislative 
candidates running in large constituencies (circuitos), such 
as Arraijan, Chorrera, David, and San Miguelito, where 
intense in-fighting could cost Torrijos votes. 
Endara Not Up To Challenge 

¶8.  (C) Blandon emphasized that Panama has serious challenges 
ahead of it in the coming years.  It must create a modern 
state structure, plan and finance Canal expansion, solve 
security issues on the Colombia border, and negotiate a Free 
Trade Agreement and "normalize" its relationship with the 
United States.  Endara is not up to the challenge, Blandon 
implied.  Calling him a "rudderless ship," Blandon claimed 
former president Endara is "a danger for the country," adding 
that Endara has no comprehension of how the 9/11/2001 
terrorist attacks have changed the world.  (Note: On this 
score, Blandon gave credit to President Moscoso for 
establishing a close relationship with President Bush that is 
highly valuable for Panama.  End Note.) 
Bio Note and Comment 

¶9.  (C) Bright, wily (a generous term for some observers), 
well connected and highly paid for years under Noriega, 
Blandon served as Noriega's Minister of Culture and in 
several diplomatic posts.  An agronomist by training and an 
erstwhile leftist, Blandon leveraged his influence on his 
relationships with the Panama Defense Forces (PDF) and its 
leadership, making him one of the most powerful individuals 
in the government.  In the late 1980s Blandon authored "Plan 
Blandon," an abortive attempt to ease Noriega from power and 
avoid bloodshed.  Since Operation Just cause and Noriega's 
fall from power in 1989, Blandon has reinvented himself, 
pursuing a career as a political analyst, commentator, and 
consultant for hire.  (Blandon's clients include PRD First 
Vice Presidential Candidate Samuel Lewis Navarro, which 
accounts in part for his acerbic assessment of Endara, 
although the bad blood between them dates back to the late 
1980s when Endara and Blandon were on different sides of the 
military/civilian divide.)  He hosts a daily talk show on 
political affairs called Radio Noticias Bahia.