Viewing cable 04PANAMA730
Title: ARTICLE 98 SUPPORTER IN CLOSE RACE WITH U.S.

IdentifierCreatedReleasedClassificationOrigin
04PANAMA7302004-03-30 14:17:00 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 02 PANAMA 000730 
 
SIPDIS 
 
 
SENSITIVE 
 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR PM LABOR HUMAN RIGHTSPOLMIL
SUBJECT: ARTICLE 98 SUPPORTER IN CLOSE RACE WITH U.S. 
SOLDIER'S MURDERER 
 
REF: PANAMA 705 
 
 
¶1. (U) This cable is SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED.  Please 
protect accordingly. 
 
 
----------------- 
A Fighting Chance 
----------------- 
 
 
¶2. (SBU) On March 14, PolOffs accompanied Arnulfista Party 
legislative challenger Jose "Pepe" Gomez on a tour of 
Veraguas province's 9-3 electoral circuit, encompassing 
Calobre, Santa Fe and San Francisco.  (See ref for Veraguas 
campaign overview.)  Gomez is in a close race with 
Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) legislative incumbent 
(and unconvicted murderer) Pedro Miguel Gonzalez.  (See para 
5 for background on the Sgt Zak Hernandez case.)  Gomez, who 
as Secretary General of Panama's Legislative Assembly was 
helpful behind the scenes to Embassy during the debate of the 
Article 98 agreement (close hold), has spent over $100,000 of 
his own money to challenge Gonzalez.  Gomez claimed to be 
leading in the polls, and believes himself so strong that he 
may put Arnulfista presidential candidate Jose Miguel Aleman 
over the top in the circuit.  (Note: In a separate meeting 
with PolOffs on March 14, the PRD's Veraguas elections 
coordinator Arturo Fabrega conceded that Gomez has a good 
chance to win the 9-3 seat.  End note.) 
 
 
¶3. (SBU) The Veraguas 9-3 circuit is expansive, stretching 
from San Francisco (just North of the provincial capital, 
Santiago) to the Atlantic Ocean.  Arnulfista Gomez hails from 
Calobre, with nearly 10,000 registered voters of the 
circuit's 26,000.  Gomez said he is running strong in his 
hometown and in San Francisco with its 7,000 voters.  He 
admitted to be weak in Santa Fe, his opponent's home, which 
has 9,000 voters.  It was in the far reaches of this circuit 
that in 1999 then EmbOffs witnessed PRD Gonzalez' tactic of 
"vote verification"-- pressuring elderly voters to claim 
disabled status, which allowed Gonzalez lackeys to accompany 
them into the voting booth.  Gonzalez has yet to arrive in 
the circuit to begin campaigning and is reportedly keeping 
his war chest in reserve for similar last-minute dirty tricks. 
 
 
¶4. (SBU) Arnulfista Gomez fears a repeat of 1999 and asked 
for Embassy's assistance, to the extent possible, with his 
personal security, security at polling stations and observer 
teams throughout the district to document any irregularities. 
 Already aware that Embassy deliberately avoids funding 
humanitarian and development programs that would benefit PRD 
Gonzalez' circuit, Gomez expressed his hope that, if he 
unseats Gonzalez, Embassy would provide the area with 
humanitarian civil engineering projects like New Horizons and 
related Medical Readiness Training Exercises (MedReTEs), law 
enforcement and counternarcotics training for local National 
Police (PNP) units, and AID sustainable development programs 
aimed at small coffee growers.  (Comment: Embassy plans to 
send observers to numerous electoral circuits throughout the 
country, including this hotly contested area.  Embassy would 
consider humanitarian and development projects in this poor 
region only if Gonzalez were voted out of office.  End 
comment.) 
 
 
---------- 
Background 
---------- 
 
 
¶5. (SBU) In 1992, just days before then President George H.W. 
Bush visited Panama, US Army Sgt Zak Hernandez was fatally 
shot in broad daylight while driving his Humvee from Colon to 
Panama City.  Witnesses at the scene described the passing 
vehicle and gunman, who was later identified by Panama's 
Technical Judicial Police (PTJ) as Pedro Miguel Gonzalez. 
The PTJ found the murder weapon on the property of Gonzalez' 
sister, and separate ballistic tests performed by the US 
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the UK Scotland 
Yard linked the fatal shot to the AK-47.  Gonzalez fled to 
Cuba, returning to Panama in 1994.  His "surrender" to 
Panamanian authorities was engineered by newly-elected 
Panamanian President Ernesto Perez-Balladares.  Gonzalez' 
father, Gerardo, was a close confidant of Perez-Balladares as 
well as a legislator and president of the PRD.  The ensuing 
trial was fraught with irregularities and probable jury 
intimidation.  Gonzalez was found not guilty in 1997.  In 
1999, Gonzalez succeeded his father as legislator from the 
Veraguas 9-3 circuit. 
 
 
 
 
WATT