Viewing cable 05PANAMA2369

05PANAMA23692005-12-07 15:58:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 SECRET Embassy Panama
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
..S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 PANAMA 002369 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/07/2015 
Classified By: Ambassador William A. Eaton for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d) 
¶1.  (S) President Torrijos invited Ambassador Eaton to 
accompany him on a November 25 helicopter visit to Cocle 
Province for a series of civic, cultural and political 
events.  With each mile separating him from Panama City, 
Torrijos relaxed and transformed into a gregarious 
politician, enthusiastically greeting people along the way, 
giving several stem-winding speeches, and clearly connecting 
with his audiences.  During private conversations throughout 
the trip, the Ambassador raised Torrijos's November 30 trip 
to Cuba, agricultural trade issues, the revocation of Supreme 
Court Justice 
Winston Spadafora's visa, the USG's apparently thwarted 
ambition to provide cell phone intercept technology to an 
anti-drug unit of the Judicial Technical Police (PTJ), the 
Costa Rican border, the Free Trade Agreement, President 
Bush's visit to Panama, and Panama's upcoming chairmanship 
of SICA (Central American Security Integration).  End Summary. 
Trip To Cocle Province 
¶2.  (U) President Torrijos invited Ambassador Eaton to 
accompany him (along with the Ministers of Health and 
Public Works) on a Friday, November 25 helicopter trip to 
the Cocle province towns of Aguadulce and Ola. 
Torrijos Trip To Cuba 
¶3.  (S) Torrijos told Ambassador of his plans for a 
November 30 trip to Cuba to accompany 78 Panamanians, with 
airfare paid by Venezuela, to receive free cataract surgery 
from Cuban physicians.  Torrijos claimed that the visit 
partly is an attempt to show Chavez that he has an 
"independent" channel of communication to Cuba.  (COMMENT: 
Some of what Torrijos had to say was eyewash that 
was mostly for our consumption.  On Cuba, Torrijos's 
comment that he's trying to maintain "Chavez-free" access 
to Castro is a stretch.  Castro himself will decide how 
warm relations will become.  As always, we are a bit 
puzzled by the obeisance that the GOP feels compelled 
to show to Cuba or why Torrijos should feel 
compelled to return to Cuba at the head of a non-official 
delegation so soon after his August 2005 trip to 
reestablish diplomatic relations.  There are most likely 
several reasons.  First of all, Torrijos faces no political 
down-side domestically.  By going, he is associating 
himself with a Cuban program that benefits poor 
Panamanians.  Also, his trip pleases the pro-Cuban faction 
within the PRD, also at little cost.  His comment about 
maintaining lines of communication without Chavez is silly. 
Torrijos was not concerned about Chavez when he actually 
was an issue some months back, when the Embassy warned him 
that Chavez would try to intrude (and did intrude) when 
the GOP traveled to Havana to re-establish diplomatic 
relations in August.  END COMMENT) 
Agriculture Issues 
¶4.  (S) Torrijos said he plans to remove phyto-sanitary 
controls out of the Ministry of Agriculture, which he 
acknowledged is controlled by cattle ranchers.  Those 
issues, he said, need to be handled independently, 
transparently and impartially.  (COMMENT:  This was 
apparently an attempt by Torrijos to assuage US concerns 
about protracted delays in issuance of U.S. beef import 
permits.  END COMMENT)  The reorganization plans will be 
made public in January. 
Spadafora Visa 
¶5.  (S) Ambassador informed Torrijos that the Embassy was 
moving ahead with the revocation of Supreme Court Justice 
Winston Spadafora's U.S. visa and would inform Spadafora on 
November 30.  Torrijos asked Ambassador not to announce the 
revocation, claiming that he is working with newly named 
Supreme Court Chief Justice Graciela Dixon, to pressure 
change and possibly resignations.  Dixon would be a good 
partner in cleaning up the Court, Torrijos said, but he 
feared a visa revocation would make his negotiations with 
Dixon "more difficult."  Ambassador told Torrijos (to his 
evident disappointment) that Spadafora's visa had already 
been revoked but that the Embassy did not plan to make a 
public statement other than to confirm the revocation, if 
asked.  Ambassador told Torrijos that Spadafora lost 
his visa because his corrupt practices and activities as 
Supreme Court Justice were undermining democratic and 
judicial institutions in Panama.  (COMMENT:  Embassy 
confirmed the revocation of Spadafora's visa on November 
30, as rumors blanketed the city.  We are skeptical about 
Torrijos's suggestions that he and Graciela Dixon are going 
to clean up the Court.  However, seeing is believing. 
We may assume that Torrijos has his own reasons for wishing 
that the revocation never happened or that news 
never got out, but we doubt that those reasons are the ones 
he gave.  END COMMENT) 
DEA's Listening Devices Thwarted 
¶6.  (S) Torrijos said that he is determined to keep 
proffered cell phone listening devices, to be supplied by 
DEA, out of the hands of the Judicial Technical Police 
(PTJ), which, he said, had spied on him when he was a 
candidate for president.  Torrijos said he wanted the 
Consejo Nacional de Seguridad (the "Consejo") to manage 
the project from the Presidency (i.e., close to him). 
Ambassador explained that giving such technology to the 
Consejo would be problematic, since U.S. laws required 
that it be handled through judicial/law enforcement 
(i.e., Attorney General) channels.  Torrijos bristled, 
and indicated that he would buy the necessary equipment 
himself if the U.S. couldn,t provide it.  He said he 
is preparing legislation to permit the use of telephone 
intercepts under carefully controlled circumstances to 
prevent its use for "political" or "extra-legal" purposes. 
Ambassador reiterated that the USG still wants to cooperate 
and support Panama in the law-enforcement arena and would 
look into what the USG legally can and cannot do. 
(COMMENT:  Torrijos may not want the PTJ and the Attorney 
General to have the capability of listening to telephone 
conversations because it could reveal wrongdoing, which may 
eventually be traced back to the GOP or the Presidency. 
There is also the issue of depositing the power under the 
control of the President without accountability.  END COMMENT) 
Costa Rican Frontier 
¶7.  (S) Torrijos confided that he has been speaking with 
Costa Rican officials about launching a joint intelligence 
operation to round up gun runners operating between Costa 
Rica and Panama.  Almost in the same breath, Torrijos 
lamented his inability to get the Costa Ricans interested 
in building a bridge to facilitate cross-border trade near 
Bocas del Toro. 
Free Trade Agreement 
¶8.  (C) Ambassador Eaton shared his fears that the next 
"round" of talks with USTR might be the last chance for an 
agreement.  He added that he sensed diminishing patience in 
Washington for protracted discussions.  The Ambassador said 
that he hoped that Commerce and Trade Minister Ferrer will 
go to Washington with Panama's best and final offer. 
Torrijos gulped and soberly said that the two sides are 
close to an agreement and that Ferrer would indeed go to 
Washington ready to close the deal. 
¶9.  (C) Torrijos mentioned with great pride that he would 
chair the Central American Security Integration (SICA) 
starting in January.  He said this is an opportunity to 
advance regional security integration issues, but did not 
provide any details of specific plans or initiatives. 
President Bush's Visit 
¶10.  (S) Torrijos is evidently still basking in the 
afterglow of President Bush's early November visit to 
Panama.  He mentioned that First Lady Laura Bush's office 
had called the First Lady's office to discuss bird 
migratory patterns in an effort to focus on possible dates 
for a follow-up visit of Mrs. Bush to Panama.  Torrijos 
also said that former President Bush plans to visit Panama 
soon on a private fishing visit. 
Comment:  Atmospherics 
¶11.  (S) Torrijos genuinely seemed to enjoy being on the 
hustings.  He personally drove his SUV from the helicopter 
to the various events, honking his horn at passersby, 
stopping to chat with folks along the road and on their 
front porches, calling out to residents (by name).  He 
glad-handed enthusiastically, sweeping children and babies 
into his arms (for great photo ops).  His speeches were 
lively (and funny), passionate, and clearly connected with 
his audience. 
More Atmospherics 
¶12.  (S) Ambassador also was struck by the number of people 
who carried photos and posters of Torrijos's father, the 
former military dictator Gen. Omar Torrijos.  Martin 
Torrijos seems to have a similar populist bent.  In 
unguarded comments throughout the day, Torrijos revealed 
himself as a man determined to do the right thing and to 
improve conditions in Panama.  His heart seems in the right 
place.  His execution needs to improve to make his dreams a