C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 001722
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/29/2017
TAGS: PGOV PREL ETRD PM
SUBJECT: PANAMA: FORMER PRESIDENT MOSCOSO COMES TO LUNCH
Classified By: Ambassador William A. Eaton. Reason: 1.4 (d).
Â¶1. (C) "The opposition must unite if it is to have a chance
at defeating the (governing Revolutionary Democratic Party)
PRD," former President Mireya Moscoso on October 29 during a
lunch hosted by Ambassador at his residence. Alberto
Vallarino would be opposition's best candidate, though she
was not overly enthusiastic in her support for this heavy
hitting businessman and former presidential aspirant and was
fully aware of his shortcomings. Moscoso fingered former
President Guillermo Endara and Ricardo Martinelli as the
biggest obstacles to opposition unity. "One can negotiate
though with Endara, but not with that 'loco' (Martinelli),"
she said. Somewhat frustrated, Moscoso perceived a
leadership vacuum both within the governing PRD and the
opposition. "Nobody's leading this country. The economy is
going gangbusters, true. But nobody -- definitely not
(President) Martin (Torrijos) -- is holding the reins. Yet
nobody in the opposition appears ready to want to grab those
reins." Moscoso is clearly on the march within the
opposition ranks actively striving to help determine who will
be the opposition's (read: the Panamenista Party's and its
allies') eventual presidential candidate. End summary.
Vallarino: Opposition's Best Shot
Â¶2. (C) Dismissive of fellow Panamenista party member Marco
Ameglio's presidential campaign ("He's going nowhere and has
no shot.") and disdainful of Panamenista Party President Juan
Carlos Varela's desire to be president ("He has failed to
lead the party; he doesn't do the work of the opposition,
that is to oppose."), Moscoso clearly stated her preference
for recently re-enlisted Panamenista and heavy-hitter
businessman Alberto Vallarino. Moscoso's enthusiasm for
Vallarino was tempered: "He's fickle," "He lacks the human
touch, that ability to connect with people on the campaign
trail," and "Too often, he's remote and cold." While she
said that Vallarino told her that he was committed to giving
his all to campaign for president, Moscoso said that
Vallarino had made a commitment to her to run for president
and not step down as he did unexpectedly in 1999. Moscoso
also complained that Vallarino was doing little to get out on
the campaign trail now. "I organize events for him to
re-introduce him to the party 'bases' -- for example, a
dinner in Colon or a meeting in Boquete -- but he refuses to
go." When he campaigned in 1999, Vallarino at one meeting
with constituents had to be pressed to do what for most
politicians was natural following a speech: grip and grin by
mixing it up with the meeting's attendees. "Polls do not
count for anything; flesh and bone encounters and support
count," Moscoso said. In 1999 though, Vallarino got caught
cleaning his hands with handi-wipes, the former president
recounted. "A politician cannot be afraid engaging the
public personally. I used to come in off the campaign trail
with rough hands from all the shaking and red checks from all
PRD's Best Option: Balbina Herrera
Â¶3. (C) Minister of Housing Balbina Herrera, according to
Moscoso, would be the PRD's best candidate. "She has the
human touch and is a natural politician." Indeed, Moscoso
said Herrera would defeat Vallarino in a head-to-head race.
"Watch out with Balbina. Ask the wrong question or prod her
the wrong way and the old Balbina will quickly emerge."
Still part of the PRD's "tendency" (tendencia) faction,
Balbina's national, leftist, and aggressive side was still
just below the surface. "Remember that it was Balbina who
organized the protests against former President George H. W.
bBsh. Current First VP and FM Samuel Lewis was "finished,"
she asserted. "He botched the (U.S.-Panama) trade agreement."
She added that it was beneath Lewis' dignity to chauffeur
PMG to the meeting last month of the PRD Directorate.
Regarding current Panama City Mayor (and Lewis' cousin) Juan
Carlos Navarro, Moscoso said, "He wants to be president too
badly. That's his problem." He threatened Torrijos' camp
followers and was not trusted by the PRD's mid-rank party
Biggest Obstacles to Opposition Unity
Â¶4. (C) "(Former President Guillermo) Endara and (Democratic
Change (CD) Party President Ricardo) Martinelli are the
biggest obstacles to opposition unity," the former president
asserted. "To beat the PRD, the opposition must be unified."
It was possible to deal and negotiate with Endara; "Just be
careful what deals you strike with his wife, Ana Mae." In
the end though, Moscoso assesses that Endara would do what
was right for the opposition. She also added that Endara had
no money and no party structure to mobilize support. "That
loco, Martinelli, is another matter. He's got deep pockets
and a sharp tongue. He's nothing more though than a
neo-liberal Chavez." Without a real party of his own,
Moscoso said that she did not believe that Martinelli would
be able to win the elections, but he could damage the
opposition's prospects of unseating the PRD. "If Varela runs
as Martinelli's vice presidential candidate, the opposition
will be finished. Panamenistas will not support Varela in
PMG, TPA and Torrijos
Â¶5. (C) "Torrijos is the sole person to blame for Pedro
Miguel Gonzalez (PMG)," Moscoso said. (Note: Gonzalez,
elected President of Panama's National Assembly on September
1, is under federal indictment on five counts in connection
with the 1992 murder of a U.S. serviceman.) Torrijos
encouraged PMG, allowed him to get out of control, and failed
to stop his election, according to the ex-president.
"Torrijos was only thinking of this party, not the impact
Pedro Miguel's election would have on Panama, all of it."
Now, PMG was being used by populist, nationalist, and
anti-American elements within the PRD. "Pedro Miguel is
weighing running for President of the PRD and might even be
considering running for President of Panama," Moscoso said.
"The Venezuelans are working with him. Hopefully, we are not
seeing the rise of another Chavez." (Comment: Post has no
evidence to corroborate that PMG is working with PMG.) PMG's
election, Moscoso said, had put the U.S.-Panama Trade
Promotion Agreement (TPA) in jeopardy. "My administration
worked hard on this agreement, that's why I sent a letter to
U.S. congressional leaders urging them to approve this
treaty." Nonetheless, Moscoso she fully understood why U.S.
Senators and Representatives would be reluctant to vote for
the TPA while a "terrorist" headed Panama's legislature.
Â¶6. (C) Moscoso -- La Dona as she is affectionately and not
so affectionately known in Panama -- was frank in her
comments, tough in her analysis, and clear about her
intention to shape the opposition. She appeared to be
frustrated that the opposition was not better positioned to
capitalize on what she perceived to be the lack of leadership
by Torrijos, absence of serious PRD contenders (other than
Herrera), and the Torrijos Administration's recent missteps.
Moscoso also appears to be interested in a serious dialogue
with the Embassy in general and the Ambassador in particular.
Prior to this meeting, post passed the message that the
Embassy would not seek to publicize this meeting, had no
objection should Moscoso wish to do so, but asked that
comments be kept to a minimum. The word back: Moscoso would
not want much, if any, publicity from this meeting, and
welcomed the opportunity to establish a strong relationship
with the Ambassador as Panama entered a more political
period. News of this lunch hit Panama's newspapers' rumor
columns now (October 30); it is helpful that the political
set knows about the meeting. The Embassy will be looking,
however, to see if there is more significant press as a keep
factor in assessing how serious La Dona is in serious
relationship with the Embassy.