Viewing cable 07PANAMA729
Title: PANAMA: GOP HOLDS CABINET MEETING IN REMOTE DARIEN

IdentifierCreatedReleasedClassificationOrigin
07PANAMA7292007-05-04 15:56:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Panama
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DE RUEHZP #0729/01 1241556
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R 041556Z MAY 07
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0313
INFO RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
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C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000729 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPARTMENT FOR WHA/CEN 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/03/2017 
TAGS: PGOV PREL PREF PM
SUBJECT: PANAMA: GOP HOLDS CABINET MEETING IN REMOTE DARIEN 
PROVINCE 
 
Classified By: POLCOUNS BRIAN R. NARANJO.  REASONS:  1.4 (B) AND (D). 
 
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SUMMARY 
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¶1.  (U) The extreme poverty of Panama's Darien province 
should be a source of shame to the country, President Martin 
Torrijos said at the April 27 cabinet meeting he convened in 
Santa Fe, one of the last towns in the province before the 
Interamerican highway ends.  The meeting was intended to 
offer a public review and accounting (Rendicion de Cuentas) 
of the GOP's activities in the Darien.  It was the latest in 
a series of field cabinet meetings the Torrijos 
Administration has held in provincial capitals throughout the 
country.  The four-hour townhall style event, attended by 
POLOFF, also featured distributions of land titles, 
presentations by various officials on GOP projects in the 
province, and remarks by local residents. 
 
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$30 MILLION TO FIGHT POVERTY 
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¶2.  (SBU) The event opened with a series of land title 
distributions that Torrijos handed personally to each 
recipient.  The individuals wore numbers on their shirts to 
indicate the order of the distribution, and POLOFF noted 
numbers up to the 300s, suggesting the majority of the 
audience in the gymnasium/auditorium were land title 
recipients.  (Comment: This may have contributed to the 
overwhelmingly pro-GOP attitudes of the audience.) 
 
¶3.  (SBU) Following the first tranche of distributions, 
Torrijos opened the Cabinet meeting and addressed the group. 
Torrijos heavily promoted the GOP's Network of Opportunities 
program as a way to address the high poverty levels in the 
Darien.  The Cabinet approved implementation of the program's 
$30.4 million second stage at the meeting.  The Cabinet also 
approved a project to bring electricity to various parts of 
the province.  While highlighting the GOP's current projects 
in the Darien, Torrijos criticized those who "only recently 
discovered" the region's poverty, calling it a persistent 
problem of long standing. (Note: Recent press reports had 
focused on poverty in the Darien, including the death of a 
young girl from malnutrition, first reported by UNICEF. 
UNICEF's aggressive posture regarding the plight of 
marginalized children in Panama has chilled GOP relations 
with this UN body.)  Such enduring poverty was the shame of 
all the administrations that had governed Panama, added 
Torrijos. 
 
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EVERYONE LOVES MARTIN- AND OPERATION MIRACLE 
-------------------------------------------- 
 
¶3.  (U) Following the Cabinet meeting, which mostly consisted 
of the different ministries reviewing their respective 
projects in the Darien, the bulk of the program was the 
presentation of Darien Province Governor Juana Lopez.  She 
delivered a PowerPoint presentation with a long succession of 
slides listing various projects and programs in the province, 
some of which were the same as those mentioned previously. 
The Governor focused particularly on the work of the First 
Lady's Office, and praised effusively First Lady Vivian de 
Torrijos's work with Cuba's Operation Miracle.  (Note: The 
Governor made no mention of any USG-funded initiatives in the 
Darien.) 
 
¶4.  (C) The first in what became a series of obviously 
choreographed testimonials by local citizens began during the 
Governor's presentation.  One after another, a meticulously 
selected mixture of Darien residents -- including a person 
with disabilities, indigenous persons, mothers with babies 
for the President to kiss, senior citizens, and others -- 
took to the microphone to express their gratitude to the 
President for his work on behalf of the Darien.  Every 
speaker was enthusiastically positive, and nobody mentioned 
anything negative in their comments.  After several hours of 
such testimonials, Torrijos finished the distribution of land 
titles to conclude the event. 
 
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COMMENT 
 
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¶5.  (C) This was a unique opportunity to observe one of the 
GOP's field cabinet/town hall meetings.  POLOFF attended the 
event at the invitation of the International Organization for 
Migration (IOM), which administers some U.S.-funded 
assistance projects in the Darien.  IOM had understood the 
event to be a donation ceremony involving some of these 
projects.  In reality, the Governor only gave a brief mention 
of IOM at the end of her long presentation.  The GOP was 
eager to take credit for IOM's work, a phenomenon we have 
witnessed with respect to U.S.-supported efforts. 
 
¶6.  (C) The overly rehearsed nature of the testimonials from 
the carefully-assembled group of residents (most of whom were 
receiving land titles), combined with their one-sidedly 
positive comments about the GOP, gave the event a highly 
staged, unreal quality.  Overall, the event was a 
cheerleading session first and foremost for Torrijos and 
second for the GOP, not an honest discussion or exchange of 
ideas on the Darien's needs.  The sunny praise from the 
audience contrasted sharply with the marks of poverty visible 
on all sides -- for example, the crumbling auditorium, the 
lack of plumbing or bathroom facilities, the unpaved roads, 
and children and adults with worn clothing and no shoes. 
Whether the GOP can effectively alleviate the "shame" of 
poverty in the Darien remains a test of the Torrijos 
Administration -- and likely, of many administrations to come. 
 
EATON