Viewing cable 08PANAMA157

08PANAMA1572008-02-22 15:13:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Panama

DE RUEHZP #0157/01 0531513
R 221513Z FEB 08
C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000157 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/22/2018 
Classified By: POLCOUNS Brian R. Naranjo.  Reasons:  1.4 (b) and (d) 
¶1.  (C)  The February 14 and 15 disturbances, vandalism, and 
clashes with the police led by radical construction union 
SUNTRACS and efforts to respond to these outbursts largely 
pushed political activity off the public's radar scope.  The 
Torrijos Administration, caught flat-footed by scope of the 
violence and wounded by its inept initial response, sought to 
regain the political initiative this week by pressing the 
media for more balanced coverage, suggesting that Venezuelan 
radicals had links with SUNTRACS, attempting to get some 
semblance of a dialogue process underway, and deploying 
police to key points around the city.  Except for rather 
ritualistic criticisms of the violence, of the GOP's 
inability to provide adequate law and order, and some 
accusations that the police were using excessive force, 
opposition political leaders largely stood on the sidelines. 
The headlines for this edition of the Panama post are: 
-- Democratic Change (CD) President and presidential 
candidate Martinelli works to form an alliance: 
-- The governing Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) 
internal elections start to get messy; 
-- Panamenista party presidential nomination candidate 
Alberto Vallarino exudes a quiet confidence while trouble may 
be brewing among his top advisors; and 
-- Electoral Tribunal Magistrate Gerardo Solis notes that 
fifty percent of voters in May 2009 will be under the age of 
Martinelli Looks for Alliance Partners 
¶2.  (C) "I think I am close to an alliance deal with" 
Movement of Liberal Republic National (MOLIRENA) party 
President Sergio Gonzalez-Ruiz," Democratic Change (CD) 
President and presidential candidate Ricardo Martinelli told 
POLCOUNS on February 13.  Martinelli said that the next step 
would be for both MOLIRENA and CD to name 4-man teams to 
finalize an alliance deal.  "Sergio is desperate for money 
and for relevance," Martinelli asserted.  Prior to 
Martinelli's arrival at dinner, Martinelli's campaign advisor 
Jimmy Papademetriu stated that Martinelli had funded Gisela 
Chung's campaign to be re-elected as president of MOLIRENA, 
something Papademetriu said he would deny if questioned 
publicly.  Chung lost to Gonzalez-Ruiz, but Chung had filed 
complaints with the Electoral Tribunal (TE) seeking a more 
equitable distribution of positions and resource, to which 
under party rules she believed she was entitled. 
Papademetriu explained that while on the one hand Martinelli 
could offer financial support and greater profile, on the 
other hand Martinelli could call off Chung's attacks on 
Gonzalez-Ruiz thereby enhancing his authority in the party. 
On February 14, Martinelli said he would sit down with 
Patriotic Union (UP) President Billy Ford to discuss forming 
an alliance.  As of week's end, however, Ford had landed once 
again in the hospital and was undergoing tests. 
¶3.  (C) Comment: Martinelli is eager to form an alliance, 
perhaps out of fear of being isolated from the rest of the 
opposition.  While his campaign advisor urges a go-slow 
approach to alliances, Martinelli appears to be following his 
own gut instincts.  MOLIRENA is but a shadow of the stature 
that the party achieved during the final years of the Noriega 
regime and the restoration of democracy in Panama. 
Martinelli believes that locking down MOLIRENA as an alliance 
partner now could ease efforts to form an alliance with UP, 
undermine former President Guillermo Endara's Moral Vanguard 
of the Nation (VMP) party, and isolate the Panamenista party; 
we'll see.  (Special note for our loyal readers:  Martinelli 
went with low-top "chucks" (reftel).) 
The PRD's Internal Elections Get "Messy" 
¶4.  (C) "Everything is very confused and messy," Panama City 
Councilman and candidate for the Fourth Sub-Secretary seat on 
the governing Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) National 
Executive Committee (CEN) Carlos Perez-Herrera told ECONOFF 
on February 19. Perez-Herrera himself is running against 
Torrijos' preferred candidate, current Minister of Education 
Belgis Castro. Separately, current PRD CEN Fifth 
Sub-Secretary Samuel Buitrago told the Panama Post that he 
had been asked by President Torrijos to step down in order to 
make room for Rodrigo "Rod" Diaz.  "I got the message," 
Buitrago said, "but he (Torrijos) did not even have the pants 
(pantalones) to tell me directly that he wanted me out." 
Meanwhile at an event in Panama City's Curundu slum, First 
Lady Vivian Fernandez de Torrijos forbid protocol officers 
from seating Acting Minister of Housing Doris Zapata from 
being seated with other cabinet rank officials.  Zapata, 
according to Perez-Herrera, was not even "permitted" to run 
for a seat on the party's second most important governing 
body, its National Directors Committee (CDN).  Perceived as a 
support of National Assembly Deputy Hector Aleman, Zapata is 
viewed with great suspicion by the Fernandez and Torrijos. 
Perez-Herrera said that he was present when two PRD party 
delegates received calls from party Secretary General Martin 
Torrijos asking for the delegates' votes for specific 
candidates for the CDN.  "If the delegates tell Torrijos, 
'Well, let me think about it,' the next thing they know they 
get a call a few minutes later from a presidential staffer 
who reminds them that they have a niece, nephew, son, 
daughter or other relative working in such and such a 
position in the government," Perez Herrera explained. 
¶5.  (C) Both Buitrago and Perez-Herrera concurred that, given 
the current trends inside the party, the following were 
likely to win CEN seats: 
-- President:  Minister of Housing Balbina Herrera ("She'll 
never be loyal to anybody," Buitrago said.); 
-- 1st VP:  National Assembly Deputy Elias Castillo ("He is 
old and does not bring anything to the table," asserted 
-- 2nd VP: Minister of Public Works Benjamin Colamarco; ("The 
new PRD generation does not care for him," according to 
Buitrago, "but there are many older members who are anti-U.S. 
who remember him as a 'batallonero' leading the Dignity 
-- SecGen: President Martin Torrijos ("Torrijos' wins in the 
congressillos were very weak.  His people are winning 
positions on the CDN by only 10 to 25 votes," Buitrago 
asserted.  "He will not have a base for strong leadership, 
and people could switch loyalties easily."); 
-- 1st Sub-Secretary:  Panama City Juan Carlos Navarro ("Juan 
Carlos will continue to do his best to diminish Martin's 
power within the party," Buitrago said.) 
-- 2nd Sub-Secretary:  National Assembly Deputy Hector Aleman 
("Torrijos' number one enemy within the party," Buitrago 
-- 3rd Sub-Secretary:  National Assembly President Pedro 
Miguel Gonzalez; 
-- 4th Sub-Secretary:  Panama City Councilman Carlos 
Perez-Herrera ("Carlos is seen as an independent who is not 
one of Torrijos' puppies," Buitrago said.); 
-- 5th Sub-Secretary:  Rodrigo "Rod" Diaz ("Rod will support 
Torrijos as long as his check book allows," a bitter Buitrago 
said of this wealthy, 32-year old businessman). 
Both estimate that Aleman would defeat Torrijos preferred 
candidate, Mitchel Doens.  Buitrago said that Perez-Herrera 
would likely defeat Torrijos preferred candidate, Minister of 
Education Belgis Castro. 
¶6.  (C)  Comment:  Perez-Herrera, Buitrago, and Zapata were 
all proud and zealous members of "Team Martin," the youth 
movement that helped secure the presidency for Torrijos. 
Torrijos' strong arm tactics and not so subtle tactics are 
leaving bruises and hurt egos in their wake.  Both 
Perez-Herrera and Buitrago separately alleged that Torrijos 
was focusing "full time" on internal PRD politics, to the 
detriment of his presidential duties.  "That's why (radical 
construction union) SUNTRACS took over the streets last 
week," Buitrago asserted, referring to nation wide rioting 
and vandalism by SUNTRACS works on February 14 and 15. 
Vallarino Update 
¶7. (C) Noting that he was not conducting any polling, 
Panamenista presidential nomination candidate Alberto 
Vallarino told POLCOUNS February 20, "They are useless for 
primaries, particularly in Panama."  In contrast to what 
Vallarino's campaign advisor Jose Manuel Teran told the 
Panama Post on February 12, Vallarino asserted, "People who 
come to me seeking cash hand-outs tend to leave very unhappy. 
 I am not an ATM."  Vallarino volunteered that he had fired 
his original advertising agency since they could not turn 
around new ads and publicity materials quickly enough. 
¶8. (C) Teran asserted that Vallarino was getting soaked by 
thankless Panamenista pols and wasting an inordinate amount 
of money to no political benefit.  Teran also characterized 
party SecGen and National Assembly Deputy Francisco "Pancho" 
Aleman as an "incompetent campaign manager who only wants to 
be in every picture with Vallarino and to use Vallarino's 
money."  Teran explained that Vallarino hoped to take 
effective control of the Panamenista Party at the party's 
directorate meeting in April.  "I think Vallarino has the 
support of 40 percent of the directors. If we can take 
control in a commanding way, then we can make (party 
president and presidential nomination contender) Juan Carlos 
Varela party president in name only. 
¶9.  (C) Comment:  Vallarino, though acknowledging 
dissatisfaction with his admen, seems oblivious to troubles 
in his campaign apparatus.  Exceedingly confident, Vallarino 
underscored that he has four and a half months to lock up the 
nomination and exuded an air of inevitability regarding his 
eventual crowning, or rather primary victory.  Vallarino also 
appears to be flying blind and placing an inordinate amount 
of faith in his ability to "top down" his nomination rather 
than working the grass roots of the party. Vallarino will 
have lunch with Ambassador on March 6; stay tuned. 
Fifty Percent of Voters Will by Under 35 
¶10.  (C) "Fifty percent of voters in May 2009 will be under 
the age of 35," Electoral Tribunal Magistrate Gerardo Solis 
told POLCOUNS on February 19.  Also, one fourth of voters 
will be voting for the first time.  (Note:  Panama only has 
elections once every five years, so even though the voting 
age is 18, newly eligible voters might not have their first 
opportunity to exercise their franchise until they reach age 
¶11. (C)  Comment:  The "youth vote," which Panamanian 
politicians define as voters under 35, is largely uncharted 
territory for Panamanian political operatives.  "Team 
Martin," the current president's youth campaign outreach 
effort, played an instrumental role in Torrijos' 2004 
victory.   Martinelli has launched "Generation of Change 
(Generacion de Cambio)," preferring not to paste his name on 
his outreach effort.  Seeking to mine this unorganized mother 
lode of voters, Martinelli campaign advisor Jimmy 
Papademetriu made organizing "Generation of Change" his first 
order of business.  To promote the effort, Martinelli will 
embark on a nationwide youth out-reach effort organized by a 
Panama City discotheque owner complete with reggaeton bands 
and pop singers.  Other campaigns will likely follow suit and 
already have extensive youth out-reach programs in the works.