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08PANAMA182008-01-04 22:01:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Panama

DE RUEHZP #0018/01 0042201
R 042201Z JAN 08
C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000018 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/04/2018 
Classified By: POLCOUNS Brian R. Naranjo.  Reasons: 
1.4 (b) and (d). 
¶1.  (C)  In this year's first edition, the Panama Post 
includes the following stories: 
-- Panamamenista Party President Juan Carlos Varela launches 
presidential campaign; 
-- Team Martin player disillusioned as President Torrijos 
backs challenger to his seat on the governing Democratic 
Revolutionary Party (PRD) National Executive Committee (CEN); 
-- PRD women leaders upset with party's direction; 
-- Former Panamenista Mayor of Panama City to support 
Democratic Change (CD) Presidential and presidential 
candidate Ricardo Martinelli; and 
-- Anatomy of a bottomfeeding muckracker-cum-pundit's 
political operation. 
As opposition candidates begin to formally announce their 
candidacies and the governing Democratic Revolutionary Party 
(PRD) prepares for its January 20 poll to select delgates for 
its National Directors' Committee (CDN), 2008 is shaping up 
to be a very political year right from the get-go.  The 
Panama Post will be on hand throughout the year to continue 
periodically tracking interesting stories that might not 
otherwise find their way into Embassy Panama's reporting. 
Varela Launches Presidential Campaign 
¶2. (SBU) To nobody's surprise, Panamenista Party President 
Juan Carlos Varela has formally launched his campaign to be 
President of the Republic.  Varela made his formal 
announcement January 3 at the Hotel Soloy in the Panama City 
working class neighborhood of Calidonia.  Varela arrived to a 
jammed hotel, so packed that hotel security had already 
barred additional people from entering.  While press 
reporting indicated that about 2,000 loyalists attended, the 
Panama Post believes that an additional 1,000 were left on 
the curb.  At the well-organized event, representatives from 
each of Panama's provinces and every party "sector" (e.g., 
youth, women, business, labor) were well represented.  The 
proceedings were covered live by at least one television 
network and one radio broadcaster, and the press corps was 
out in force. 
¶3. (SBU) In a powerful speech, Varela slammed the Torrijos 
Administration for failing to combat corruption; provide law 
and order; address the public transportation problem (He 
basically asserted that Torrijos' failure to act was a direct 
cause of the horrific October 2006 bus fire.); and reform 
education (He said, in a reference to the emerging FECE 
scandal, that instead Torrijos had allowed corrupt 
individuals to steal from students in need.).  Varela stated 
that he would end the PRD's "sectarian way of governing" and 
instead govern on behalf of and to benefit all Panamanians. 
Promising to combat economic inequality and to ensure that 
Panama's economic growth benefitted all, Varela said, "We 
cannot continue to build a First World economy on the backs 
of the poor who are living in the Third World."  Asserting 
that the Torrijos Adminstration had been "overly 
bureaucratic" and "inept," Varela, an engineer, said that he 
would "re-engineer" Panama's government to more effeciently 
deliver services to all.  Varela said that decentralization 
of government services and empowerment of mayors and 
governors would be central to his administration.  Attempting 
to win greater support from Panama's professional class, 
Varela said that he would "revoke" the the taxes imposed 
"unjustly" on them by Torrijos.  Seeking to highlight his 
commitment to "values," Varela said, "We are going to 
recommit this party to the doctrine of service for others.  I 
will be your servant, not your idol. I have clean hands and 
will have zero tolerance for corruption." 
¶4. (C) Comment:  POLCOUNS was admittedly surprised not only 
by the turn-out for Varela's campaign launch, but also by the 
power with which Varela spoke and the organization that is 
backing him.  Varela has pulled into his campaign 
experienced, seasoned, street-fighter political operatives 
like National Assembly Deputies Alcibades Vasquez, Alberto 
"Topo" Barranco, and Argentina Arias.  National Assembly 
Deputy Jose Luis "Popi" Varela, who normally is his brother's 
toughest critic among Varela's closest advisors, was ecstatic 
at the success of this campaign launch; "We drew major party 
leaders from across the country.  We will get momentum out of 
this launch."  (Popi is his brother's campaign manager for 
the Panamenista primaries.)  Alberto Vallarino will launch 
his campaign for the Panamenista presidential nomination on 
January 7; Varela has set a high bar for Vallarino. 
--------------------------------------------- ----------- 
Team Martin Player Bitter as Torrijos Backers Challenger 
--------------------------------------------- ----------- 
¶5.  (C) Previously stalwart Torrijos supporter -- indeed 
founding member of President Martin Torrijos' "Team Martin" 
campaign effort -- Samuel Buitrago told the Panama Post that 
he was very bitter that Torrijos had decided to back Rod Diaz 
in the the race for Buitrago's seat on the National Executive 
Committee (CEN) of the governing Democratic Revolutionary 
Party (PRD).  Buitrago confided to the Panama Post that 
Torrijos told him directly that Torrijos would back 
Buitrago's challenger.  Buitrago said he thought that he was 
being punished as he was perceived as being one of PRD 
National Assembly Deputy Hector Aleman's "guys." 
Additionally, he told our reporter that he was "hurt" that 
First VP and FM Samuel Lewis and Minister of Housing Balbina 
Herrera were also supporting Diaz. 
¶6. (C) "I don't understand the kind of message President 
Torrijos wants to send with his new CEN:  (current National 
Assembly President and indicted U.S. federal fugitive) Pedro 
Miguel Gonzalez, (current Minister of Public Works and former 
Noriega-era Dignity Battalion commander) Benjamin Colamarco, 
(current Minister of Housing and former Noriega-era San 
Miguelito Mayor) Balbina Herrera, Mitchell Doens (who is 
ineligible for a U.S. visa), Rod Diaz, (current Panama City 
Mayor and presidential aspirant) Juan Carlos Navarro, and 
Gabriel Diez," Buitrago said.  "They all come from different 
walks of life and different political idelogies."  Buitrago 
asserted that Aleman was very bitter, too, and frequently 
blew his top with respect to Torrijos maneuvering in the PRD. 
 "Aleman's full-time job is be a PRD party member, then he's 
a (National Assembly) deputy." 
¶7. (C) Comment:  During his last meeting about three months 
ago with POLCOUNS, Buitrago asserted that Team Martin was 
still strong, Torrijos was firmly in command and loved by all 
in the PRD, and that Torrijos would chart the path to future 
and the party would follow him.  Well, now it appears that 
the growing divisions within the PRD may be striking closer 
to home as bitterness takes ahold of previously committed 
Torrijos supporters.  Rod Diaz -- "the most yeye of the 
yeyes" -- is reportedly throwing around a lot of cash 
bankrolling PRD campaigns.  (Note:  "Yeye" is a derisive 
Panamanian colloquialism for wealth, pampered, and spoiled 
Panamanian youth.)  Rod Diaz himself confidently told 
POLCOUNS January 4 that he would handily replace Buitrago. 
He dismissed his "outsider" status stating, "My father was 
PRD, I have been PRD for 14 years (signing up at age 18), and 
I have won four previous internal elections in the party." 
Diaz stated that the "yeye" slam and assertions that he was 
not "a real PRD member" was directed at his white skin color 
and wealth that distinguished him from the "colored" and 
"poorer" masses of the party.  As the PRD's elections for 
delegates to the National Directors Committee (CDN), 
scheduled for January 20, draw near, the Panama Post will be 
on the look out for further internal PRD intrigue. 
PRD Women Leaders Upset 
¶8. (C) "If things do not get better internally (in the PRD) 
in terms of more inclusion of women in the party structure 
and its decision-making process, then in a few years a large 
group of PRD members could leave to form a new party," PRD 
women activist Irasema de Ahumada told the Panama Post on 
December 28.  "It could be led by El Toro (former President 
Ernesto Perez Balladares) or somebody else, but it could 
easily happen."  These words are shocking -- indeed 
sacreligious -- coming from a founding member of the PRD.  De 
Ahumada was accompanied by Maribel Coco, a PRD women's leader 
in the 8.7 District of Panama City, a largely down at its 
heels, working class district, expect for the Ancon 
¶9. (C) Both ladies were focused on the January 20 PRD CDN 
elections to elect 4,200 delegates nationwide.  "The tickets 
(nominas) for each district are fairly short and weak," De 
Ahumada said.  "Normally, the tickets list between 10 to 15 
people," Coco explained, "but most of these tickets list only 
6 or 7 names."  Both agreed that this could be due to a lack 
of enthusiasm for Torrijos' managerial and decision-making 
styled or could reflect caution by PRD members who did not 
want to make it public yet who they supported as presidential 
candidates.  Nicolas Gonzalez-Revilla, campaign manager for 
Rod Diaz's run for a seat on the PRD CEN, echoed these 
ladies' regarding the on January 4 telling POLCOUNS, "The 
Secretary General (President Torrijos) is not coming into 
this internal election process fully in charge and with a 
phalanx of people to deploye to take the party in a new 
direction toward an election victory.  Instead the party's 
internal election process was being overshadowed by 
competition among presidential contenders." 
¶10. (C) Coco noted that First Lady Vivian de Torrijos was 
putting together her own ticket to become a CDN delegate for 
the 8.7 district.  (Note:  The Torrijos' live in the only 
tony corner of the 8.7 district, Quarry Heights in the Ancon 
neighborhood, the former home of SOUTHCOM's command.)  The 
First Lady sent a message to Coco asking her to step down as 
the principal delegate for the 8.7's ticket and to join her 
ticket in the number 2 slot.  "I have not answered her yet. 
I really do not want to do it, but if she does win, then I am 
finished," Coco explained.  "We have nothing in common.  She 
is white, I am not.  She is rich, I am not.  I have always 
been a PRD member, she has not." 
¶11. (C) Coco and de Ahumada said that they both support First 
VP and FM Samuel Lewis to be the PRD's presidential 
candidate, but both acknowledged his weaknesses.  Neither 
liked Panama City Mayor Juan Carlos Navarro much either. 
(Note:  As director of Panama City's Los Pueblos outdoor 
architectual museum, de Ahumada works directly for Navarro.) 
More surprisingly, both expressed a profound dislike for 
Minister of Housing Balbina Herrera.  "Balbina does well in 
the 'outside' polls, but not in the internal PRD polls when 
it comes to women," de Ahumada said.  "About 52 percent of 
the PRD rolls are made up of women."  Coco added, "Balbina 
does not like other women; they compete against her.  She 
'killed' (former Minister of Government and Justice) Olga 
Golcher.  She 'killed' (Panama Province Governor) Gladys 
Bandiera, and she did the same with other leaders in the 
interior."  Both complained that women's events received 
support and resources from El Toro, Lewis, and Navarro, but 
never Herrera.  Gonzalez-Revila and Diaz on January 4 
dismissed the idea that there was a significant difference 
between Herrera's support within and outside the party.  Diaz 
said that Lewis, "a close friend," was "finished" and would 
not be a presidential contender.  Both Diaz and 
Gonzalez-Revilla reacted viscerally against Navarro whom they 
view as an "opportunist" and "interloper."  "Balbina will 
emerge ultimately as the PRD's presidential candidate," Diaz 
¶12. (C) More generally, de Ahumada said, "Nobody wants to 
burn themselves.  Nobody wants to go out there and defend 
anything regarding this government."  Coco noted that she had 
appeared live on Panama City television host (and former 
Mayor of Panama city) Mayin Correa's show.  Correa confronted 
Coco with a large file of problems regarding Navarro's 
administration of the city.  "There was nothing I could do," 
Coco said.  "All the things she mentioned were true.  How 
could I defend him just because he is a PRD member?"  De 
Ahumada added that the day after Coco's appearance on 
Correa's show that she received a call from Navarro's office 
advising her not to hang out with Coco as she was not a real 
PRD member for not having defended the mayor.  (Note:  Correa 
was unseated by Navarro and despises the current mayor.) 
Both agreed that similar threats would soon start emanating 
from the various candidates as they learned who was 
supporting whose candidacy.  "Most of us work in the 
government.  All of the candidates are in public life," de 
Ahumada explained.  "What can we or others expect?" 
¶13. (C) Comment: The upcoming internal PRD elections, staring 
with the January 20 CDN elections, are shaping up to be 
particularly more bruising than usual.  Torrijos, while still 
in control of the party, has had his grip weakened in the 
wake of PMG's election as President of the National Assembly. 
 Divisions between modernist and retrograde tendencies are 
starting to come to the surface.  Add that raw, street-level, 
power politics, and all the ingredients for a rough and 
tumble internal political process are present.  That 
tradtionally faithful rank and file leaders like de Ahumada 
and Coco -- as well as Buitrago -- are upset could foretell 
surprising turns between the January 20 CDN elections and the 
March National Excutive Committee (CEN) elections.  Stay 
Mayin Correa to Suport Martinelli 
¶14. (C) "I'm going to support (Democratic Change (CD) 
President and presidential candidate) Ricardo Martinelli," 
lifetime Panamenista Party member and former Mayor of Panama 
City Mayin Correa told POLCOUNS on January 4. "He told me 
that he would give me whatever position I wanted, and he is 
going to win any way."   Correa said that there was no way 
that the opposition would be fully united; "There will be two 
opposition candidates, Martinelli and the Panamanista 
nominee."  Asked who she thought would win the Panamenista 
nomination, Correa asserted, "Juan Carlos Varela will easily 
defeat Alberto Vallarino in the party primaries.  He is 
running a good campaign, and he is well organized, funded, 
and supported.  Vallarino is an ingrate and does not really 
seem to want to campaign.  I as Vallarino's vice presidential 
running mate and I would not vote for him."  While she 
strongly believed that Varela would win the Panamenista 
nomination, she was dismissive of the prospects that Varela 
could ultimately win the presidency.  Correa was not worried 
about a split opposition field and believed that the 
opposition could still defeat the governing Revolutionary 
Democratic Party (PRD), regardless of who it ran. 
¶15. (C) Comment:  Correa today is an outspoken voice on 
Panamanian radio and television talk shows.  She is itching 
to get back into government and to support a winner.  Her 
decision to support Martinelli -- based primarily on her 
belief that he was owed respect for having sustained high 
support in the polls -- may be an indication of a 
bandwagoning effect.  Martinelli though appears to be quite 
free in promising positions in his future government, and, 
should he win, he may have a trouble meeting expectations. 
Anatomy of a Muckraker's Political Operation 
¶16. (SBU) Muckraker and erstwhile anti-corruption pundit 
Enrique Montenegro closed out 2007 with a vitriolic e-mail 
attack on Attorney General Ana Matilde Gomez's three years in 
office that he launched on December 28.  Montenegro runs a 
one-man anti-corruption NGO called "The National Front 
Against Corruption (FNCC)," or simply the "Anti-Corruption 
Front."  The designation of the current Attorney General of 
the Nation was an error," Montenegro asserted in his letter, 
continuing, "She has committed many errors that are a result 
of her inexperience, lack of talent, conflictive and 
problematic personality."  Well, with enough spamming -- 
POLCOUNS received his copy on January 1 -- Montenegro 
succeeded in gaining enough traction that the core elements 
of his four-page screed were published on January 2 by Panama 
City daily "Panama-America." 
¶17. (C) Comment:  Montenegro is a notorious political hired 
gun prepared to assault one's political foe or GOP official 
of choice for a price.  He is expert at moving muck from the 
realm of gossip, spraying it across Panama as e-mail spam, 
and eventually making it stick in the "responsible" media. 
Close to, but not a member of, the governing Revolutionary 
Democratic Party (PRD), Montenegro is politically flexible 
and is alleged to have provided his services not only to PRD 
Mayor of Panama City Juan Carlos Navarro, but also to 
Democratic Change (CD) President and presidential candidate 
Ricardo Martinelli and to Panamenista Party President and 
presidentical candidate Juan Carlos Varela.  Indeed, when 
Montenegro's son went missing at sea on his jet ski in 
October 2007, both Varela and Martinelli were quick to call 
POLCOUNS to request U.S. Coast Guard assistance in located 
his son.  (Note:  The USCG was already on the case with the 
National Maritime Service (SMN), eventually located the lost 
jet skier, and vectored a fishing boat to the pull 
Montenegro's son from the water miles from shore.) 
Montenegro subsidizes his meager pension with guest 
appearances on television and radio shows as an 
anti-corruption "expert" and by wheeling and dealing in 
corruption dirt and its placement in the media.  The 
Anti-Corruption Front provides Montenegro a patina of 
respectability and serves as a shingle to draw in purveyors 
of gossip.  As for Montenegro's accusations against the 
Attorney General, most of his letter is composed of 
re-treaded common wisdom, much of which post accepts. The 
Panama Post will keep its ears open to try to learn who put 
Montenegro up to this latest hit job and why.