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08PANAMA2062008-03-07 21:23:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Panama

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C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000206 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/07/2018 
Classified By: POLCOUNS Brian R. Naranjo.  Reasons:  1.4 (b) and (d)/. 
¶1.  (C) The first week of March was a busy one for the Panama 
post.  As the PRD wound down its congressillos in advance of 
its March 9 convention, Ambassador engaged the Panamenista 
Party's leading candidates for its presidential nomination, 
the knife was stuck in a CID Gallup poll, and one mutual 
assistance pact was born while another languished on its 
deathbed.  Our headlines this week: 
-- As governing Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) internal 
elections wind down, vote buying rises in price and goes 
-- Movement of Liberal Republican Nationalists (MOLIRENA) 
President Sergio Gonzalez-Ruiz looks for an alliance partner; 
-- Confident Panamenista presidential nomination candidate 
Juan Carlos Varela lunches with Ambassador; 
-- Who killed the CID Gallup poll?:  A Panamanian Political 
Murder Mystery 
-- "El Pacto de Chame? -- Panamenista presidential nomination 
candidate Alberto Vallarino and Moral Vanguard of the Nation 
(VMP) presidential candidate Guillermo Endara agree to 
"mutual support?; 
-- Whither the other "Pacto de Chame" -- Do Minister of 
Housing Balbina Herrera and Panama City Mayor Juan Carlos 
Navarro have a deal?; 
-- Herrera gives testy, impromptu interview to La Estrella; 
-- Former President Ernesto "El Toro" Perez Balladares and 
National Assembly President Pedro Miguel Gonzalez (PMG) 
The second week of March looks to be a very busy week as 
well, beginning with the PRD's convention on Sunday, March 9. 
 Also, Panama City Mayor Juan Carlos Navarro will formally 
announce his candidacy for the PRD presidential nomination on 
Wednesday, March 12. 
-------------- -------------------------------------------- 
PRD Internals: Voting Buying Gets Expensive, Goes High Tech 
-------------- -------------------------------------------- 
¶2.  (C) "A lot of money is being thrown around in our 
internal elections," National Assembly Majority Leader 
Leandro Avila told POLCOUNS on February 27.  According to 
Avila, the average cost of each PRD delegated that was 
elected on January 12 to vote your way in a congressillo was 
about USD 500, up from US 250-500.  Allegedly long-timer PRD 
members Ramon Ashby and Jose "Chavitin" Huertas were 
distributing a lot of cash.  Unfortunately for many, Avila 
said that the entrance of Rod Diaz, candidate for the PRD 
National Executive Committee (CEN) 5th Sub-Secretary seat, 
had raised the price of things by offering up to USD 2,500 
per head in congressillos.  Separately, former PRD National 
Directors Committee (CDN) member Bernabe Perez told the 
Panama Post on March 3 that some delegates casting their 
votes in congressillos had taken cell phone cameras into the 
voting booth to snap pictures of their completed ballots as 
proof that they had voted as requested so that they could 
collect their payments.  "It has been a filthy competition," 
Perez said.  Political analyst Jose Blandon (the father, not 
Jose Blandon the son who is a Panamenista National Assembly 
deputy) confirmed to Ambassador on March 7 that significant 
government resources were being used to sway the voting. 
First VP and FM "Samuel Lewis was told to use all the 
resources possible -- you know exactly what that means -- to 
stop Pedro Miguel Gonzalez from winning the 3rd sub-Secretary 
seat," Blandon said, for example.  (Note:  Blandon has close 
long-term links to the PRD and a close personal relationship 
with Lewis.) 
¶3.  (C) Comment:  Rumors and claims of vote buying in the PRD 
internal elections are rampant and further contribute to a 
widely held perception that these PRD internals are some of 
the most bruising in recent memory.  The Electoral Tribunal 
has rushed out a new regulation that forbids voters from 
taking cell phone cameras or any other electronic devices 
into the voting booth.  As for Diaz, he is considered a 
shoe-in for the 5th Sub-Secretary seat.  Blandon 
characterized these PRD internal elections as the first in 
history in which there was no obvious, pre-ordained 
presidential candidate for the PRD.  Should Minister of 
Housing Balbina Herrera succeed in getting herself, Minister 
of Education Belgis Castro, National Assembly President Pedro 
Miguel Gonzalez, and National Assembly Deputy Hector Aleman 
on to the CEN, Herrera will control the CEN, therefore the 
PRD, and be well positioned to launch a focused campaign for 
president, Blandon explained.  Blandon told Ambassador to 
watch three races closely to see who wins control of the PRD: 
 the races for: 
CEN position:          Torrijos'        Herrera's 
                       Candidate:       Candidate: 
-------------          ---------------  ---------------------- 
2nd sub-Secretary      Mitchell Doens   Hector Aleman 
3rd sub-Secretary      Rivera           Pedro Miguel Gonzalez 
4th sub-Secretary      Belgis Castro    Belgis Castro 
The Panama Post will be out in force covering the PRD 
MOLIRENA President Leans Toward Martinelli 
¶4.  (C) "The party is in very bad shape," MOLIRENA President 
Sergio Gonzalez-Ruiz told POLCOUNS on September 27.  "We are 
bankrupt, aging, failing to attract new blood, fighting 
amongst ourselves, and largely on life support."  Eager to 
form an alliance however to sustain the party, Gonzalez-Ruiz 
offered, "We do have something to offer an alliance partner 
though:  a national structure and a presence in ninety-three 
percent of Panama's precincts (corregimientos)."  While he 
said he would like align MOLIRENA with Democratic Change (CD) 
presidential aspirant Ricardo Martinelli, Gonzalez-Ruiz 
acknowledged that he would need to bring along the rest of 
his party.  Separately, the Panama Post has heard from 
several sources, including Gonzalez-Ruiz, that long-time 
MOLIRENA member and leader Arturo Vallarino prefers to put 
the party in alliance with Panamenista presidential 
nomination candidate Alberto Vallarino (no relation).  Until 
there was better definition of the internal Panamenista 
campaign, Gonzalez-Ruiz said that alliance forming efforts 
were unlikely to take much shape. 
¶5.  (C)  Comment:  MOLIRENA is indeed a party that is up 
against the ropes.  It hemorrhaged a number of luminaries, 
including Guillermo "Billy" Ford who now heads the Patriotic 
Union (UP) party.  It is not clear though what MOLIRENA would 
indeed bring much to the table.  Martinelli political advisor 
Jimmy Papadimitriu, skeptical of the value of an alliance 
with MOLIRENA, told POLCOUNS March 5, "They are cannibals 
simply eating one another in that party.  There will only be 
a carcass left."  Indeed, former MOLIRENA President Gisela 
Chung remains in a scorched earth battle with Gonzalez-Ruiz 
for her "proportional representation" in the party's 
--------------------------------------------- -------- 
Varela Exudes Confidence During Lunch with Ambassador 
--------------------------------------------- -------- 
¶6.  (C) Panamenista presidential nomination candidate Juan 
Carlos Varela confidently asserted to Ambassador March 4 that 
he would defeat Vallarino.  Accompanied by his brother and 
campaign manager Jose Luis "Popi" Varela, Varela said that he 
saw four races:  (1) the internal Panamenista race between 
him and Vallarino; (2) the subsequent race between him and 
Martinelli; (3) the PRD race between Minister of Housing 
Balbina Herrera and Panama City Mayor Juan Carlos Varela, and 
(4) the race between the winners of #2 and #3.  Varela 
explained that he was in the second phase of his campaign, 
the listening phase.  The first phase was completed with his 
launch and nationwide tour where he re-introduced himself as 
a presidential candidate, not simply the president of the 
Panamenista Party.  "We have already seen a jump in my 
numbers following my reintroduction," Varela asserted.  In 
the current second phase, Varela said he would tour the 
country to learn more about the real concerns of the public. 
Then in late April/early May, before Panamenista candidates 
had to formally file their candidacies on May 9, Varela said 
he would start the third and final stage of his primary 
campaign by laying out a program of government.  Varela said 
that he was leading Vallarino among Panamenista voters by 12 
points (Varela 40 percent; Vallarino 28 percent), according 
to an unreleased CID Gallup poll (see para 8-10). 
¶7.  (C) Comment:  A man, a plan, Panama -- Varela believes 
that he is the man with a plan who is on track to be 
president of Panama.  His relations with Martinelli strained, 
Varela told the Ambassador that the two opposition leaders 
would have dinner later the same night.  Clearly, Varela 
believes Martinelli is more of a hurdle to be overcome than 
his fellow Panamenista Vallarino.  Furthermore, in the wake 
of her exceptional poll numbers, Varela was convinced that 
Herrera would be the PRD presidential nominee.  Well, 
Papadimitriu confirmed that Martinelli and Varela patched 
things up over dinner at Panama City businessman Felipo 
Sosa's home on March 4, but he added, "I am not too sure how 
long this patch will hold." 
A CID Gallup Poll Gets Murdered:  Who Did It? 
¶8.  (C) Panamanians awoke March 4 to see reported on the 
cover of Panama-America that this Panama City right of center 
daily newspaper had severed its seventeen year relationship 
with regional polling outfit CID Gallup.  Varela asserted to 
Ambassador on March 4 that Martinelli, "who always has a poll 
showing he is ahead under his arm," had quashed publication 
of this poll because it showed Varela leading Martinelli. 
Asked by POLCOUNS whether Martinelli killed this poll, 
Papadimitriu said, "Vallarino, not Martinelli, squashed the 
CID Gallup poll.  Alberto leaned hard on Panama-America to 
not publish that poll."  Furthermore, Papadimitiru asserted 
that Vallarino had tried to quash the Dichter and Neira poll 
published recently by La Prensa (reftel) since it showed him 
performing so poorly. Papadimitriu noted, "We have done a lot 
of dirty tricks already in this campaign, but we did not do 
this one," referring to efforts to quash the CID Gallup poll. 
 Separately though, the Panama Post learned from one source 
close to CID Gallup that Martinelli did indeed pressure 
Panama-America to suppress this poll by threatening to pull 
his Super99 supermarkets chain's advertising from the paper; 
the Super99 account is one of the paper's largest advertising 
¶9.  (U) CID Gallup's poll shows Varela securing 40 percent 
support of Panamenista Party members who intend to vote in 
contrast to Vallarino's 28 percent support.  The same poll 
shows Varela with 26 percent support among opposition 
candidates in contrast to Martinelli's 22 percent showing 
Vallarino's 14 percent showing.  This nationwide (except for 
islands) poll conducted February 7 to 12 included 1,446 
interviews in homes, in person, and by telephone.  Only a 
total of 180 interviewees identified themselves as 
Panamenista Party members who were then asked to indicate 
their voter preference among Panamenista primary presidential 
nomination aspirants.  Only 345 prospective voters identified 
themselves as "opposition members" and were subsequently 
asked their preference among opposition candidates.  The same 
poll indicated that 52 percent of PRD party members supported 
Herrera leading Navarro who garnered only 19 percent support. 
 A total of 378 interviewees identified themselves as PRD 
members and were asked to answer the PRD voter intention 
¶10. (C) Comment:  This CID Gallup poll is suspect given the 
unusually small sample sizes for key questions and the 
pollsters at least partial reliance on telephone interviews. 
(Note:  Telephone interviews tend to skew to higher 
socio-economic brackets as many Panamanians do not have ready 
access to phones at home or at work.)  Additionally, the 
question regarding preferences among opposition candidates 
was skewed by the inclusion of three Panamenista candidates 
running against one candidate from each of the other 
opposition parties.  Vallarino would not be the sole 
beneficiary of suppression of this poll; its publication 
would have tarnished Martinelli's front-runner status as 
well.  Given its sloppiness though and the fact that it does 
not track at all with other polling, the best that can be 
said for this poll that was strangled in its crib is that 
confirmation will be needed to see if there is a trend that 
favors Varela in the Panamenista Party and whether Martinelli 
is indeed losing so much ground to others in the opposition. 
"Ultimately, Ricardo's numbers have to come down as other 
opposition candidates ramp up their campaigns."  Papadimitriu 
said, "I have tried to explain that to Ricardo."  Stay tuned. 
-------------------- ----------------------------------------- 
"El Pacto de Chame:" Vallarino-Endara Mutual Support Agreement 
-------------------- ----------------------------------------- 
¶11.  (C) Vallarino and Endara announced March 5, following 
their lunch at La Nueva Posada restaurant in the seashore 
village of Gorgona, that they had agreed to support one 
another mutually, as reported by major Panama City media 
outlets.  From media accounts, it looks like fellow former 
presidential candidate Jose Miguel Aleman brokered this 
meeting.  Vallarino asked the press rhetorically, "If we (the 
Panamenista Party) are not internally united, how are going 
to be able to preach unity to the Moral Vanguard of the 
Nation and other opposition parties?"  At lunch with 
Ambassador on March 6, Vallarino explained, "Essentially what 
happened was that Endara, who has a significant quota of 
support inside the Panamenista party, endorsed me." 
¶12.  (C)  Comment:  So what does this mean?  Endara, broke 
and slumping in the polls, is desperate for media attention 
and surely welcomed this opportunity to raise his profile. 
Endara, who has repeatedly noted that in his heart of hearts 
he is a true Panamenista probably also welcomed the 
opportunity believing it would allow him a chance to remind 
Panamenista voters that he is still an option.  Vallarino for 
his part hoped to co-opt Endara's base of support inside the 
Panamenista Party to his cause.  Blandon asserted that 
Vallarino stole a march on both Martinelli and Varela 
catching them completely off guard; "The message of the 
Vallarino-Endara alliance is that Vallarino can unify the 
opposition.  A vote for Vallarino, including those votes from 
pro-Endara Panamenistas is a vote for opposition unity." 
Vallarino still needs to defeat Varela and Marco Ameglio to 
secure the Panamenista Party's presidential nomination. 
Vallarino has been reaching out to prospective alliance 
partners, including MOLIRENA and UP, trying put something 
together.  While UP's President Guillermo "Billy" Ford stiff 
armed Vallarino, MOLIRENA's Gonzalez-Ruiz at least heard 
Vallarino out. 
----------------------- --------------------------------- 
Wither the Other Pacto: Herrera's ad Navarro's Agreement 
----------------------- --------------------------------- 
¶13. (C)  "Balbina (Herrera) told Juan Carlos (Navarro) 'I'll 
support you as long as you are ahead of me in the polls," PRD 
women's leader Irasema de Ahumada told the Panama Post on 
March 3.  Allegedly, Herrera told Navarro that if she was 
ahead of him that she would not be the one to blame.  De 
Ahumada said she decided to ask Herrera directly concerning 
her electoral aspirations -- to run for Panama City Mayor or 
for President -- in the wake of what is becoming an 
overheated parlor game of trying to determine Herrera's true 
intentions.  "The Herrera-Navarro pact is dead; it existed at 
one point, but it's now dead," Blandon told the Ambassador. 
Blandon predicted that Hector Aleman would push a resolution 
at the PRD convention calling on Herrera to run for 
president, thereby putting the final nail in the coffin of 
this pact by making her candidacy a "call from the people." 
Learning of this, Blandon said, Navarro did not waste any 
time getting all the Panama City and San Miguelito precinct 
representatives and city councilmen to sign a resolution 
calling on Navarro to be the party's candidate.  (Note: 
Panama City and San Miguelito are Panama's most vote rich 
¶14. (C) Comment:  It is widely believed, both inside the PRD 
and among opposition leaders that Herrera will run and that 
she will be the PRD candidate to beat for president of the 
A Testy Herrera Gives Impromptu Interview 
¶15. (U) "What pact?  What pact?" Herrera told Panama 
broadsheet daily La Estrella in an interview published on 
March 6.  Testy, Herrera answered a series of questions 
regarding her political aspirations in an impromptu interview 
on the campaign trail. Asked whether an emerging split in the 
PRD would break her pact to support Navarro for the 
presidency, Herrera responded, "I can tell you, if you were 
criss-crossing the country as I am doing, I believe that you 
would have an x-ray of my party.  Nobody, nobody -- let my 
underscore -- nobody is going to destroy the unity of my 
party."  Doggedly, Herrera stated that she supported her 
President (Torrijos) as a Minister and her Secretary General 
(Torrijos) as a sub-Secretary, that she was working to 
fulfill her party's 25-year vision for Panama, and that she 
was working with her task force to implement that vision. 
¶16. (C) Comment:  Herrera was offered an opportunity to stand 
up publicly for her alleged pact with Navarro and decided to 
take a pass.  Taking refuge in party solidarity, Herrera is 
laying the groundwork to launch her campaign for president as 
being in response to the demands of the PRD rank-and-file. 
Indeed, her campaign for the presidency of the PRD has 
enabled her to deploy a nationwide team that can easily be 
turned to supporting her campaign for the presidency of the 
Vallarino Lunches with Ambassador 
¶17. (C) "Polls don't mean much in the primaries," Panamenista 
presidential nomination candidate Alberto Vallarino told 
Ambassador over lunch on March 6.  "Panamenistas are only one 
out of every ten voters, so one would need to contact 10,000 
people to get a decent sample by which to measure voter 
intent in the party."  Nonetheless, Vallarino was confident 
that he was making good progress with his campaign.  "I'm 
listening to a lot of people as I travel from one end of 
Panama to the next, trying to get a sense for their 
concerns."  Vallarino said that the cost of living, access to 
clean water, and law and order topped the issues that voters 
raised with him.  Noting that he would be touring San 
Miguelito later in the day, Vallarino complained that not 
enough time was being scheduled for him to meet with 
individual families and their neighbors that he was expected 
to see.  "They have me only spending 20 minutes in these 
homes," Vallarino complained.  "How can one jump start a 
word-of-mouth campaign by barely spending time with people?" 
Campaign advisor Jose Manuel Teran said, "You need to spend 
at least 45 minutes at each stop." 
¶18.  (C) Comment: Vallarino was confident -- almost smug --- 
that he would eventually win the Panamenista presidential 
nomination.  He was also extremely short on specifics about 
his campaign strategy or policy proposals. He provided very 
few insights into how he would govern and argued that policy 
positions were not very important for the primaries, 
"electability" was. 
El Toro and PMG Meet Behind Close Doors 
¶19.  (C) Former President Ernesto "El Toro" Perez Balladares 
met behind closed doors with National Assembly President 
Pedro Miguel Gonzalez (PMG) for dinner at Panama City 
restaurant Jade on March 5.  While most of Panama City's 
journalists speculated about what these two PRD members 
discussed, Bernabe Perez -- who was present at the encounter 
-- reported that while both were courteous to one another 
they both warily keep their distance as well.  Perez asserted 
that PMG was more assertive than El Toro claiming that PRD 
was "split" and in very bad condition.  Allegedly, PMG said, 
"We need to take it back."  As for El Toro, he was looking 
for backing to achieve his immediate goal to secure the PRD 
presidency on March 9. 
¶20.  (C) Comment:  Perez's assessment is probably right on 
the money:  "They are both mad, both against Torrijos.  More 
than being joined by specific interests, the roads that each 
one finds himself on are leading to the same point.  Were 
these two to work together that would put (President) Martin 
(Torrijos) in a very bad position and that has nothing to do 
with the convention on Sunday, but rather the future real 
leadership of the party and possibly the government."  El 
Toro and PMG are not birds of a feather that flock together. 
El Toro anchors the party's authoritarian right wing, while 
PMG represents the party's left wing "tendency (tendencia)"