(C) PANAMANIAN PRESIDENT TORRIJOS: LACK OF U.S. REGIONAL STRATEGY HELPS RADICALS

Código Fecha Clasificación Origen
06PANAMA184 1 February 2006 Secreto Embassy Panama

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S E C R E T PANAMA 000184

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR WHA/FO
DOD FOR DASD ROGER PARDO-MAUER
SOUTHCOM ALSO FOR POLAD

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/31/2016
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, ETRD, PM
SUBJECT: (C) PANAMANIAN PRESIDENT TORRIJOS: LACK OF U.S.
REGIONAL STRATEGY HELPS RADICALS

Classified By: AMBASSADOR WILLIAM EATON FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D).

SUMMARY


1. (S) During a January 30 meeting with Ambassador and DOD
DASD Roger Pardo-Mauer, Panamanian President Martin Torrijos
Espino shared his frustration with what he perceives as a
leadership void created by a lack of a coherent U.S.
strategic vision for the region. In his view, the
increasingly radicalized leftists in the region are rapidly
filling that void which is making life difficult for
governments who want to work with the United States.
Torrijos complained that stalwart friends, such as Panama,
are being ignored by Washington, while others, who oppose
U.S. interests, are gaining ground. End Summary.

Leftist Pressures


2. (S) In Panama, Torrijos said, leftist forces, including
those in his own party, are flexing their muscle, berating
Torrijos for his pro-American policies, taunting him for
having nothing to show for this so-called friendship and
strategic partnership. Meanwhile, the U.S. is perceived as
"nickeling and diming" Panama on the free trade agreement,
fueling a public perception in Panama that this is an unequal
deal being bullied upon Panama. Different U.S. departments
and agencies seem to be pursuing their own strategies and
priorities divorced from the realities and threats emerging
in the region. Ironically, he said, while the Executive
Branch seems to be ignoring and neglecting the region,
Congressional officials seem to have a better understanding
and appreciation of the risks at stake in the region. The
blithe indifference to the region (and Panama) also is
manifested in the relative paucity of U.S. companies actively
pursuing participation in the Panama Canal Expansion Project,
while swarms of representatives from other countries
(including China) are actively campaigning for these
projects.

Urban Risk


3. (S) Torrijos opined that the election of Evo Morales in
Bolivia was not an indigenous revolution, as many pundits
claim, but an urban revolution. Every country in the region
with an urbanized population, he said, is at risk. While
much of the attention from the U.S. to the region has been
rhetorical, what the region needs are more concrete programs
to aid democracy, security and trade. The Organization of
American States (OAS) can also play a constructive role as a
facilitator of discussions, but the real work, he said, has
to be through more and better informal dialogue before
positions become calcified in public fora. The PRC, he said,
is an increasingly important economic partner for Panama, as
it is for the U.S., in stimulating growth and employment. He
added almost dismissively that Taiwan is not a helpful force
for democracy in the world, alluding to scandals involving
Taiwanese bribery of Panamanian officials in the previous
Moscoso Administration.

"Progress By Inches"


4. (S) Torrijos conceded that we are making progress by
inches in solidifying security cooperation between the U.S.
and Panama, through the Panama Secure Trade and
Transportation Initiative, Enduring Friendship and the annual
Panamax exercise. However, Torrijos expressed his growing
concern about internal insecurity and unrest in Panama
because of poverty and unemployment. That’s one reason why a
free trade agreement is so important, he said.

COMMENT


5. (S) We don,t agree with Torrijos,s characterization of
our FTA discussions, since some of the political problems he
is confronting are of his own making. Neither Torrijos nor
his cabinet has done much to promote the agreement. Having
said that, we should not underestimate the enormous pressure

Torrijos is under within his PRD party to shift the
government’s attention away from the U.S. to others in the
region (e.g., Venezuela, Cuba).

6. (S) So far, however, Torrijos has been holding firm
against these forces. However, it’s clear he’s losing the
battle. His tone during this meeting with the Ambassador and
Pardo-Mauer was plaintive, tinged with enormous frustration.
Torrijos characterized the failure to conclude a free trade
agreement in Washington earlier this month as an enormous
political and personal blow, which he is still struggling to
understand. He claimed that recent polls indicate his
popularity dropped 10 points after (and because of) the
inconclusive negotiations*but also, we must point out,
because of the flamboyant resignation of his Agriculture
Minister Cortizo, as the last round of FTA negotiations got
underway. Waving the specter of Venezuela, Cuba, China and
others was his way of telling us his interpretation of what
is at stake for Panama — and the U.S. — if the U.S.
continues to ignore Panama and the region.

EATON