|Wikileaks:||View 05PANAMA835 at Wikileaks.org|
|Tags:||PREL PGOV PTER PM VZ LABOR HUMAN RIGHTS POLMIL|
|Redacted:||This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.|
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 PANAMA 000835 SIPDIS DEPARTMENT FOR WHA/AND WHA/CEN WHA A/S ROGER NOREIGA SOUTHCOM ALSO FOR POLAD E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/13/2015 TAGS: PREL, PGOV, PTER, PM, VZ, LABOR, HUMAN RIGHTS,POLMIL SUBJECT: PANAMA'S REPORT ON CHAVEZ'S ACTIVITIES REF: A. STATE 43965 B. PANAMA 00234 C. PANAMA 00810 D. 04 PANAMA 03025 E. PANAMA 00255 F. PANAMA 00235 G. PANAMA 00799 H. 04 PANAMA 2452 I. 04 PANAMA 2937 J. DAO PANAMA IRR 6 882 9925 04 K. DAO PANAMA IRR 6 882 0113 05 Classified By: AMB Linda Watt. Reason E.O. 12958 1.4(b) and (d). 1. (SBU) Per reftel A, following is Embassy's report on Chavez's activities in Panama, making reference to its extensive prior reporting in reftel B. Embassy has already forwarded the desk copies of recent DAO Panama reports (and Embassy political and economic reftels) on Chavez and Venezuela. Summary ------- 2. (S) The GOV's alleged ties to radical groups in Panama encompass financial and/or technical support for student groups, Social Security (CSS) reform opponents, and Venezuelan-inspired Bolivarian Circles. Panamanian press and opinion leaders view Chavez as a hot-headed populist with more potential to destabilize Colombia than Panama. While some high-ranking GOP officials are less sanguine, President Martin Torrijos's desire to pursue a commercially attractive oil pipeline deal with Venezuela demonstrates a belief that Panama will be able to utilize Venezuelan investment to improve its economic outlook while keeping unwanted ideological and political manipulation at arm's length. Panama's law enforcement ties with Venezuela, much like its visa policies, do not differ markedly from its policies with its other neighbors. Embassy believes that Chavez has little support in Panama at this moment, but a prolonged crisis perhaps sparked by civil disorders attending soon-to-be-announced CSS reform could provide the Bolivarian Circles (in alliance with small but well-trained Panamanian leftist groups) with an opening to cause problems for the Torrijos government. End Summary. GOV's Activities and Ties to Radicals ------------------------------------- 3. (C) Most information regarding the GOV's activities and ties to radical groups in Panama is relatively recent and revolves around a December 2004 report about 10 "Bolivarian Circles" that appeared in a major Panamanian daily (reftel B), although such Circles apparently have existed since 2000. Circle spokesman Fernan Casis claimed that the Circles attend functions at the Venezuelan and Cuban Embassies but do not receive funds from the GOV or GOP. Casis also claimed that adherents include labor and student leaders and PRD and former People's Party (Panama's defunct Moscow-oriented communist party) members. He also asserted and that the Circles are on good terms with (the presumably radical elements) within the SUNTRACS, CONUSI, and CONATO labor groups (reftel C). In February, Bolivarian Circle leaders, including university professor Carlos Wong Broce, held a meeting in Cocle province to agitate for the formation of another Circle. 4. (C) Other unconfirmed rumors link Circle or Chavez financing to the opposition movement protesting the government's upcoming CSS reform, including SUNTRACS and former CSS Director Juan Jovane. In August 2004, PolOff observed pro-Chavista banners at the offices of CONATO member National Center for Panamanian Workers (CGTP) during a routine courtesy call. Mainstream Media Sees Chavez Through the AP ------------------------------------------- 5. (SBU) Despite recent chatter about Bolivarian circles, mainstream Panamanian media generally view Chavez much as the major wire services (such as AP and Reuters) do, as a hot-headed populist who could destabilize Panama's neighbor, Colombia, more than Panama. Chavez consistently is a lukewarm story and most press follow-up on Bolivarian Circles appears in gossip columns. A rare editorial on Chavez in March reflecting a common Panamanian perspective rejected Bolivarian Circles and Chavism, emphasizing Panama's proud and "sovereign" history as the author of its own destiny - it won the Panama Canal from the United States. Academic Community Sees Marginal Influence ------------------------------------------ 6. (C) Academic elites and opinion leaders within Panama echo the mainstream media and generally see Chavez as an unstable blowhard with marginal influence. University of Panama Professor and human rights expert Miguel Antonio Bernal claimed that most of the UP's 75,000 students and faculty view Chavez as an extremist. The exceptions are three radical student groups with fewer than 100 members apiece: University Popular Block (BPU), Transforming Action Thought (PAT), and Revolutionary Student Front (FER). Bernal also claimed that one employees' association with fewer than 300 members, Association of University of Panama Employees (ASEUPA), sympathizes with Chavez. Bernal suspects that the student groups began receiving Venezuelan money about six months ago because group members suddenly seemed richer about that time. Lawmakers Downplay Bolivarian Potential --------------------------------------- While Ministers Express Concern ------------------------------- 7. (C) Several prominent Panamanian legislators denied that Bolivarian Circles could harm or make any difference in Panama (reftel B). While the media and opinion makers have paid little attention to Chavez, top policy makers, including Minister of the Presidency Ubaldino Real, have expressed concern for Chavez-supported activities and their potential impact on CSS protests (reftel B). Torrijos Defends Recent Economic Ties ------------------------------------- 8. (C) Panama's economic ties to Venezuela consist almost entirely of oil sales. (see reftels B, D, E). Recently, Panama joined the G-4 (which includes Venezuela, Colombia and Mexico)(see reftel D). Panama imports around 80% of its oil from Venezuela and recently began discussions about using a part-U.S.-owned oil pipeline in western Panama to send Venezuelan crude oil to a Pacific port for Asian (read Chinese) customers (reftel E). 10. (S) Torrijos and GOP officials repeatedly have told Emboffs that Panama's interest in a pipeline deal is a purely commercial arrangement that would exploit Panama's geographic location (reftel F). In April, Torrijos reportedly told U.S. Congressman Rick Renzi that he was interested in the pipeline project because it would produce much-needed cash for Panama (reftel G). Further, Torrijos rationalized that Panama would be able to control the flow of oil and that Colombia would be willing to build an oil pipeline if the Panama deal falls through. 11. (C) Panamanian MFA officials deny that the limited commercial links, part of Panama's broader regional strategy, increase Venezuelan leverage over Panama (reftels B, H, I). Limited Law Enforcement Cooperation ----------------------------------- 12. (C) While dozens of PPF officers have been trained in Venezuela over recent years, the U.S. and other Latin American countries (such as Argentina and Chile) have historically exercised greater influence within Panama's security forces (reftel B). Of the 45 ranking PPF officers sent on international courses in 2004, only five studied in Venezuela. Embassy is unaware of any information-sharing agreement between Panama and Venezuela. PPF officers recently trained in Venezuela express the same disdain of other Panamanians for Chavez and his Circles (reftel B). 13. (C) Chavez has little influence in Panama, despite his living 18 months here following his failed 1992 coup (reftel B). Chavez, at that time, allegedly stayed with his former military school roommate, current Panamanian secret service (SPI) Deputy Director Juan Antonio Gomez, but some sources report that the pair have had a falling out (reftels J, K). No Special Visa Requirements ---------------------------- 14. (SBU) Panama's visa requirements for Venezuelan passport holders are identical to those for U.S. citizens. Visitors for stays up to 90 days need a visa, but can enter with a tourist card for stays of 30 days. Panama does not place special requirements on Venezuelans for permanent residency. Comment ------- 15. (C) While Chavista propaganda could capitalize on Panamanian discontent with corruption and social inequality, Panamanians, proud of their "sovereign" history in which they achieved independence from Colombia and won the Canal from the U.S., are put off by the Chavista ideology. Bolivarian Circles have named themselves after Panamanian national heroes in the fight for sovereignty, including President Torrijos's deceased father, General Omar Torrijos, although this transparent ploy has not translated into increased popular support. 16. (S) Today's small, inconsequential Bolivarian Circles could gain political influence in the event of a prolonged, general political crisis in Panama that undermined the legitimacy of the political system. More immediately, some in the Torrijos administration are concerned that Venezuelan money might fund home-grown Panamanian leftist groups to organize violent street demonstrations against soon-to-be-announced CSS reforms. President Torrijos, with a better claim to the legacy of Panamanian sovereignty than the Circles, not surprisingly is more preoccupied with improving Panama's economic situation through regional commercial ties than with the populist/socialist Bolivarian ideology. So far, Torrijos has not succumbed to the temptations of subsidized Venezuelan oil, although we have heard unconfirmed reports that Venezuela has offered Panama lower-priced oil in return for diplomatic support for Cuba in the United Nations. Torrijos's April 7 announcement of a temporary cut in gas taxes demonstrates his preoccupation with the political implications of galloping fuel prices. While GOP officials discount any enduring convergence of Panamanian and Venezuelan political, military, or ideological interests, how Venezuelan "oil diplomacy" may play out in the long term is unclear. WATT
Latest source of this page is cablebrowser-2, released 2011-10-04