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Volume 17, Number 4
March 27, 2011
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Also in this section:
US State Department report on human rights in Panama
Editor's notes about the US State Department human rights report
Supreme Court scandal deepens: new witnesses, defenses that look like admissions
Last jailed Cuban journalist released, Cuba launches campaign against US propaganda
PRD votes for local and women's and youth group leaders
Cross-dressing consul resigns
Former bagwoman for corrupt high court magistrates sings in public
Ruckus raised over diplomat in drag
WikiLeaks highlights, worsens US-RP relations
Final farewell for Billy Ford
Guillermo Ford dies
Revelations in Spanish, Tico media embarrass Martinelli

Many things that used to be in a Panama News Briefs feature of the website have now migrated to our constantly updated Facebook page


John Boehner's man in Panama, Minister of the Presidency Jimmy Papadimitriu, goes before reporters and on the presidential website to launch a blistering attack on former US ambassador Barbara J. Stephenson. Photo by the Presidencia

US citizen remains a political prisoner in Panama
WikiLeaks highlights, worsens US-Panamanian relations
by Eric Jackson

There are members of the government with suspected ties to drug trafficking, and there is no reason to believe there will be fewer acts of corruption in this government than in any past government. [The government of Panama] may be trying to keep track of DEA activities to protect themselves from getting caught up in a US investigation.
former US Ambassador Barbara J. Stephenson

The head of Panama's intelligence service, Olmedo Alfaro, has again demonstrated his anti-US bias in his handling of an alleged kidnapping attempt against President Ricardo Martinelli. Although Martinelli requested the Embassy's help in the investigation, Alfaro refused assistance from our law enforcement and intel team. We later learned that Alfaro complained to Martinelli that the USG had provided no help. Embassy Panama believes the alleged plot was a hoax....
former US Ambassador Barbara J. Stephenson

US ex-Ambassador Barbara J. Stephenson lies.
Minister of the Presidency Jimmy Papadimitriu

The Panama portion of the WikiLeaks tale has taken some strange twists, but one unmistakable aspect of it is a serious deterioration in the relationship between the US and Panamanian governments. That trend is and was both past and present tense, applicable in 2009 and 2010 when the US diplomatic cables about Panama that WikiLeaks obtained were sent, and applicable now in the handling of those documents by a Martinelli-aligned newspaper and statements coming out of the Ministry of the Presidency.

The Martinelli strategy for relations with the United States appears to have at first included demands for US help in suppressing his political opponents, and when that was not forthcoming enhanced ties with right-wing US Republicans and actions based on the presumption that the Obama administration is powerless and temporary. Martinelli's right-hand man, Minister of the Presidency Jimmy Papadimitriu, is a US citizen, former aide to Speaker of the House John Boehner and on-leave employee of Karl Rove's consulting firm.

This past December a group of Martinelli supporters --- by some unconfirmed accounts including Martinelli himself --- bought EPASA, the parent company for  three daily newspapers: the popular necro-porn tabloid La Critica, the more respectable broadsheet El Panama America and the simplified McPaper tabloid Dia a Dia. On or about March 15 El Panama America and WikiLeaks signed a deal that gave that daily --- and thus Ricardo Martinelli --- exclusive possession of more than 900 leaked cables about Panama. According to El Panama America, the only editing that could be done would be to erase the name of someone whose life might otherwise be endangered from a leaked document. Since EPASA gained control of the documents it appears that their gradual release has been handled with an eye to embarrass the PRD --- most of the cables are from the times of previous Panamanian administrations --- or to limit damage to the Martinelli administration.

One of the US allegations against WikiLeaks has been that it puts people's lives at risk, but mostly these claims have been specious --- either undemonstrated speculation or ideological arguments to the effect that if the United States is politically embarrassed that will help its enemies in some unspecified but presumably horrible way. But one of the cables that El Panama America has released, with respect to a supposed plot to kidnap Ricardo Martinelli, very likely does put someone's life at risk, that of political prisoner Isaac Polanco. Polanco, a US citizen of Puerto Rican origin, has been held by the Panamanian government for more than one year without any evidence presented against him, on the grounds that he was the mastermind of a plot to kidnap Martinelli. That plot always seemed fanciful to most serious observers, and in the cable Ambassador Stephenson said that the embassy thought it was a hoax. The plot allegation was used to replace Panama's US security advisors with Israeli ones --- something that General Manuel Antonio Noriega also did when his relations with the Americans began to sour. The leaked cable identifies Polanco as a DEA contact and "information peddler," which is one of the most dangerous reputations for any prisoner in Panama to have. An incarcerated snitch's life expectancy is notoriously low. Indeed, it might serve Martinelli to end an embarrassing situation for Polanco to be killed by a fellow inmate as a real or supposed informer.

In another leaked cable, Stephenson stated her suspicion that a Panamanian government that's infiltrated by the drug cartels wanted access to Drug Enforcement Administration wiretaps to protect itself from  investigations about its own corruption.

The two WikiLeaks cables are as follows, the bold captions not being a part of the documents:

October 14, 2009: Martinelli vs. the DEA

S E C R E T PANAMA 000777

NOFORN
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/14/2029
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, PINR, SNAR, PM
SUBJECT: PANAMANIAN INTEL DIRECTOR CONFRONTS DEA

REF: PANAMA 639

Classified By: Ambassador Barbara J. Stephenson for reasons 1.4 (b) and
(d)

-------
Summary
-------

1. (S//NF) Olmedo Alfaro, Executive Secretary of the Council of Public Security and National Defense (Consejo), engaged in two tense encounters with DEA personnel last week, indicating continued tension over the Embassy decision to remove the Matador judicialized wiretap program from the control of the Consejo and put it entirely under the control of the Attorney General. After berating DEA and FBI agents, Alfaro declared that he did not need DEA because other USG agencies would give him what he needed. Alfaro's attitude, together with an apparent attempt to place an un-vetted officer on the DEA Sensitive Investigations Unit (SIU), indicate that members of Martinelli's security team are nervous about placing our judicialized wiretap program under the Attorney General's oversight. End Summary.

-----------------
I Don't Need You!
-----------------

2. (S//NF) On October 7 a DEA agent and a TDY FBI agent who were conducting routine activities in the Matador wireroom (located on the Consejo office complex and still under the control of Consejo) were called into Alfaro's office and told, in a disrespectful tone, that "we know why they fired your boss! How are we supposed to trust you!" (Note: Country DEA attach departed Post two weeks ago for personal reasons. End Note.) He went on to say, "I don't care about DEA because the CIA will give me everything I need." He further complained about delayed payments from DEA for the wireroom. Alfaro then announced, "if you play hardball with us, we will play hardball with you." Alfaro then calmed down, and apologized for his outburst, saying he needed to "vent."

---------------------
But Let's Make a Deal
---------------------

3. (S//NF) Two days later, Alfaro called the DEA agent in charge of Matador into his office to discuss Matador. Alfaro suggested that the dispute over Matador had been a personal problem with the previous attach, and that now that he was gone, Consejo and DEA should "sit down and work out a deal." Alfaro proposed that the first element of the deal be that DEA accept his original choice as wireroom supervisor. (Note: Consejo's firing of the long time Consejo wireroom supervisor, and attempt to impose an unknown officer was the beginning of the crisis over th Matador program. End Note.) He went on to insist that DEA give him an access card to the wireroom. The DEA agent explained that Consejo held all the access cards and he could go in whenever he wanted, but Alfaro insisted that DEA give him a card, "as an act of confidence."

---------------
SIU Shenanigans
---------------

4. (S//NF) In the same week, the Panamanian National Police officer who serves as deputy head of the DEA SIU, xxxxxxxxx, received a phone call from xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, his supervisor and the Director of the Judicial Investigative Police (DIJ), telling him that he was sending an officer to incorporate into the unit, assuring him that he had already passed local vetting, and was all right (Note: No PNP officers may join the SIU until they have been polygraphed and vetted by DEA. This officer had not been. End note.)

-------
Comment
-------

5. (S//NF) Alfaro's actions are increasingly unpredictable. DEA has always had excellent relationships with Consejo and all Panamanian law enforcement agencies, and routinely allows Panamanian law enforcement agencies and the GOP to take credit for huge drug seizures which are actually the work of DEA. Alfaro seems to give no importance to the long-standing close ties to USG partners, and to be entirely fixated on keeping control over the equipment used in the judicialized Matador program. Post has taken an irrevocable decision to move the Matador program from its present physical location on the Consejo grounds, and to put it entirely under the control of the Attorney General at a location controlled by her. Vice President and Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Varela has been informed of this decision, and he told the Ambassador that he had informed Alfaro and Minister of Government and Justice Jose Raul Mulino and would inform President Martinelli soon.

6. (S//NF) Alfaro's comments on not needing the DEA may indicate that the GOP now realizes it cannot use Matador for political espionage, especially when taken together with the increasing contact between the GOP and Israeli security companies. The government's concern that Matador not be turned over to the A/G, however, and the attempt to place an officer in the SIU without coordination, may indicate a shift in concerns from finding dirt on others to protecting themselves. There are members of the government with suspected ties to drug trafficking, and there is no reason to believe there will be fewer acts of corruption in this government than in any past government. By asking to renegotiate the Matador deal, and placing un-vetted officers in the SIU, the GOP may be trying to keep track of DEA activities to protect themselves from getting caught up in a U.S. investigation.
STEPHENSON


February 10, 2010: Martinelli's "kidnap plot"

VZCZCXYZ0000 RR RUEHWEB DE RUEHZP #0061/01 0402146 ZNY SSSSS ZZH R 092145Z FEB 10 FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0423 INFO RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL RHMFISS/COM
S E C R E T PANAMA 000061

NOFORN
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 2020/02/09
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, ASEC, SNAR, PINR, KCRM, PM, CASC
SUBJECT: Alleged Kidnap Plot Shows Intel Chief's Hostile Intent,
Serious GOP Security Flaws

REF: PANAMA 39; 2009 PANAMA 881; 2009 PANAMA 817; 2009 PANAMA 777

CLASSIFIED BY: David Gilmour, Deputy Chief of Mission, State, EXEC;
REASON: 1.4(B), (D)

1. (S//NF) Summary: The head of Panama's intelligence service, Olmedo Alfaro, has again demonstrated his anti-U.S. bias in his handling of an alleged kidnapping attempt against President Ricardo Martinelli. Although Martinelli requested the Embassy's help in the investigation, Alfaro refused assistance from our law enforcement and intel team. We later learned that Alfaro complained to Martinelli that the USG had provided no help. Embassy Panama believes the alleged plot was a hoax, but the episode did expose vulnerabilities in the GOP's VIP protective service and provided an opening for Alfaro to reengage Israeli security consultants to advise the GOP. End summary.

2. (S//NF) President Martinelli called Ambassador on January 14 to tell her of a conversation between former State WHA Assistant Secretary Roger Noriega and Panamanian ambassador to Washington Jaime Aleman. According to Martinelli, Noriega told Aleman that the Venezuelan government was planning to assassinate Martinelli, in a plot directed by GOV intel chief Hugo Carvajal. Martinelli asked for the Embassy's assistance in providing any information that might corroborate Noriega's story. The Ambassador tasked our law enforcement and intelligence team to check. While no evidence of any plot was found, the law enforcement team found significant derogatory information on Pedro Ruiz Martin Olivares, whose name had been provided to RSA by Alfaro. We shared the information and provided a photo of Martin Olivares so that Panamanian authorities could either deny him entry or put him under surveillance. When the president called the Ambassador again the evening of January 14, she advised him that the name check indicated Martin Olivares was a seriously bad actor. Martinelli asked repeatedly for advice on whether the GOP should deny entry to Martin Olivares or put him under surveillance. The Ambassador explained that there were pros and cons to each course of action, and suggested that the president's security experts should weigh in before he made a decision.

3. (S//NF) At the same time that the info on Martin Olivares was passed to Martinelli, RSA chief relayed an offer to Alfaro from DEA to make available the Matador wiretap capability to assist in the investigation. Over the next several days, RSA chief and LEGATT were in regular contact with Alfaro and repeatedly offered assistance, including wiretaps. In each case, Alfaro said he had the investigation under control and did not need any assistance.

4. (S//NF) On January 17, Alfaro informed RSA chief that the GOP had apprehended three suspects: Isaac Polanco, a U.S. citizen from Puerto Rico resident in Panama; Javier Guzman, a member of the GOP's Institutional Protection Service (SPI) assigned to Martinelli's security detail; and Benjamin Guzman, brother of Javier. Alfaro believed that Polanco had possibly been a DEA source, and contacted RSA chief who relayed the information to our law enforcement team. DEA and ICE officers advised that Polanco is known locally as an information peddler. He has had limited contact with the ICE vetted unit, but has never worked as a source for DEA or ICE. RSA chief passed that information to Alfaro. Alfaro also believed that Polanco intended to kidnap Martinelli and sell him to the FARC, who would demand a $10 million ransom.

5. (S//NF) After extensive questioning of Polanco and the Guzman brothers, Alfaro told RSA chief that all three suspects had confessed, and Alfaro believed the plot was a hoax. According to Alfaro, Polanco had concocted the story of a plot and recruited the Guzmans, and then had offered to sell information about the alleged plot to the Panamanian intel service. Embassy law enforcement officers believe the story tracks with what we know of Polanco's style of operation, and we agree that it was almost certainly a hoax.

6. (S//NF) Despite the hoax, it appears true that Polanco was able to recruit Javier Guzman, a member of Martinelli's security detail, to participate in a plot that Guzman believed was real. This reveals a serious vulnerability in the GOP's ability to protect senior officials. According to press reports, Guzman's salary was $390/month, the typical starting pay for a Panamanian policeman.

7. (S//NF) Meanwhile, Martin Olivares, the subject of the original name check, never appeared at any Panamanian port of entry.

8. (S//NF) On February 2, Vice President Varela told Ambassador that Alfaro had complained to Martinelli that the Embassy had not provided any help in the kidnap investigations. Alfaro believed this demonstrated that the USG is not a reliable security partner. As a result, Varela said, Alfaro had moved to bring in Israeli security consulting firm Global CST to advise on setting up a new protective detail for Martinelli. Senior GOP leaders had previously engaged Global CST in late 2009 to conduct a security study, but disengaged from the company after being advised of the USG's experience with Global CST in Colombia and Ecuador (ref B).

9. (S//NF) Comment: From the very first time Ambassador met with Martinelli in early 2009, he displayed an obsessive concern with being the target of a kidnapping. When Martinelli and his advisors began lobbying the Embassy in July 2009 for help in setting up a wiretap operation, the Martinelli kidnap scenario was a recurring theme. Curiously, Martinelli and his security experts seem not to realize that Panama City is full of super-wealthy businessmen who provide ample targets for potential kidnappings, and any of them would be far easier to abduct and ransom than a head of state who possesses a multi-layered security apparatus. Alfaro has cleverly used this episode to feed Martinelli's natural paranoia, throwing in additional creative elements like a fabricated FARC threat. Martinelli and Alfaro meet every morning, and by all accounts are consumed with plots and threats both real and imagined. One source told us recently that Alfaro has tapped Martinelli's phone, and another source informed us that Martinelli has appointed a new number-two at the intel service to keep tabs on Alfaro. At the same time, Embassy law enforcement officers have detected several instances of surveillance (ref A) which they believe to be the work of the CSPDN intel service. Alfaro is increasingly open about his agenda to replace U.S. law enforcement and security support with Israelis and others, which not only poses specific threats to our extensive law enforcement work here, but also bodes ill for Panamanians' expectations of effective GOP action against skyrocketing crime.
STEPHENSON






Also in this section:
US State Department report on human rights in Panama
Editor's notes about the US State Department human rights report
Supreme Court scandal deepens: new witnesses, defenses that look like admissions
Last jailed Cuban journalist released, Cuba launches campaign against US propaganda
PRD votes for local and women's and youth group leaders
Cross-dressing consul resigns
Former bagwoman for corrupt high court magistrates sings in public
Ruckus raised over diplomat in drag
WikiLeaks highlights, worsens US-RP relations
Final farewell for Billy Ford
Guillermo Ford dies
Revelations in Spanish, Tico media embarrass Martinelli



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© 2011 by Eric Jackson
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Individual contributors retain the rights to their articles or photos

email: editor@thepanamanews.com or

e_l_jackson_malo@yahoo.com

phone: (507) 6-632-6343

Mailing address:
Eric Jackson
att'n The Panama News
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