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Volume 17, Number 4
April 21, 2011
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news special

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

Putting the WikiLeaks pieces into the puzzle
Martinelli's security policies
by Eric Jackson

WikiLeaks may be the brainchild of an odd Australian. It is also many other things. It is the tool of many a disillusioned employee, be it a bank clerk, a university secretary or an antiwar soldier. It is a treasure trove for journalists and political analysts. It is a deep offense to US diplomats, whose reactions are like those of a lawyer whose attorney-client privilege has been breached and who fear that their sources of information will dry up. It is an embarrassment to heads of state and public officials all over the world, as it reveals American diplomats' unflattering accounts of them. It represents the loss of much blackmail material with which Washington could have coerced governments and individuals to comply with its wishes. It exposes Washington politicians for lies that they have told or false paradigms that they have spun despite reliable information to the contrary from embassies around the world.

Most of the WikiLeaks cables from or about Panama have not been released. They will be, and when they are they will lead to revisions in about 45 years worth of historical accounts of US-Panama relations. However, there have not been and probably won't be any shocking revelations, coming like bolts out of the blue --- except that the truly clueless, or the dogmatic true believers, may see their houses of cards collapse.

We may see some truly awful diplomatic gaffes, but so far with respect to Panama, we haven't. What we have seen are unvarnished, generally well-informed, reports of different situations that are made by competent professionals with points of view ranging along a rather narrow spectrum of US opinion --- there are Democrats and Republicans, but no anarchists or followers of the Aryan Nation, and the perspectives are clearly distinguishable from those of Latin Americans, Europeans or even Canadians.

The WikiLeaks cables are best seen and used as pieces in a puzzle, the other pieces being many other bits of information from many other sources. The embassy cables are by their nature opinionated reports, with allegations of fact from generally careful and reliable individuals. They tend to be verifiable by their contexts and by other sources.

Embassies deal with many things, and the US Embassy - Panama cables come from many years, so when using WikiLeaks it helps to separate out certain subjects and certain windows of time to cut out the "noise." Moreover, President Martinelli has, through his allies at El Panama America, control over the publication of Panama WikiLeaks, at least for the time being. The newspaper, which was bought by Martinelli's friends this past December, signed an exclusive arrangement with WikiLeaks that gave them the whole cache. President Martinelli and his team know what's in there, and until they prove too annoying to the irritable Julian Assange they will have a great deal of control over the time and order in which some 900 items --- about 200 of which pertain to the first eight months of the Martinelli administration --- are presented to the public. They can be used as dabs of color in pictures that Martinelli wants to paint. Important and little-known bits of information can be obscured amidst the publication of noise. The disclosure of damning details can be delayed. However, the more flagrant the manipulations, the sooner WikiLeaks cancels El Panama America's exclusivity, which despite Martinelli's steel grip on Panama's courts can't really be enforced in these days of the World Wide Web.

So, taken with other information that's in the public domain, what is the story that the embassy cables tell about Martinelli and his security policies? The salient points are:

  • A US government being ousted from some of its positions of control and vigilance over Panama's security policies;

  • A vindictive, obsessive, power-hungry and somewhat nutty president of Panama who would use the security apparatus at his disposal for dubious purposes; and

  • A Panamanian government that is infiltrated by the drug cartels maneuvering to infiltrate and hinder the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

To read the minimally edited version (shorn of most of the coded headings and with a few spelling or collation errors corrected), click here. But meanwhile, look at this chronological set of excerpts (with editor's occasional comments in italics below the relevant passage) and see if you can recognize any patterns or progressions:

"I love Panamax," President-elect Martinelli told the Ambassador....

Notice how the 2010 Panamax war games were sharply scaled down from what had been previously announced.

Varela told the Ambassador that he was concerned about the existence of police units in Panama that responded to USG agencies and not the host government.

The briefing stressed the links between the international drug trafficking threat and Panama's domestic crime wave. Briefers went on to show how the Embassy's proposed Darien strategy to increase government presence in areas with a FARC presence and increase police capability, to be funded in part with 1207 funds that have now received a preliminary approval, would support an overall strategy to confront criminality in Panama and promote democratic stability.

Martinelli opened by repeating his request for USG help to expand wiretaps, saying "we are in darkness" fighting against crime and corruption. He said it is not fair that DEA collects information but that Panama does not benefit from that information. He made reference to various groups and individuals whom he believes should be wiretapped, and he clearly made no distinction between legitimate security targets and political enemies.

During the August 12 meeting he proudly recounted to the Ambassador how, earlier that day, he had twisted the arms of casino operators and threatened to cancel their concessions if they did not pay their back taxes and cut their ties to the opposition political figures who had granted their generous concessions.

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."

[T]he 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 US investigation.

There she says it: the former ambassador lays out her concerns about a mobbed-up Martinelli administration.

[T]he former National Maritime Service (SMN) was at best ineffective, and at worst actively collaborated with drug traffickers, since the time when Ricky Traad was its director (Sept 2004-March 2007). In addition to Traad's own crimes, for which he is being tried, Traad allowed corruption to invade most of the officer corps and the institution in general. As a result of SMN's manifest failure to confront drug trafficking, the Embassy's Narcotics Affairs Section (NAS) helped the PNP create its own maritime law enforcement unit, the Unidad de Mantenamiento y Operaciones Fluvial (UMOF). This unit has been Panama's most successful maritime law enforcement unit for the last several years.

Notice that most of Ricky Traad's highly infiltrated officer corps --- and from other information, also most of the former PTJ officers who were suspected in the still unsolved poisoning murder of Sensitive Investigation Unit chief Franklin Brewster --- are still in Panamanian law enforcement.

The Embassy still fully supports implementation of the JTF model in Puerto Pinas, and is standing by to help with training and logistical support, including construction of a dock, operations center, and barracks if necessary. However, the USG must approach the issue with care, making sure it is seen as a Panamanian initiative and has full Panamanian ownership, and does not become a lightning rod for further accusations that the US has military intentions toward Panama.

The Ambassador reminded the ministers (reftels) that the Embassy has been working for several months to mount a DEA-led operation to take down key FARC drug trafficking figures, and a DEA FAST team recently arrived at post to initiate planning. That effort is part of our larger Darien strategy of denying safehaven to the FARC and DTOs in the Darien, which is supported with extensive resources from DoD, State, and other agencies. The Ambassador told the ministers that we would have no choice but to suspend our planned operations in the face of an uncoordinated action by the Colombians, because it would be unsafe for USG law enforcement to conduct operations in such an environment. She observed that such a suspension would be widely noted throughout many agencies of the USG.

The Ambassador noted that Alfaro was making an effort to insert himself into Darien with the intention of disrupting USG operations, and she warned that DEA and others would not continue to operate in Darien if Alfaro is involved on the GOP side.

It would be interesting to see Alfaro's position and the position of the US government with respect to this now. There are certain indications that the impasse must have been dealt with, and that the DEA remains involved there.

She emphasized that the presence of Israeli contractors in Panamanian ministries would by necessity restrict USG security cooperation and information sharing. President Martinelli was surprised at the revelations, but said, "We don't want to change friends" ....

As it turned out, Martinelli did replace his US security advisors with Israelis.

The Embassy is highly involved in Panamanian security affairs, and frequently acts as the GOP's strategic planning and analysis arm, due to the lack of security expertise within the GOP.

[T]he Embassy makes bold strategic and tactical proposals, that often end up getting diluted and/or modified as the GOP attempts to execute.

This problem is the result of a weak leadership structure within the GOP, where the President makes strong impulsive decisions with minimal information....

She describes behavior, rather than playing amateur psychiatrist. She describes Martinelli making decisions in the fashion of a manic depressive.

President Martinelli told Ambassador on December 13 that he had given approval for Colombian forces to attack FARC forces that will be gathered for the holidays in Panama's Darien province.... When the Ambassador raised the risk (and political cost) of women and children being killed, Martinelli at first deemed this an acceptable price.

It appears that the particular planned attack didn't happen, but that other Colombian Army incursions into Panama have since taken place.

After intense speculation that the anti-American Alfaro would be ousted, his position, which includes daily access to President Martinelli, seems to have strengthened considerably over the past couple of weeks, making our approach of working around him to achieve our goals steadily more difficult.

The head of Panama's Council for Public Security and National Defense (Consejo, or CSPDN), Olmedo Alfaro, has told Embassy officers that the GOP plans to introduce new legislation soon that would make it unlawful for Panamanian government servants to receive payments from a foreign government.... Such a measure, depending on how it is implemented, could significantly reduce the effectiveness of our DEA, ICE and other vetted units. As currently structured, the individual members of some of those units receive payments from the USG that supplement their base salaries. In other cases, the heads of the units are given monthly amounts which cover minor expenses such as tolls, fuel, meals and costs related to operations. Our ability to pay the vetted units helps to recruit the best talent from within the police and intelligence organizations.

One might easily object to such US practices on Panamanian nationalist grounds --- but Ricardo Martinelli has dispensed with historical Panamanian policy by inviting the Colombian Army to invade Panama. If you look at Martinelli's small inner circle, it's full of dual citizens whose loyalties to ideologies, to Martinelli himself, to their personal business interests and to their families and friends are all stronger than their loyalties to Panama. The Martinelli administration's objections are based on personal fears rather than nationalistic sentiments.

The Matador wiretap program is a valuable law enforcement tool, but we believe that the USG must not compromise democratic values in the employment of that tool. The United States itself has recently experienced a difficult debate over civil liberties and democratic principles being compromised in the name of security. We should not be a participant in questionable activities in Panama.

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, 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.

Martinelli and Alfaro meet every morning, and by all accounts are consumed with plots and threats both real and imagined.

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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