|04PANAMA2921||2004-12-03 19:21:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Panama|
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 PANAMA 002921
1. (C) In a two-day visit to Panama November 13-14,
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld met with Panamanian
President Torrijos and top cabinet officials, visited and
overflew the Panama Canal, laid a wreath at the American
Battle Monument Commission's Corozal Cemetary, and held a
news conference. President Torrijos strongly signaled that
he would welcome closer ties with the United States. He told
Sec. Rumsfeld that the Panama government (GOP) is preparing a
formal security strategy and hopes to establish a maritime
intelligence database to share with the U.S. and other
interested nations. As his public and private statements
reflected, Sec. Rumsfeld was impressed by the GOP's operation
of the Canal, by what he called Panama's "serious
professional approach" to Canal security, and by Panama's
high level of cooperation with the United States on
counter-terrorism and law enforcement. He also praised
Panama's emerging national security agenda and its
"comprehensive thinking" on external threats and how to
address them. Sec. Rumsfeld underscored Panama's potential
value as a U.S. partner on security and intelligence-sharing
due to its unique mix of Canal, port, border and maritime
issues, and its central hemispheric location.
2. (C) Sec. Rumsfeld and Torrijos agreed that international
cooperation is the key for success against terrorism and
threats from international crime. Aside from one
journalist's question during a November 13 news conference,
neither side discussed World War II-era chemical weapons on
San Jose Island (SJI) or unexploded ordnance (UXO) in the
reverted areas of the former Canal Zone. Also, neither side
brought up the activities of Colombian guerrillas in Panama's
Darien border province. Torrijos several times dodged
Rumsfeld's probing strategic questions on the Peoples
Republic of China (PRC), each time turning to the PRC's
commercial importance as a Canal user and port operator.
3. (C) After Sec. Rumsfeld's departure several local
newspapers attacked the GOP for its alleged plans to
"re-militarize" Panama. (See Reftel.) Among issues strictly
internal to Panama, reporters derided an alleged "Plan
Rumsfeld," a spurious purported U.S. drive to militarize the
region. Despite negative publicity in the wake of Sec.
Rumsfeld's departure (spurred in part by recent GOP missteps
that revived local fears of a "remilitarization" of Panama -
see Reftel), GOP officials and Panama's influential business
sectors judged the visit a clear success. End Summary.
11/13 Meeting with President Torrijos and Cabinet
4. (SBU) A list follows of Panamanian and U.S. officials
attending the November 13 meeting:
President Martin Torrijos
First Vice President Samuel Lewis,
Minister of Government and Justice Hector Aleman,
Minister of the Presidency Ubaldino Real,
Minister of Economy and Finance Ricaurte Vasquez,
Ambassador to the U.S. Federico Humbert,
Canal Administrator Alberto Aleman
National Security Advisor Javier Martinez Acha.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
Ambassador Linda Watt
Vice Admiral Jim Stavridis
Defense A/S Peter Rodman
Defense DAS Roger Pardo Mauer
Defense Dept. Spokesman Larry DiRita
6. (C) During the November 13 meeting at Panama's
Presidential Palace, President Martin Torrijos told Secretary
of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that he wants closer relations
with the United States. Panama will establish a centralized
intelligence and security database, based on information
about ship movements in the Canal, ship and air passengers,
and trade, to share with the USG and other interested
parties, he continued. Panama would seek U.S.
7. (C) Sec. Rumsfeld liked the maritime intelligence
database idea and promised to discuss it in Washington.
Expressing his affection for Panama, Sec. Rumsfeld explained
that he first saw Panama in 1955 as a naval aviator and
returned in the 1960s as a congressman. Sec. Rumsfeld
emphasized Panama's "uniqueness" in terms of what it has to
offer the United States on regional and maritime security and
8. (C) Sec. Rumsfeld said that prospects for enhanced
regional cooperation are extremely good, especially in light
of the CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement) and the
almost-completed bilateral FTA. Sec. Rumsfeld believed the
agreements would benefit Panama and the region.
9. (C) Turning to Panama's wider role in maritime security,
President Torrijos said some 6,000 Panamanian-flagged vessels
employ roughly 300,000 seamen (mainly Filipino and Chinese).
Panama gradually would like to increase the number of
Panamanian seafarers, which he said also might also help
improve security. About 12% of U.S. seaborne trade passes
through the Canal, Torrijos said.
10. (C) Sec. Rumsfeld singled out for praise the September
2004 Panamax exercises (which involved units from nine
countries) as a positive example of regional cooperation that
should continue. Expanding on the scope that he saw for
regional cooperation, Sec. Rumsfeld said that each country
must decide on the proper role and mission for its security
forces. No single country can deal with all issues. He
touted Colombian and Brazilian air interdiction of
weapons/drug planes. The Canal is important to Panama and is
important to the entire world, Rumsfeld said. Panama Canal
Administrator Alemn made an excellent impression when he
described the checklist for inspecting ships transiting the
Canal. According to information that Aleman distributed,
almost 120,000 American citizens annually arrive in Panama by
air and nearly 270,000 arrive by sea.
11. (C) Torrijos said the GOP would concentrate on security
and modernizing its public forces, and on trade, economic
growth, poverty, rule of law and anti-corruption. He pointed
out that Panama at present is hampered by a large fiscal
deficit. Rumsfeld applauded Torrijos's efforts, especially
anti-corruption initiatives, which would create a climate
favorable for investment.
12. (C) Sec. Rumsfeld underscored that the USG wants to
strengthen the Inter-American system. To Rumsfeld's question
about Venezuela, Torrijos said Panama wants good relations
with every country in the Hemisphere, adding that only Cuba
has no relations with Panama (Note: Cuba and Panama
reestablished consular relations on November 19, 2004, but
has not renewed full diplomatic relations. End note.)
Torrijos added he had spoken to Colombian President Uribe
several times about law enforcement and anti-narcotics
issues, and also about gas and electrical links, and recently
signed an agreement to study a gas pipeline. Torrijos
outlined plans for Canal enlargement and the need to hold a
referendum to gain public approval for the idea.
13. (C) Sec. Rumsfeld got bland responses to his repeated
questions of how Torrijos viewed the Peoples Republic of
China (PRC) and its role and influence in the region.
Declining to speculate, Torrijos would say only that the
PRC's usage of the Panama Canal and its commercial presence
in Panama and the region are growing quickly. Torrijos
pointed out that the PRC is about to become second biggest
user of the Canal and that the China trade is increasingly
important for Canal and world trade. As for the PRC's role
in the region: "All I see is more merchandise," Torrijos said.
14. (C) Both sides avoided controversial subjects, such as
the security situation in Panama's Darien border region, and
the issues of unexploded ordnance (UXO) in the reverted areas
of the former Canal Zone and chemical weapons on San Jose
Island (SJI). (Comment: Both Rumsfeld and Torrijos staked
out distinct positions when asked about UXO or SJI in public.
When asked about UXO and SJI at a news conference
immediately following his meeting with Torrijos, Sec.
Rumsfeld said "the case is closed." Torrijos later denied a
reporter's suggestion that the case was closed. The issues
are unlikely to remain irritants in bilateral relations. End