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Cable 146: US Embassy Report on Military and Security Cooperation in Panama | Panama | National Security

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This is a 2009 US embassy report on official discussions between the US and Panama on military and law enforcement cooperation.
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  R 171737Z DEC 09FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0195C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000887SUBJECT: Security Dialogues with the PanamanianGovernment REF: STATE 112900; PANAMA 00571CLASSIFIED BY: Stephenson, AMB; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)¶1. (U) This cable is a response to ref A. ---------------------------USG-GOP Security Dialogues--------------------------- ¶2. (C//NF) As Panama has no military, there areno formal POL-MIL or MIL-MIL dialogues between theGOP and the USG. Our robust security cooperation iscoordinated through high level meetings between theAmbassador and various senior GOP officials,including the President, Vice-President/ForeignMinister, the Minister of Government and Justice(MOGJ), and the Minister of the Presidency  (MINPRES). There has been a recent attempt toformalize a bi-weekly meeting of the Ambassador,DCM, and Pol/Security officer (POL/MIL, without theMilitary) and the VP/FM, MOGJ, and the MINPRES.There has been one meeting so far, so it is unclearif this format will solidify. If so, this meetingcould become a vital tool for coordinating with agovernment that has enormous problems collaboratinginternally. Some issues will need to be taken to aneven larger group, including the security servicechiefs, to make sure everyone is on the same page.There is also a deep and wide working levelcollaboration, including almost daily law-enforcement and intel cooperation among several USGagencies and their GOP counterparts. ---------------------------------------- Maritime Counter-Narcotics Coordination---------------------------------------- ¶3. (SBU) The GOP and the USCG recently heldtheir second bilateral meeting on theimplementation of the Salas-Becker Agreement, whichdetails the rules for cooperation between the USCGand the Panamanian National Aero-Naval Service(SENAN) on counter-narcotics operations. It wasagreed at this meeting that these meetings willbecome annual, as was stipulated in the SBAagreement but never carried out before this seriesof meetings. The meetings have been very useful,establishing a mechanism for clarifyingmisunderstandings, and bringing all members of theGOP involved in maritime counter-narcotics worktogether with their Embassy and USCG colleagues toestablish effective SOPs.    ---------------------Darien Coordination--------------------- ¶4. (C) Post has also established a dialogue withthe GOP on the implementation of the USG/GOP Darienstrategy, which is being partially funded by 1207funds. This dialogue has mostly been withofficials from the Ministry of the Presidency, whoare in charge of coordinating the civilian all ofgovernment approach for the GOP on the jointstrategy, designed to deny the FARC safehaven inthe Darien. Coordination of the security aspects ofthis strategy have taken place at the meetingsdescribed in paragraph one. ----------- Assessment-----------  ¶5. (C//NF) The Embassy is highly involved inPanamanian security affairs, and frequently acts asthe GOP's strategic planning and analysis arm, dueto the lack of security expertise within the GOP.The GOP now consistently briefs visitingdelegations the exact analysis of the securitysituation in Panama that Post's LESWG briefed tothe incoming government on June 23 (ref B). TheEmbassy's forward leaning position on security hasbeen necessary because the GOP does not have greatbandwidth on security issues, but faces a gravecrisis as narco-trafficking skyrockets, and crimerates and gang activity climb at alarming rates.  This creates a situation where the Embassy makesbold strategic and tactical proposals, that oftenend up getting diluted and/or modified as theGOP attempts to execute. The Embassy's proposal forthe GOP to send two interceptor boats and 20 men toPuerto Pinas, on the Darien Pacific coast, to workwith JIATF-S assets in the area to cut thelittoral drug-trafficking route is a case in point.The idea was to create a strong presence in onecritical area, which was key to FARC drugtrafficking, rather than dispersing limited assetsthrough Panama's territorial waters. After twomonths of inaction, the idea evolved into aproposal to create 11 naval stations -which will severely tax Panama's limited personnel,equipment and logistical capability. The Joint TaskForce that was part of the proposal may yet proveto be effective - showing why coordinatingsecurity strategy with the GOP is worthwhile,though not always easy.¶6. (C) This problem is the result of a weakleadership structure within the GOP, where thePresident makes strong impulsive decisions withminimal information, Ministers and security leadersdo not share information or coordinate actions, andthere is no middle level security bureaucracy toplan, evaluate or execute strategies. Nevertheless,Panama is critical to U.S. national security, andthe Embassy will remain heavily engaged in thisissue. Critical to our success so far has been thetight coordination among all Country Team members,leading to coherent proposals that have inter-agency support. It is Post's evaluation that oursecurity dialogue is vibrant and essential, but
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