When the Colombian army bombed a FARC camp in Ecuador, this led to a diplomatic crisis between those two countries with Venezuela added in the mix. In Panama, on the contrary, the Colombian bombers are invited to blow away a FARC Christmas gathering in the Darien border province, a freshly released cables from the US embassy here show.
We could write all kinds of analysis here about this case, but the truth of the matter is that former ambassador Barbara Stephenson is a pretty good writer and analyst herself, so let's just have the full text of the cables here:
ID DOC: 239533 FECHA: 2009-11-12 00:00:00
FUENTE: Embassy Panama
PRIVACIDAD: SECRET//NOFORN REFERENCIA: VZCZCXYZ0000 OO RUEHWEB DE RUEHZP #0877/01 3451922 ZNY SSSSS ZZH O R 111922Z DEC 09 FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0175 INFO RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL S E C R E T PANAMA 000877 NOFORN SIPDIS E.O. 12958: DECL: 2034/12/11 TAGS: PGOV, PREL, PM
SUBJECT: Panama: Colombian Cross-Border Offer Sows Doubt and Confusion in GOP REF: PANAMA 639; PANAMA 699; PANAMA 799 CLASSIFIED BY: Gilmour David, DCM; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)
Summary ---------- 1. (S//NF) A Colombian offer, which appears to have been accepted by President Martinelli, to mount a cross-border operation against FARC forces in Panama's Darien province has caused confusion among the GOP's senior security team and raised concern about coordination with USG efforts in that region. The Ambassador has notified GOP leaders that a Colombian raid would have serious negative consequences for U.S. security cooperation in Darien. End summary. Colombian Cross-Border Operation? --------------------------------------
2. (S//NF) Vice President/Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Varela called Ambassador on December 9 to express his concern over discussions within the GOP about a possible cross-border operation by Colombian forces directed against the FARC 57th Front in Darien, Panama. Varela related details of a December 9 meeting between visiting Colombian National Police director General Oscar Naranjo, President Martinelli, and senior GOP security officials, in which Naranjo offered to direct Colombian forces to move over the holidays against FARC units in Darien. Although Martinelli expressed a willingness to approve the plan, Varela was concerned that it was not coordinated with Embassy Panama's DEA-led operation in Darien, about which Varela has been briefed.
3. (S//NF) The next day (December 10), Ambassador, DCM and PolSec officer met Varela, Minister of the Presidency Jimmy Papadimitriu and Minister of Government and Justice Jose Raul Mulino for a previously scheduled lunch. Varela reiterated his concern about the Colombian proposal and insisted that there must be a coordinated plan between Panama, the U.S. and Colombia. Too Good to be True ----------------------
4. (S//NF) In a sidebar conversation with Ambassador and DCM, Papadimitriu expressed misgivings about Colombian motivations, saying that some aspects of Naranjo's proposal "didn't add up." Naranjo told the group that the GOC had twice offered to the Torrijos administration to mount such a cross-border operation, but that Torrijos had refused. Papadimitriu said both he and Martinelli were puzzled that Torrijos had refused, and they wondered whether Torrijos had a good reason for doing so. Papadimitriu noted that Naranjo had enthusiastically touted President Uribe's leadership repeatedly in the conversation, and he wondered out loud whether the proposed operations was more for Colombian domestic political purposes than for security. Two Plans are Too Many E --------------------------
5. (S//NF) 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. Law Enforcement Means --------------------------
6. (S//NF) The Ambassador pointed out SOUTHCOM's view that a military assault against the FARC in Panama would be a violation of international law, given that the FARC is not engaged in a recognized insurgency against the government of Panama. She made clear that a cross-border assault of the type that Colombia has conducted against other neighbors would likely cause SOUTHCOM to withdraw its support from the Darien, leaving Panama without vital training resources for its frontier police. You're Right! --------------
7. (S//NF) All three ministers said emphatically that a Colombian military-style attack would be disastrous for Panama, and that Martinelli would not knowingly approve such an action. Mulino said he would seek a meeting with his Colombian counterparts to clarify their intentions. Alfaro Again -------------
8. (S//NF) The Ambassador also reiterated her strong concern over the continued antagonistic attitude of Olmedo Alfaro, Secretary General of the Council of Public Security and National Defense (the GOP intelligence agency), who has repeatedly expressed his hostility toward DEA and other USG agencies (reftels). 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. She noted that the Embassy is prepared to work around Alfaro, as we have done with problematic figures in past governments, and that we have devoted considerable effort over the past few months to develop serviceable work-arounds. Comment ----------
9. (S//NF) Embassy Panama is deeply concerned about this turn of events. A Colombian cross-border attack would not serve U.S. interests in Panama, and would cause grave damage to our long term security cooperation. An attack would hand a propaganda victory to Hugo Chavez, who would claim the attack was launched from a U.S. base in Colombia. It would be unpopular with the Panamanian public and would arouse deep-seated Panamanian mistrust of Colombia and its intentions. It would reinvigorate the anti-American left in Panama who would inevitably see a nefarious USG hand behind the action. The resulting public outcry would surely cause a nervous GOP to restrict security cooperation, negatively impacting the permissive operating environment that USG law enforcement currently enjoys.
10. (S//NF) In the short term, a cross-border operation would almost certainly scuttle the DEA-led operation which is central to the success of our Darien Section 1207 strategy. For now, we are proceeding with meetings between the Embassy's Darien working group and SENAFRONT to develop a common picture of threats in the Darien. The next step will be a concept of operations which we will review in detail with the GOP as part of the process of weighing risks and benefits. In the absence of any coherent GOP structure for reviewing security strategy, President Martinelli's tendency to glibly say yes to any proposal by a government he sees as an ideological ally adds an additional layer of complexity and unpredictability. STEPHENSON
ID DOC: 240454 FECHA: 0000-00-00 00:00:00
FUENTE: Embassy Panama
REFERENCIA: VZCZCXYZ0001 OO RUEHWEB DE RUEHZP #0889/01 3511811 ZNY SSSSS ZZH O R 171811Z DEC 09 FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0198 INFO RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
S E C R E T PANAMA 000889 SIPDIS NOFORN E.O. 12958: DECL: 2019/12/17 TAGS: PREL, PGOV, MOPS, ASEC, SNAR, PM, CO, PINR
SUBJECT: Martinelli Confirms Approval of Cross-Border Attack Plan REF: PANAMA 877; PANAMA 883; PANAMA 799; PANAMA 699; PANAMA 639 BOGOTA 3559
CLASSIFIED BY: Stepheson, Barbara J, Ambassador, State,
EXEC; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)
GOP Approves Plan ---------------------
1. (S//NF) 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 (ref A). He confirmed that the plan had been discussed during a meeting on December 9 with visiting Colombian National Police director General Oscar Naranjo.
2. (S//NF) During a lengthy dinner conversation with Ambassador, the president voiced contradictory views about the seriousness of the FARC threat. At times he expressed indignation about the FARC "holding a Christmas party" on Panamanian territory and said he was determined to take immediate aggressive action against them. When the Ambassador raised the risk (and political cost) of women and children being killed, Martinelli at first deemed this an acceptable price. He then reconsidered after the Ambassador framed the issue in counterinsurgency terms, underscoring the importance of maintaining the support of the population. At another point in the conversation he opined that the FARC was not really a threat to the GOP, and that he was being forced to act only because the Padron kidnapping case had demonstrated the FARC's potential danger to urban Panamanians. The range of seemingly conflicting views that Martinelli holds in his own mind about this problem are illustrative of his mercurial and unpredictable management style, in which he gives conflicting directives to subordinates and approves contradictory courses of action.
3. (S//NF) Beyond the pros and cons of any potential Colombian action against the FARC, the Ambassador noted the danger posed by having two uncoordinated plans in the same space and time. The president first said it was a matter of who -- the U.S. or the Colombians -- could take out FARC leader alias "Silver" first, but then he said he now realized that this could get someone killed. The Ambassador made clear that closer Panama-Colombian cooperation was something we had long favored and noted that we would be happy to be part of a coordinated Panama-Colombia plan. Embassy Panama Standing Down in Darien --------------------------------------------- -
4. (S//NF) Embassy Panama's Pillar Three Darien working group (Pillar Three of our Darien 1207 strategy is aimed at demobilizing the lower ranked of the 200 FARC 57th Front members operating in the Darien along with the arrest of specific FARC leaders on U.S. indictments) met December 15 to review the impact of recent events on our operations in the Darien. The working group considered the state of play described above as well as their meeting the day before with Frank Abrego, head of the National Frontier Service, the GOP public force with lead responsibility in the Darien. Abrego had kept the embassy team waiting in his headquarters office for an hour while he scrambled to get guidance from Minister of Government and Justice Jose Raul Mulino on whether he was to provide an intelligence briefing or not. As a precaution, and to avoid running the risks associated with two uncoordinated plans operating in the same area and at the same time, the working group decided to cancel of the deployment of two JTF-Bravo Blackhawk helicopters that had planned training missions with the CNT-17 SEAL detachment and to recall the SEAL detachment, the U.S. Army Joint Planning and Assistance Team (JPAT) and Military Information Support Team (MIST) to Panama City for the next several weeks. In addition, the Ambassador has accepted DEA's recommendation that the FAST team focus its efforts on valuable CN targets elsewhere in Panama, away from the uncertainty of operating in the Darien, where SENAFRONT's level of commitment to the CN operations was most decidedly not reassuring to U.S. law enforcement agencies. When the Ambassador briefed Minister of the Presidency Jimmy Papadimitriu the evening of December 15 about our plan to take this "Christmas break," he welcomed the decision and thanked the Ambassador for being understanding in the face of confusion.
5. (S//NF) Comment: We have just received Bogota 3559, which is helpful in piecing together the events over the past couple of weeks and to pointing to a way forward. We are grateful for General Naranjo's commitment to working in concert with the USG and his openness about GOC efforts to develop operational targets as a precursor to developing plans for taking effective action against those targets. While we would welcome marrying Embassy Panama's effort-we were in the midst of the same process of developing a target package against FARC leader aka Silver and others as a first step to developing a concept of operations to share in mid-January with the GOP for review and approval-with a Colombian effort, we are mindful (as Bogota 3559 notes) that Consejo Chief Olmedo Alfaro seeks to marginalize the USG, which has traditionally been Panama's principal security partner. 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. We look forward in the new year to working in close collaboration with Embassy Bogota and with guidance from Washington to chart a way forward built around a single, coherent plan for denying the FARC and other DTOs safehaven and operating space in the Darien. End comment. STEPHENSON