Wikileaks desnuda la visión de EEUU sobre el Aeropuerto de Tocumen (Inglés)


Viewing cable 09



If you are new to these pages, please read an introduction on the structure of a cable as well as how to discuss them with others. See also the FAQs

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09PANAMA893 2009-12-18 18:06 2011-01-11 12:12 SECRET Embassy Panama

S E C R E T PANAMA 000893 


E.O. 12958: DECL: 2019/12/18 TAGS: PREL PGOV PM CTM DEA DHS


A year in review
CLASSIFIED BY: Stephenson, Ambassador; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)

¶1. (U) Summary: Tocumen International Airport captures the Panamanian zeitgeist in a concentrated dose.

Tocumen’s legitimate status as a crux of Latin America’s passenger and cargo traffic is tainted by a seamy underside of alien smuggling, money laundering, narcotics trafficking and corruption. Explosive growth, a result of organizational changes and the expansion and modernization of facilities in the last six years, has made Tocumen a major regional air hub for both passengers and cargo.

Panama’s geographical position and transactional business culture have fostered Tocumen’s emergence; however, these advantages mask institutional weaknesses in the customs, immigration and security services.

Money laundering, narcotics trafficking and alien smuggling have grown apace with airport commercial operations and are a blemish on Tocumen’s success.

USG agencies at post have significant resources directed at Tocumen and enjoy good working relationships with Panamanian authorities, yet Panama lacks a strategy or a systematic approach to addressing the problems at the airport.

Helping the GOP develop and implement an integrated approach to customs, immigration and security at Tocumen will require fomenting Panamanian political willpower. Panama has tackled such high-stakes tasks before and has good examples to follow in both its banking sector and its administration of the crown jewel – the Panama Canal.

End Summary.

Dramatic Ascent – But Turbulence Ahead?


2. (U) Tocumen is the busiest airport in Central America and a crucial link for travel between North and South America. It served 4.5 million passengers in 2008, up 19.5% from 2007, and double the number of passengers served in 2004. This lift-off has been fueled by the conversion of the airport in 2003 to a government owned company known as Tocumen S.A., and an $80 million expansion project completed in 2006.

Another $80 million expansion currently underway is expected to be complete by 2011, and should double passenger capacity again to approximately 10 million per year.

The new north terminal will be capable of handling the Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger aircraft. Copa Airlines, with one of the youngest fleets in the Americas, has been a major driver of growth as well.

The busiest international route out of Tocumen is Bogota, with Miami following close behind. There is also a growing air freight facility which in 2008 handled over 86,000 tons of cargo, up 5% from the prior year.

3. …

4. (U) Panama’s geographical advantages and open business climate have spurred Tocumen’s growth. However, those same advantages have also facilitated a culture of corruption which has accompanied Tocumen’s physical and commercial development. Money laundering, alien smuggling, and narcotics trafficking are proliferating. Customs, immigration and police authorities are uncoordinated, undertrained and inadequate to meet current demand, much less the challenges associated with another doubling in traffic in the coming years.

5. (C) Mission attach​C)s with ongoing involvement at Tocumen include Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). For CBP, alien smuggling presents the most serious problem. Passengers enter Tocumen on arriving flights without customs or immigration inspection and are free to wander about the duty free «sterile area» as they wait to catch connecting flights. According to post’s CBP attachC), smugglers regularly fly into Tocumen, meet their charges in the transfer area and give them fraudulent travel documents and airline tickets before both parties depart on connecting flights. In effect, it is possible for someone to depart their country of origin, transit Panama, and not have to face any kind of inspection until they show up at a U.S. border post. A common route is for migrants to transit Tocumen on their way to Mexico and ultimately, an illegal entry across the U.S. southern land border. In the short term, CBP is working to augment the Advance Passenger Information System (APIS), which would provide U.S. authorities a passenger manifest for all flights inbound to Tocumen. In the longer term, the Panamanian customs service needs organizational reform. Unlike U.S. CBP officers, who combine full law enforcement authority with their customs and immigration enforcement mandate, Panamanian immigration and customs officials have extremely limited enforcement authority and ability. They must turn to Panamanian National Police for help when detaining or seeking to investigate immigration or customs violators – a function for which the police are not well trained.

6. (C) The flow of illicit U.S. dollars, both smuggled and openly declared, represents another threat. DEA estimates that a single bulk cash smuggling operation of four individuals, including the President’s second cousin, Ramon Martinelli, moved up to $30 million per month through Tocumen last year. (Note: post has no information linking President Martinelli to money laundering). Meanwhile, customs seizures of undeclared cash amounted to only $4.5 million in 2008. Record keeping at customs is entirely paper based, leading to an inevitable loss of documentation and plentiful opportunities for bribing customs officials. While customs officials are routinely bribed to let through suitcases full of cash, it is not uncommon for travelers to bring in declared amounts of $250,000. Legitimate large cash transfers can be partly explained by the proximity of the Colon Free Zone (CFZ), where a significant percentage of transactions are on a cash basis. Even here, however, crime, corruption and free enterprise mix. CFZ businessmen have related to embassy officers instances in which travelers who declare large amounts of cash are robbed after departing Tocumen – the robbers having been tipped off by corrupt customs officials. In the long term, ICE cites a systemic lack of standardized customs reporting methods, and a lack of checks and balances as a major problem for Panamanian customs at Tocumen. Finally, drug trafficking is a major problem at the cargo terminal, where DEA has seen an increase in 200 to 300 kilogram shipments moving via established cargo carriers. Such large shipments are impossible without the complicity of corrupt customs and law enforcement officials, and most likely cargo company employees as well.

7. (U) The Federal Aviation Administration placed a regional attachC) at post in December 2009, with the mission in Panama of assisting the GOP in improving the oversight of civil aviation. FAA seeks to accomplish this by working with Panama’s Civil Aviation Authority in adopting FAA best practices and standards. Up in the Air —————

7. (U) Despite the growing problems, Panama has shown a typical reluctance to peel back the lid on an enterprise which appears to be benefiting all parties involved. The duty-free zone at Tocumen is a good example of the kind of live-and-let live attitude permeating the airport. The duty free zone has few rules and little oversight, and is controlled by the Waked and Motta families, who paid $173 million for a ten-year concession. In the same manner as alien smugglers exploit the transfer area, it is possible for transferring passengers to enter the duty free zone without inspection, carrying virtually any amount of cash. This cash can then be laundered through the duty free shops, which are not subject to serious regulatory scrutiny. Anecdotally, the traveler at Tocumen looking for food or something to read will find that the options are restricted to one Dunkin Donuts, one coffee shop, and zero bookstores; at the same time, it is impossible to avoid the polo shirts, jewelry, electronics and perfume available at every turn.

8. (S) Comment: There are signs that the GOP understands the importance of Tocumen to their status as a regional center for transit of goods and people. The board of directors at Tocumen includes the Deputy Finance Minister Frank De Lima and the Deputy Minister of the Presidency, Maria Fabrega, both of whose bosses are among the most powerful leaders in the Martinelli administration. Yet the board also includes Tourism Minister Salomon Shamah, suspected of links to drug traffickers. Panama needs to find the political will to address the problems facing Tocumen in the same manner that they have administered another national treasure which gives them their distinct status as a bridge of the Americas and a regional transportation hub – The Panama Canal. There has always been a bright line drawn around the canal, fencing it off from the corruption which is so damaging to the rest of the country. In the last 10 years this has become true of certain sectors of the banking industry here as well; Panama’s steps in addressing the problems in its banking sector can serve as an inspiration for reform of the airport. Such reform will benefit Panama and the United States as we seek to secure our extended borders and strengthen institutions and the rule of law here.


Source: Wikileaks: (consulted in Jan. 14th 2011)


See additional news and reports

WikiLeaks: Panama to protect US borders by cleaning up Tocumen smugglers den (Jan. 14th, 2011)

La Estrella de Panamá (14 de enero de 2011)

Relator Especial de las ONU se reúne con comunidades afectadas por proyecto hidroeléctrico en Bocas del Toro

Relator Especial de las ONU se reúne con comunidades afectadas por el proyecto hidroeléctrico CHAN 75

See below the English version

BURICA PRESS- Derechos Humanos.

El Relator Especial de las Naciones Unidas para los Derechos Humanos James Anaya, se encuentra en Panamá desde el 27 de enero en reuniones con sectores del gobierno, la empresa privada, ambientalistas y las comunidades afectadas.  En este marco realizó gira de campo para inspeccionar las áreas del Río Changuinola afectadas por las obras de construcción del Proyecto Hidroeléctrico Chan 75 en Bocas del Toro.

En las comunidades del Valle del Río Changuinola en la Provincia de Bocas del Toro, conformadas por miles de personas, se han suscitado una serie de abusos y violaciones a los Derechos Humanos del pueblo Ngobe, por parte del Estado panameño con la participación de AES Corporation, cuyas filiales en Panamá son AES Panamá y AES Changuinola.

El Estado le ha otorgado la concesión para la construcción de tres hidroeléctricas en el Río Changuinola: Chan-75, Chan-140 y Chan-220, ubicadas en el Bosque Protector Palo Seco, zona de amortiguamiento del Parque Internacional La Amistad, que forma parte de la Reserva de la Biosfera, Patrimonio Mundial de la Humanidad. Sólo con la construcción de la primera, Chan 75, y con la modificación de su altura a 165 metros, se prevé la inundación de cuatro comunidades indígenas y la inundación de más de 1500 hectáreas (15 millones de metros cuadrados) de bosques del área protegida.

Para los índígenas Ngobes que residen en esas comunidades, el momento más importante de la visita del Relator James Anaya, fue el diálogo que efectuaron en la comunidad de Charco La Pava porque era la oportunidad de contar sus testimonios sobre las experiencias y preocupaciones que tienen respecto al proyecto hidroeléctrico. De acuerdo al enviado de ACD al área el gran momento de la reunión fue cuando la señora Isabel Becker, indígena Ngobe, analfabeta, y que solo domina su lengua materna Ngobe, se dirigió al Relator Anaya para contarle su historia con ayuda de un traductor.

Esta señora fue maltratada psicológicamente y retenida durante doce horas para que firmara a través de su huella digital su aceptación a una indemnización por daños a sus cultivos y permiso para trabajos temporales en sus tierras; pero para sorpresa suya y de su familia, la firma implicaba su aceptación a abandonar sus tierras y su finca en Charco La Pava. No le dieron copia del documento y fue sacada a la fuerza de sus tierras, con presencial policial y abuso de autoridad, para dar paso al avance del proyecto hidroeléctrico Chan-75. Hoy la finca de la señora Becker no existe ya que allí se horada la roca para las bases de la primera presa.

El 3 de enero de 2008, la Policía Nacional intervino en el área para forzar a los indígenas a aceptar la entrada con explosivos y excavadoras, propiciando el avance de maquinarias y equipo pesado a diversas fincas de Charco La Pava, todo aquel que se opuso fue perseguido o aprehendido.  En la operación fueron detenidas 54 personas, incluyendo 13 menores de edad.  Los policías golpearon indiscriminadamente a mujeres embarazadas, niños y ancianos, además lanzaron gases lacrimógenos.

Según la Alianza para la Conservación y el Desarrollo (ACD), desde el principio, el Gobierno ha tratado a las comunidades indígenas como si no fueran pueblos indígenas. En lugar de resguardar los derechos colectivos y territoriales de estos pueblos y exigir a AES negociaciones con cada comunidad a nivel grupal, ha permitido negociar con familias individuales y en algunos casos con un sólo miembro de la familia y hostigar o sobornar individualmente a los jefes de familia para obtener el consentimiento, aún cuando ellos no tuvieran la autoridad de renunciar a las tierras, ya que sus familiares también tienen el derecho de uso.

Aunado a esto, AES con frecuencia determinaba qué miembros de la familia eran aptos para representar a una familia entera en el proceso de  negociación, reuniéndose con miembros que se habían mudado a Changuinola y otras áreas urbanas y consiguiendo el consentimiento de ellos sin informar al resto de la familia. Este enfoque en la negociación generó conflictos entre familiares y vecinos y tensiones entre diferentes comunidades de la región. Muchas de las indemnizaciones se han cumplido parcialmente y la empresa se reserva la única copia firmada de los acuerdos, brindando copias sin firmas a las familias Ngobe, lo que les impide utilizarlas en acciones legales.

James Anaya prestó mucho interés a este diálogo con la comunidad, en especial el testimonio vivo de la Señora Isabel Becker que concluye diciéndole que «no esta contenta con la empresa AES y que quiere regresar a su comunidad de Charco de la Pava». El Relator se comprometió a elevar su informe a las instancias necesarias para que el Gobierno Nacional  tome acciones en bien de garantizar el fiel cumplimiento de los derechos de este pueblo indígena y considero como un logro que la comunidad internacional haya  reconocido este caso para darle especial seguimiento.

Directivos de ACD y otras organizaciones ambientales como TNC, ANCON, CEASPA se reunirán esta semana con el relator para brindarle un informe especial relacionado a las acciones de represión injustificada y omisiones del Estado panameño en contra del Pueblo Ngobe. El informe plantea varios de los emblemáticos casos que demuestran la forma en que se viola de manera sistemática los Derechos Humanos del pueblo Ngobe a razón de la imposición del proyecto hidroeléctrico Chan 75 y Chan 220.


UN Special Rapporteur met with communities affected by the hydroelectric project CHAN 75

The Special Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights James Anaya, is in Panama from January 27 meeting with government sectors, private companies, environmentalists and affected communities. In this field trip made to inspect the areas affected by the Rio Changuinola the construction of the Chan 75 hydroelectric project in Bocas del Toro.

In communities Changuinola River Valley in the province of Bocas del Toro, made up of thousands of people have raised a series of abuses and violations of human rights of the people Ngobe by the State of Panama with the participation of AES Corporation , whose subsidiaries are AES Panama and AES Changuinola. The State has awarded the concession for the construction of three hydroelectric plants on the Rio Changuinola: Chan 75, Chan 140 and Chan 220, located in the Bosque Protector Palo Seco, a buffer zone of La Amistad International Park, which is part the Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site. Only with the construction of the first, Chan 75, and the change of its height to 165 meters, it is anticipated the flood of four indigenous communities and the flooding of more than 1500 hectares (15 million square meters) of forest protected area .

According to ACD, from the outset the Government has treated the indigenous communities as if they were not indigenous. Instead of protecting the collective rights of indigenous peoples and territorial and require negotiations with AES to each community group level, has allowed to negotiate with individual families and in some cases with only one family member and individual to harass or bribe the heads of family to obtain consent, even if they did not have the authority to waive the land, as their relatives also have the right to use.

Additionally, AES is often determined that family members were eligible to represent an entire family in the negotiation process, meeting with members who had moved to Changuinola and other urban areas and obtaining consent from them without informing the rest the family. This approach resulted in the negotiation between relatives and neighbors, and tensions between different communities in the region. Many claims have been partially fulfilled and the company reserves the sole copy of the signed agreements, giving copies to families without signatures Ngobe, which prevents them from use in legal action.

James Anaya gave a lot of interest in this dialogue with the community, especially the living testimony of Mrs. Elizabeth Becker concludes by saying that «not happy with the company AES and wants to return to their community of Charco de la Pava.» He pledged to raise its report to the authorities to ensure that the Government take action to ensure the good of the faithful fulfillment of the rights of indigenous people and I consider this as an achievement for the international community has recognized this case to give special monitoring .

Members of the ACD and other environmental organizations such as TNC, ANCON, CEASPA will meet this week with him to give a special report related to the suppression of unwarranted actions and omissions of the State against the Panamanian people Ngobe. The report raises a number of emblematic cases that demonstrate how they are systematically violated human rights of the people Ngobe a reason for the imposition of the hydroelectrics projects Chan 220, Chan 140 and  Chan 75.