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All Material Copyright by Latin America Data Base. Latin America Data Base News Items [PeaceNet] March 1987 -- June 1987 March 1987 PANAMA: NOTES ON CONTROVERSY SURROUNDING RECENT U.S. CONGRESSIONAL ACTIONS According to pro-government politicians and commentators in Panama, Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, who is said to effectively run the country, may seek the presidency in 1989. Meanwhile, in Washington, the House passed a resolution that would halt economic aid to Panama if the 1989 elections were not "conducted fairly." Next, on March 26, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a separate resolution under which Panama, Mexico and the Bahamas could be penalized if President Reagan cannot provide evidence that these countries are cooperating with the US anti-drug trafficking campaign. As reported by the NEW YORK TIMES (03/28/87), Panamanian opposition leaders have praised the congressional actions. Arnulfo Arias Madrid, the 85-year-old former president described them as "the embodiment of democratic ideals." The government in Panama City has condemned the actions by the Congress, described as US interference in its domestic affairs. "It is not up to American legislators to decide whether elections in Panama are fair or not," the pro-government newspaper LA REPUBLICA asserted. May 1987 PANAMANIAN PRESIDENT THREATENS REMOVAL OF U.S. PERSONNEL FROM CANAL AREA IF CONGRESS EXACTS ECONOMIC REPRISALS Panamanian President Eric Arturo del Valle has warned the US Congress if it reduces economic aid in reprisal for Panama's insufficient cooperation in anti-drug trafficking actions, or for other reasons, US civilian and military personnel will be obligated to leave the Panama Canal area. The president's comment was made in an interview last week with the CNN television network. A transcript of the interview was made available to the AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE on May 5. A top government official confirmed the interview, and said that Del Valle has asserted that US actions against Panama will have a very negative impact on bilateral relations. The US Congress is debating a bill to cut financial assistance to Panama for its alleged inadequate collaboration in efforts to reduce international drug trafficking. Del Valle denounced certain members of the US Senate for not wishing to continue good relations with Panama, seemingly for emotional reasons, rather than based on facts. June 1987 PANAMA: RETIRED CHIEF OF STAFF CREATES POLITICAL CRISIS, LINKS NORIEGA TO ELECTORAL FRAUD, DEATHS OF POLITICAL LEADERS In statements to an opposition newspaper LA PRENSA on June 7, 8 and 9, former Panamanian chief of general staff Col. Roberto Diaz Herrera accused armed forces chief Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, of involvement in electoral fraud and the ouster of President Nicolas Ardito Barletta in 1985. Diaz, who was apparently forcibly retired on June 1, was also quoted as saying that Noriega was involved in the death of government critic Hugo Spadafora in September 1985, and in the death of Panamanian leader Gen. Omar Torrijos Herrera. Noriega, said Diaz, "organized" the September 1985 assassination of Spadafora, a former health minister who organized a guerrilla brigade which first fought in Nicaragua against the late Anastasio Somoza and later against the Sandinistas. Winston Spadafora, brother of Hugo, whose beheaded body was dumped over the border in Costa Rica, also met with Diaz on June 8. "He confirmed everything we have said," asserted Spadafora, whose family had earlier accused the military of being behind the killing. Diaz, a cousin and close associate of the former president, said the Gen. Torrijos' death in a July 1981 plane accident had been planned. Diaz said a top aide of Noriega, who was chief of military intelligence at the time, was directly involved. The aide reportedly planted a small bomb on the plane under Noriega's orders. Later, said Diaz, Noriega "sent a message" to Vice President George Bush about Torrijos' death. Noriega has denied charges that he had a role in the Spadafora killing and in stealing the last presidential election, in 1984. He said that he would not "enter into polemics" because "the current situation is the result of a conspiracy whose name is known." A military spokesman, Maj. Eduardo Lopez, described Diaz as suffering from "a serious state of paranoia." Captains and majors signed a statement expressing their loyalty to Noriega. In a June 8 interview with REUTERS, Diaz said he wanted to bring to justice those responsible for illegal acts. "I have the responsibility and I have already made confessions so that Noriega will go to jail." He said he had acted for Noriega in rigging presidential elections in 1984, which were won by Barletta. "I can give all the details of the fraud because it took place in my own home." The 1984 elections were widely believed to have been fraudulent. Nicolas Ardito Barletta briefly became president, until Noriega dethroned him less than a year later. Diaz said he also acted for Noriega in persuading Barletta to step down later, after the president fell from favor with the military. Barletta said at the time of his resignation that the alternative could have been a coup. The retired chief of staff said that Noriega had tried to bribe him to keep quiet, and he expressed fears for the safety of himself and his family. Leader of the opposition Christian Democratic Party, Ricardo Arias Calderon, said Diaz's allegations exposed the true nature of the government. Romulo Escobar Bethancourt, leader of the ruling Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD), denounced the accusations as part of a conspiracy by certain domestic groups and US conservatives to install reactionaries in power. Diaz's statements were referred to as "infamous treason." On Tuesday, Panama City witnessed violent street demonstrations in reaction to Diaz's disclosures. About 2,000 rock-throwing demonstrators calling for the resignation of President Eric Arturo del Valle and changes in the military command clashed repeatedly on the capital's main avenues with riot police, known as the Dobermans, armed with clubs and shields. Some protesters were beaten severely, and police fired tear gas to disperse the crowds. "We've been using the word crisis in this country for years. But this has brought on a more severe state of tension," said Archbishop Marcos McGrath, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Panama. A Catholic Church communique called for an independent commission to investigate the charges. Among other admissions by Diaz that did not involve Noriega concerned Torrijos' receipt of a $12 million donation from the late Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlevi, who lived in Panama in exile. Next, Diaz said he made enough money to build his own mansion and purchase two others with money he made illegally selling Panamanian visas to Cubans wishing to come through Panama en route to exile in the United States. Diaz first appeared in the press on Saturday, criticizing a comment by Noriega in Guatemala that he planned to remain as commander general for at least another five years. He assumed the post in 1983. On Sunday, the opposition daily LA PRENSA carried part of a rambling interview with Diaz that began with an announcement that the colonel wished to "get closer to the Lord." In a statement, the US Embassy noted the "tremendous impact" of Diaz's statements and added: "The United States strongly supports the efforts of Panamanians to get all the facts out in the open in a manner that is fair to all. Panamanians can only resolve the situation on the basis of the truth." Since Sunday, Diaz has holed up in his elegant mansion on the Altos del Golf neighborhood, surrounded by guards armed with automatic weapons and molotov cocktails. (REUTERS, 06/08/87; WASHINGTON POST, 06/10/87; PRENSA LATINA, 06/09/87; AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE, 06/09/87) PANAMA UNDER STATE OF EMERGENCY, RESULT OF CONTINUED VIOLENT PROTEST AGAINST NORIEGA, GOVERNMENT The following summarizes recent developments in Panama, resulting from disclosures by former chief of staff Roberto Diaz Herrera concerning the involvement of armed forces commander Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega in electoral fraud, and the deaths of two political leaders. (See CAU 06/10/87 for details on Diaz's statements.) June 9: Hundreds of riot police clashed with protesters demonstrating in support of Diaz, and demanding the resignation of Gen. Noriega. The US, which maintains a major military headquarters in Panama, issued a statement urging a full investigation of the allegations made June 8 by Diaz Herrera who retired last week, largely at the behest of Noriega. In attempts to clear several major thoroughfares of makeshift barriers erected by the demonstrators in the early morning hours, the police said several people had been detained and an unknown number wounded. They declined to be more specific. Noriega, who has commanded Panama's armed forces since August 1983, accused Diaz of participating in an anti-government conspiracy and said Diaz was guilty of "high treason." The general has denied charges that he had a role in the killing of political opponent Hugo Spadafora and in stealing the last presidential election. The Roman Catholic Church issued a statement Monday, saying Diaz's charges should be investigated. "We believe that if the capital points of this testimony are not explained, the anguish and lack of confidence the nation is living through will continue," said the statement signed by Archbishop Marcos McGrath. Diaz told reporters that Noriega had ordered an assault team to storm the house in a residential area of the capital where he has been staying since the weekend with several bodyguards. Diaz's allegations of fraud in the May 1984 presidential elections--the country's first direct balloting for president in 16 years--have provoked uproar among many Panamanians who voted for the opposition candidate and loser of the race, former President Arnulfo Arias. --US State Department spokesperson, Phyllis Oakley, said, "We support the efforts of Panamanians to get all the facts out in a manner that is fair to all. Panamanians can resolve this situation only on the basis of the truth." Similar accusations against Noriega have been made before. Diaz's statements represent the first time a Panamanian official has openly accused the general of complicity in criminal activities. Some US observers state that his charges could trigger a split within the army, which seized power in 1968 and has imposed or deposed the last five presidents, or a move toward complete military control of the country. In the past, US officials have expressed concern over evidence that Noriega was involved in drug smuggling, money laundering and spying for Cuba. Noriega has always denied the charges, but the accusations have led to speculation in Panama that the Reagan administration was trying to oust him. In calling on Panama to investigate Diaz's charges, administration officials said they wanted to send a clear signal of disapproval to Noriega, but at the same time refrain from giving the impression of US interference in Panama's internal affairs. "We stress that this whole controversy is an internal Panamanian matter," said Oakley. --In the evening, the Ministry of Education announced that schools in the capital city and the San Miguelito district on the outskirts of the city would be closed for the remainder of the week. This decision followed several clashes between students and police anti- riot squads. In response to a call by the opposition Christian Democratic Party, on Monday and Tuesday university students blocked several key avenues in the capital. June 10: According to a statement issued by the government of President Eric Arturo Del Valle, the government's political opponents are seeking to regain power which they lost in 1968 through the "easy way" of foreign support. In exchange, opponents are suspected of being willing to cooperate in permitting the US to maintain control over the Panama Canal Zone into the year 2000. --Violent street clashes between anti-government protesters and riot police took place in Panama City and Colon. Business acticities were virtually paralyzed. The most severe disturbances took place in Panama City, and were the most serious since Gen. Noriega became commander of the armed forces. Most Panamanians say that in practice Noriega controls the government. The broad avenues of the downtown area became a battleground where riot squads, known as the Dobermans, were pelted with rocks and debris. In many incidents the police, carrying shields and rubber truncheons, were forced to flee as protesters charged them and battered their vehicles with uprooted lampposts. Lingering tear gas and smoke from burning cars turned the air gray above the city of 400,000. Shooting could be heard throughout the afternoon, as police fired buckshot and pepper-gas grenades at the crowds. --The National Civil Crusade, a newly formed coalition of opposition union and civic groups, including the Chamber of Commerce, declared a nationwide general strike at noon. The five major opposition parties formed a Patriotic Junta of National Resistance and ordered their members to demonstrate in the streets, blocking traffic. The junta called for Noriega to resign. The strike call was supported by the "junta" of political parties. In contrast, it was rejected by two labor organizations, the Workers Confederation of the Republic of Panama (CTRP), and the Panamanian Workers National Central (CNTP). The latter issued a statement requesting that Panamanians not permit themselves to be dragged into supporting the political interests of employer organizations. The latter, it said, had never before concerned themselves with the problems of the majority of Panamanians. Next, in a statement published in LA PRENSA, the CNTP accused the US Embassy of interfering in Panama's internal affairs. --Riot police stormed a television station and clubbed the manager, Bolivar Marques, and at least five employes. The station had been broadcasting news about the riots. Radio Continente, one of the few stations not directly controlled by the government, went off the air at 9 a.m. when its electricity was cut off and police hurled tear gas into its offices, according to Mayin Correa, a national legislator whose family owns the station. --Meanwhile, in an interview at his home, Col. Diaz called on Washington to release damning information that he claims several US agencies have about Noriega. "If the United States will open its dossier on Noriega, everyone in Panama will have the courage to speak out," Diaz said. He claimed that Noriega informed US officials about his measures to maintain tight control over leftist movements in Panama, and had permitted some violations of treaties governing the Panama Canal in order to aid US military actions in Central America. According to Diaz, these moves were Noriega's "insurance policy" to dissuade US officials from revealing information about his involvement in drugs and weapons traffic in the region. June 11: After an early-morning meeting with his cabinet, President Del Valle issued a statement declaring that the country was henceforth under a state of siege. The statement condemned the political opposition for attempting to seize power by force, and for its plans to "extend the climate of subversion" throughout the country. Among the suspended constitutional guarantees are privacy of postal and telephone communications, press freedoms, freedom of movement, liberty to hold meetings and outdoor demonstrations. Previous authorization from the government is required for meetings and demonstrations. Military and police personnel have sweeping search and seizure powers. The president's decision will require congressional approval if it lasts over 10 days. The current unrest is considered the most serious challenge faced by Del Valle since large-scale labor strikes in March 1986. --Six opposition parties requested that the administration resign so that the parties could establish a provisional government. --At a rally attended by thousands of cheering sympathizers, Gen. Noriega said the armed forces will act with prudence and will not fall into "the violence the opposition is seeking to provoke." He accused the political opposition parties and business persons of "calling for a democracy they do not practice, which they expect to receive it from foreign hands." As the crowd shouted "Not One Step Backwards," Noriega pledged that the armed forces will defend the constitution, and Panama's rights vis-a-vis a treaty signed with Washington in 1977 under which Panama is to receive control over the canal zone on the last day of 1999. (Various reports, Agence France Presse, Prensa Latina, Reuters, Washington Post, New York Times) NOTES ON POLITICAL TURMOIL IN PANAMA: JUNE 11-14 [Recent events in Panama's political turmoil are summarized below. See CAU 06/10/87 and 06/12/87 for details on accusations against military strongman Col. Manuel Noriega by former chief of staff Col. Roberto Diaz.] June 11: The Panamanian government imposed a 10-day state of emergency following three days of street battles that top military commander Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega called the worst disturbances in seven years. In an interview with reporters, including the WASHINGTON POST, Noriega said the state of emergency was declared to prevent even wider fighting which could have pitted progovernment militants against opposition demonstrators. He also sought to dispel speculation about his political ambitions by saying he will not be a candidate for president in 1989 elections. He declined, however, to place a limit on the time he intends to serve as chief commander of the armed forces. According to Noriega, at least 60 people were arrested and 12 riot policemen were injured in 48 hours of street battles. More than 100 protesters were reported injured. The Christian Democrats, the largest opposition party, said 50 of its members suffered beatings or buckshot wounds. Instead of the riot police who had been on the streets June 10 equipped with tear gas and rubber clubs, the streets were patrolled on the following day by machine gun-carrying infantrymen, their faces greased with black paint. Noriega said they could shoot, but only on orders from their commanders. Military helicopters buzzed low over downtown avenues. By Noriega's account, the Cabinet acted after learning that militants of the official government party intended to take to the streets to "respond blow for blow" to the rioters. The general denied, as he often has in the past, that he participated in the civilian government's decision. --Three blocks from the barracks, as reporters emerged from a midday interview, working class housewives on their balconies joined a citywide noise-making protest by banging on saucepans. --In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Phyllis Oakley said, "We...support the goal of free and untarnished elections, and the full development of an apolitical professional military institution." --In response to a government order imposing prior censorship on the opposition daily, LA PRENSA, news editor Winston Robles suspended publication indefinitely. --About 9,500 US servicemen at the US Southern Command, the largest military base in Latin America, were placed on alert and told to stay off the streets. The State Department warned Americans to avoid traveling to Panama. --A general strike, called by an opposition coalition uniting business and civic groups and the Roman Catholic Church, was broadly effective in commercial districts of the capital. Panama is an important offshore banking center, whose approximately 121 international banks hold assets valued at $39 billion. Most major banks, including Chase Manhattan and the Bank of America, were closed. --Catholic priests keeping a vigil at the luxurious home of the rebellious Col. Diaz removed all weapons this morning to avoid a shootout. At midafternoon troops surrounded the house. --US Ambassador, Arthur H. Davis, paid a visit to the head of the Christian Democratic Party, Ricardo Arias Calderon, a leading opposition figure who has called for General Noriega's resignation. Asked if the Ambassador brought a message of support, Calderon replied, "I think the visit itself was a message." --In an interview with a radio station from neighboring Colombia, Noriega said he would not resign his office because doing so would not solve the country's problems. He blamed this week's turmoil on "groups of businessmen stimulated by opposition politicians." June 12: At midday, 6 p.m., and 9 p.m., middle-class Panamanians banged saucepans, and drivers blared their horns in a peaceful protest calling on the government to take action on the accusations against Col. Noriega, and to force the colonel into retirement. These activities were part of a civil disobedience campaign initiated June 9 by the National Civic Crusade with the support of five opposition parties. --The government enforced a broad blackout on independent news media, the second day of a general strike called to oppose the rule of Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega. The indefinite press clampdown, part of a state of emergency that began June 11, was one of several measures to end four days of protests and street fighting. The blackout took effect only after the US Embassy had released its second statement in four days stressing that "freedom of expression is key" to Panamanian democracy. The main opposition daily, LA PRENSA, remained closed after halting its presses late June 11 in response to a government censorship order, editor Winston Robles said. The tabloid EXTRA, which is affiliated with LA PRENSA, and a weekly, QUIUBO, also stopped publishing rather than submit to censorship. Another opposition newspaper, LA SIGLA, also failed to publish. Two independent radio stations, Continente and Mundial, were shut down. The remaining stations were broadcasting only news prepared by the state-controlled radio and progovernment editorials. Managers of all the television stations canceled their news programs on June 11 and June 12 after the government told them not to run stories about the protests. Under Noriega's guidance, the government has gained control of dozens of radio stations and at least four Panama City dailies. This morning those papers carried banner headlines proclaiming, "Total Calm Returned to the Capital" and page after page of pictures of Panamanians going about their business as if nothing had happened. --A spokesman for the Chamber of Commerce, Alfredo Castillero, said the general strike, called by the opposition coalition Nationalist Civic Crusade, was 65% effective in Panama City. Almost all banks and most retail stores remained closed. --At a morning mass attended by many opposition politicians, Roman Catholic vicar the Rev. Fernando Guardia announced that the church has adopted an activist role in the current conflict. The church has joined the Nationalist Civic Crusade in what it calls an advisory role. June 13: Political violence began to subside, but many stores remained closed and police in riot gear were prepared for new outbreaks of protest. Opposition newspapers and radio news programs were still suspended under the provisions of a state of emergency imposed June 11. The Education Ministry announced that public schools in the capital and three other cities would not open next week. --Col. Diaz said he would consider political asylum in Spain. --Pro-government newspapers depicted the country as having virtually returned to normal. Protesters pressing for Noriega's removal said their movement had not yet run its course. At noon, people all over the city began their daily cacophony, honking horns and beating pots and pans to show their discontent. At least half the businesses along the fashionable Via Espana, which is lined with department stores, restaurants and boutiques, were closed. Much of the debris from the week's protests had been removed, but sheets of plywood covered broken windows in government offices, including the headquarters of the telephone and telegraph agency. --US military personnel were directed to remain on their bases unless traveling on military business. On the bases, activities from sports events to scout meetings were canceled. --Panamanians who have observed the week of protests estimated that more than 1,000 people were detained. Foreign diplomats, Panamanian journalists and opposition figures said they believe there have been several deaths. "What has happened these last few days is spectacular in Panamanian terms," said one former government official. "This level of protest is absolutely unheard of. But compared to other countries, it isn't much. For a Panamanian to pick up a rock is the equivalent of a Nicaraguan or Salvadoran picking up a machine gun." June 14: Police officer Captain Heliodoro Villamil was attacked during the evening hours while covering his normal beat in downtown Panama City. He was listed in serious condition at the St. Thomas Hospital in the capital. --Pro-government parties, pertaining to the coalition National Democratic Union (UNADE), staged a motorcade through the city's main thoroughfares, waving flags and chanting slogans supporting the government, the armed forces and Gen. Noriega. The motorcade stopped outside the US Embassy, where several speakers condemned US interference in Panama's domestic affairs. --At a press conference in the city of David, 438 km. west of Panama City, Gen. Noriega said the armed forces are trying to prevent violence by prohibiting street demonstrations by supporters where they would likely enter into conflict with opposition groups. He said a conspiracy exists in which the armed forces and all branches of the government would be overturned, and a provisional government installed by rightwing forces opposing the government. He suggested that these forces are supported by an unnamed "foreign power," because they cannot win political power through normal channels. He claimed that Panama has become a target of foreign conservatives because of its non-aligned policy, its position favoring a Central American peace settlement through the Contadora Group and its refusal to assist efforts to generalize the war in the region. Noriega denounced US conservatives for their historical unwillingness to face the reality that Panama is not a US colony. Conservatives, he said, including several important senators and congresspersons, have helped Panamanian opposition groups "wave their colonialist banners." Legislative assembly president, Ovidio Diaz, charged that US Senators Jesse Helms and William Murphy are tied to business sectors attacking the government. According to Diaz, businessmen associated with the "anti-nationalist" aims are Gabriel Lewis Galindo (who has fled to Costa Rica), Carlos and Fernando Oleta Alamaran, Roberto Aleman (National Bank board of directors chairman), Alberto Motta and Boyd Barcenas. (Various reports, PRENSA LATINA, NEW YORK TIMES, WASHINGTON POST) ============================================= from The NY Transfer BBS 718-448-2358 Source: NY OnLine BBS 718-852-2662

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