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Latin America Data Base News Items [PeaceNet]
August 1987 -- December 1987
PANAMA: LABOR GROUPS OPPOSED TO NATIONAL CIVIC CRUSADE,
PRESSURE GOVERNMENT FOR CONCESSIONS
Panama's military controlled government under President Eric Arturo
Delvalle has long relied on the popular base of the Revolutionary
Democratic Party (PRD) established by the late Gen. Omar Torrijos,
consisting of workers, peasants, and political reformers. Although
the PRD's alliance with these popular groups began to erode in the
late 1970s, the loyalty of the nation's poor continued to favor the
government party over existing opposition parties.
The recent political crisis, sparked by accusations of corruption,
electoral fraud and murder against military commander Gen. Manuel
Antonio Noriega by his former second-in-command, has been provoked
largely by middle- and upper class Panamanians. At this juncture,
political stability does not seem to be forthcoming on the basis of
loyal support from traditional PRD-affiliated unions and mass
organizations. The latter are demanding legislative reforms and a
host of other concessions as the price for their support, and
effective opposition against the National Civic Crusade (an ad hoc
grouping, consisting of numerous business, professional and student
--During a televised statement on the evening of Aug. 28, General
Secretary of the National Confederation of Panamanian Workers
(CNTP), Jose Meneses, said solutions to the political crisis are not
possible unless the government acts on demands meeting the needs of
the majority of Panamanians. He added that CNTP members will oppose
measures adopted by the national congress if legislators' sole
intention is to offer palliatives toward appeasing the National
Next, Meneses announced a national rally for Aug. 31 of all trade
unions and employee organizations affiliated with the National
Council of Organized Workers (CONATO), to publicize the mass
--The National Federation of Public Employees and Servants
Associations (FENASEP) announced a march to take place in Panama
City on Aug. 31, and a 24-hour strike. The march was organized to
attract attention to FENASEP's principal demand for legal measures
to ensure public employees' employment stability. The organization
has requested similar legislation since 1984.
--Local news sources reported that on Aug. 28 President Delvalle's
cabinet had completed 12 draft bills after three consecutive days of
meetings. Included are a bill addressing FENASEP demands, and
another establishing a national institute charged with administering
price controls on basic products.
FENASEP reported that its actions are supported by the Coordinating
Body of Mass Organizations (COPP). COPP is spearheading a campaign
to pressure the government into repeal of a new labor code approved
in March 1986.
--In the capital, the National Civic Crusade staged a march on the
evening of Aug. 31 to demand the release of political prisoners. No
violent incidents were reported. The marchers carried lighted
candles and white flags. (Various reports, AFP and Prensa Latina)
NOTES ON PANAMANIAN GOVERNMENT'S ONGOING CONFRONTATION
WITH CIVIC CRUSADE, STATE WORKERS
Sept. 2: In a speech before the national assembly, President Eric
Arturo Delvalle renewed his government's appeal for "dialogue" and
negotiations with politicians and others associated with the
National Civic Crusade. He said that the positive economic
indicators of the first half of the year are being reversed, result
of the political crisis that began in June. He called for a "cooling
off" of passions so that the country could return to the stability
necessary for the maintenance and growth of Panama City's as
international finance center.
Delvalle's gesture was rejected by deputies of the Opposition
Democratic Alliance (ADO), who walked out en masse when the
president entered the chamber. Deputy Raul de la Ossa rejected any
possibility of dialogue with the government, stating that the crisis
affecting the country was a "moral" one. Since some public officials
are "immoral," they must first be removed in order for dialogue to
--Throughout the previous week, labor and peasant organizations
under the Popular Organizations Coordinator (COPP) issued
declarations demanding government action favoring the "poor
majority" in exchange for support to the government in its struggle
with the National Civic Crusade. The Crusade consists largely of
middle- and upper-class Panamanians, associated with business,
professional and civic organizations.
Sept. 3: Teachers staged a demonstration in Panama City, demanding
government action against military commander in chief Gen. Manuel
Antonio Noriega and others suspected of electoral fraud and other
types of corruption. The demonstration was part of a series of what
the Crusade called "sectoral protests" to culminate in a nationwide
Sept. 4: Several civic organizations, members of the Crusade, staged
a march in downtown Panama City. Participating in the march were
members of the Lions, Rotary, and Union clubs, among others.
Sept. 5: An estimated 100,000 public employees returned to work
after a three-day strike, after the government formally accepted
most of their demands. FENASEP (Federation of Public Employee and
Servant Associations) leader, Hector Aleman, announced the end of
the strike on the evening of Sept. 4, following negotiations with
government and union representatives. The latter were appointed by
President Delvalle to form a commission with the objective of ending
Aleman said the government had already agreed to their most
important demand Sept. 3 by presenting a bill to the national
congress which would guarantee employment stability for public
employees. Next, previously established wage increases and
promotions were received by employees in several state institutions.
The only pending issue, he said, is reinstatement of some 30 laid-
Sept. 8: At a press conference in Panama City, president of the
ruling Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), Romulo Bethancourt,
reiterated the government's claim that political instability stems
in large part from US aspirations to remain in control of the Canal
beyond December 31, 1999. According to a treaty in effect between
Washington and Panama City, US military and civilian personnel
associated with the Canal must leave by the year 2000.
The PRD leader claimed legislation passed by the US Congress in 1979
("Law 96-70") has made it almost impossible for Panamanian citizens
to obtain high-level administrative posts in the Canal Zone.
He accused the United States of attempting to install a docile
government in Panama City with the objective of reformulating the
1977 treaty to permit Washington to maintain and expand its military
activities in the Canal Zone. (Various reports, PRENSA LATINA)
PANAMA: SHOOTING DURING ANTI-GOVERNMENT DEMONSTRATION LEAVES ONE DEAD;
U.S. DIPLOMAT DETAINED
On Sept. 13, a group of 15 unidentified gunmen opened fire on about
1,000 participants in an anti-government demonstration organized by
the National Civic Crusade. Witnesses said that the marchers had
organized in San Miguelito, a southeastern suburb of Panama City,
and were crossing a bridge near the Canal Zone when the men dressed
in civilian clothes began shooting from a nearby parking lot.
The National Civic Crusade is an opposition coalition of nearly 200
business, political, labor and student groups.
Three demonstrators were hit in the shooting. Carlos Efrain Guzman
Brules, 49, shot in the head, was announced dead on arrival at a
downtown hospital, according to radio LA EXITOSA. The Associated
Press reported that another five persons had been injured.
On Sept. 14, the US State Department announced it would lodge a
protest with the Panamanian government over an 8-hour detention of a
US diplomat by Panamanian authorities. At a press briefing,
Department spokesman Charles Redman expressed "great concern" over
the Sept. 13 detention of David Miller, an economic adviser at the
US Embassy in Panama City. He was held incommunicado by the police
until after midnight even though he had identified himself as a
diplomat, according to US officials.
Miller was detained while watching the Sept. 13 anti-government
demonstration. Redman said that Miller "was carrying out normal
responsibilities associated with his official duties," and he called
the detention "completely unwarranted."
The Panamanian government has not commented officially on the
matter. But the government owned newspaper CRITICA asserted Sept. 14
that Miller was taken into custody because he had instigated the
"Various people pointed out Mr. Miller as the person who was giving
instructions to promote disturbances, which left a toll of one dead
and some wounded," the article said. (PRENSA LATINA, WASHINGTON
POST, 09/14/87; AP, 09/13/87)
PANAMA'S POLITICAL CRISIS: UPDATE ON RECENT EVENTS
During the first three weeks of September, in separate marches
through the capital, groups of women, students, bank workers and
union members, demanded the ouster of Gen. Antonio Manuel Noriega.
Smaller protests continue almost daily.
The country's opposition newspapers, which were ordered shut in
July, remain closed. Foreign correspondents for United Press
International and the Cable News Network have been expelled.
Television and radio coverage of local news is restricted.
At least three demonstrators have been killed and hundreds have been
wounded or imprisoned since the current wave of protests began in
June. The government has issued arrest warrants for six opposition
leaders, including the president of the Chamber of Commerce, Aurelio
Barria. Two have left the country and the others, who are in hiding,
are reportedly considering doing so.
The crisis has had severe economic effects in Panama. The National
Banking Commission says $1 billion has been transferred out of
Panamanian banks since June. According to diplomats, the government
has enough money to pay the salaries of public employees, but not to
meet other financial obligations.
Government officials characterize the protests as a movement of
wealthy businessmen seeking to oust a government
they cannot control. Noriega has estimated the number of Panamanians
actively opposed to his rule as no more than 5,000.
The government blames the US for fomenting disturbances
in Panama. Noriega and his supporters say Washington's plan is to
create chaos so that it will have an excuse to break its promise to
turn the Panama Canal over to Panama at the turn of the century.
In mid-September, US Ambassador to Panama, Arthur Davis, delivered a
strong protest note to the government two weeks ago when a US
diplomat, David Miller, was arrested and held for eight hours after
a protest rally. Davis said Miller was observing the rally, but
newspapers portrayed him as an instigator.
Sept. 23: Panama's National Council of Organized Workers (CONATO)
organized a march to the Presidential House, where leaders presented
a list of demands to government representatives. CONATO coordinator
Jose Antonio Parra said the demands included a plan to reduce
unemployment and price inflation.
Parra said CONATO statistics show rising unemployment since 1979; at
present, unemployment is estimated at 10% of the work force.
According to the labor organization, the current economic crisis is
the result of the government's acceptance of prescriptions by the
International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.
Leader of the Banana Workers Union, Alvaro Munoz, said Panama paid
$800 million in debt service payments last year, equivalent to
nearly half the national budget. He added that the foreign debt has
grown to $6 billion, despite the government's timely adherence to
all IMF policy measures, such as privatization of state firms, price
liberalization and changes in the labor code, among others.
--According to pro-government newspaper CRITICA, leaders of the
country's opposition coalition, called the National Civic Crusade,
have agreed to lease four military bases to the US after the turn of
the century in exchange for Washington's support in their bid to
gain control of the government. The same leaders reportedly also
pledged Panamanian participation in armed conflict in Central
America and in other "low intensity conflicts" that may occur in
Latin America. The newspaper said its sources for this expose
derived from the Crusade.
Sept. 24: Foreign Minister Jorge Abadia Arias accused the US of
deploying combat troops in the Panamanian capital for purposes of
"direct intervention in our internal affairs." The Cabinet adopted a
resolution supporting his allegation. US diplomats said the charge
was based on the arrival of 27 uniformed but unarmed officers for a
routine briefing at the US Embassy.
--The US Senate passed a non-binding resolution by unanimous vote
(97-0) that proposes a "nonmilitary transition government in Panama
within 45 days."
The resolution states that the US should cease all economic and
military aid; suspend all shipments of military equipment and spare
parts to the Panamanian government and its institutions or entities;
prohibit the import of Panamanian sugar products to the US,
reassigning Panama's US market quota to other countries.
Adoption of the above measures is proposed unless the government
within a 45-day period: demonstrates "substantial progress" in its
efforts to guarantee civilian control over the armed forces by means
of separating the Panamanian Defense Forces and its leaders from
non-military institutions and activities; and, undertakes an
"independent investigation" of alleged illegal activities by members
of the armed forces.
The resolution was introduced by Christopher Dodd (D-CT), chairman
of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs.
In Panama, the resolution was considered a personal threat to
President Eric Arturo Delvalle, whose wealth is based on his family
--CONATO leader Jose Antonio Parra said the organization would wait
until Sept. 30 for a response by the government to its demands. If
the government fails to act, he added, CONATO will undertake a
series of actions, beginning with two-hour per day work stoppages,
and leading to an indefinite general strike.
Sept. 27: In a statement, the Panamanian government issued a list of
US violations of bilateral agreement, and asserted that Panama will
not tolerate new "interventionist actions." The communique
reiterated the government's claim that a destabilization campaign is
underway which seeks to replace current officials with a puppet
regime committed to prevent Panama's takeover of the Canal in 2000.
On Sept. 24, said the document, more than 100 US troops traveled by
bus to the US Embassy, in violation of the Canal Zone treaty which
permits the presence of US military personnel only for defense of
the Canal. On the same day, according to the statement, a Black Hawk
UH-60 helicopter violated Panamanian airspace and landed seven miles
from the Hato River airport, headquarters of a Panamanian military
Meanwhile, said the communique, US Ambassador Davis and his
secretary John Maisto, were hosting a luncheon meeting with
opposition leaders at the Maisto residence. Davis had not previously
informed the foreign ministry of the meeting.
The statement denounced participation in Crusade activities by
Ambassador Davis, US diplomats, and US members of the Canal
Sept. 26: Residents of Tocumen, a poor neighborhood, marched through
the streets in Panama City carrying placards and waving white
banners, calling for the ouster of Gen. Noriega. (Various sources,
including PRENSA LATINA and AFP)
PANAMANAIAN GOVERNMENT ORDERS CNN REPORTER TO LEAVE COUNTRY
On Sept. 16 the Panamanian government ordered Lucia Newman,
correspondent for Cable News Network (CNN), to leave the country "as
soon as possible." In a telephone interview from Panama with the
Washington Post, Newman said an Interior Ministry official told her
at midday her visa and press credentials were revoked. She said he
warned she could face "abuse and humiliation" if she stayed.
Newman is the second US reporter to be ordered out of Panama during
a three-month-old political crisis. Reuter correspondent Tom Brown
was expelled in July. Noriega also closed down all local opposition
PANAMA: POLITICAL OPPOSITION ORGANIZES MORE DEMONSTRATIONS,
WEEKLY WORK STOPPAGES
On the evening of Sept. 29 at a rally in downtown Panama City, the
National Civic Crusade announced it was organizing 15-minute
national work stoppages scheduled to occur every Wednesday at noon
into the foreseeable future. The stoppages, to take place
simultaneous to the government's weekly lottery drawing, were
organized to let President Eric Arturo Delvalle and his party know
that the political opposition has not given up in its struggle to
see Gen. Antonio Manuel Noriega and other persons suspected of
illegal activities deposed.
The Tuesday night rally followed a march by thousands of Crusade
supporters. The march was the largest since the Crusade's last
attempt at a national strike on Aug. 17. (PRENSA LATINA, 09/30/87)
ENGLISH-LANGUAGE NEWSPAPER, STAR AND HERALD, CLOSED INDEFINITELY
On Oct. 4, Panama City's STAR and HERALD, the oldest English-
language newspaper in Latin America, was closed indefinitely. The
announcement was made by its editor-in- chief Oct. 2, in what was
described as political self- censorship by the paper's publisher.
A terse announcement from the publisher saying that the 138-year-old
daily will print its last edition Sunday because of a failing
"economic situation" appeared on the morning of Oct. 2 in a Spanish-
language paper owned by the same company as the STAR and HERALD.
The publisher of both papers, Tomas Altamirano Duque, is a national
assembly legislator from a progovernment political party. The Star
and Herald editor Jose Gabriel Duque, a cousin of the publisher,
charged that Altamirano is closing the paper because it continued to
carry news about opposition activities since late July, when all
opposition media in Panama were closed by the government.
Osvaldo Gudino, a spokesman for the Justice Ministry, said the
closure was "a unilateral decision by the newspaper."
A reporter for the paper said that in recent months Altamirano
inspected the final lay-out of both papers nightly before
publication and removed many stories about the opposition.
Duque charged that the publisher is closing the paper to preserve a
printing business which handles government contracts for the phone
directory and national lottery tickets. (WASHINGTON POST, 10/03/87)
PANAMANIAN GOVERNMENT ACCUSES U.S. OF VIOLATING CANAL AGREEMENTS
On Oct. 10, in a note sent to the US Ambassador, Panamanian Foreign
Minister Jorge Abadia accused the US of violating the Canal
agreements, witnessed in the recent participation of US military
personnel in anti-government protests. Abadia said US troops
stationed at the Southern Command were violating article 4 of the
agreements which demands that US personnel respect Panamanian law
and abstain from participating in any activity incompatible with
their specific duties.
The minister was referring to the arrest of nine US Army soldiers on
Oct. 7. They were accused of perpetrating vandalism while
participating in an evening protest organized by the National Civic
Unofficially, it is known that some 2,000 soldiers reside in private
homes and apartments in the capital. US military personnel are
officially prohibited from signing contracts and rental agreements
with Panamanian individuals or companies without prior authorization
by the Panamanian government.
Since the wave of protests began four months ago, 12 US citizens
have been arrested during opposition protests, 11 of them soldiers,
and a diplomat.
As a result of these incidents and others, the Panamanian government
has denounced the US for intervening in the country's domestic
affairs, i.e., supporting an opposition conspiracy to install a
conservative government amenable to negotiating the presence of the
US military after the year 2000.
The Oct. 10 note was the fourth dispatched by the Panamanian Foreign
Ministry complaining of US meddling in the past four months. (AFP,
HOUSE APPROVES RESOLUTION CALLING FOR
NON-MILITARY TRANSITIONAL GOVERNMENT IN PANAMA
On Oct. 19, the House joined the Senate in calling for a non-
military transitional government in Panama before the end of 1987.
The House resolution, passed by a unanimous voice vote, differed
from the Senate version passed in late September in that it made no
mention of actions against Panama's sugar export quota to the United
The House resolution calls for cutting off all economic and military
aid to Panama, including shipments of military equipment and spare
parts. US aid to Panama has been suspended since July as a result of
violent demonstrations in Panama June 30 that resulted in damage to
US Embassy property.
In a statement made available to the press, Rep. Mel Levine (D-
Calif.), who introduced the resolution, attacked Panamanian Defense
Forces commander Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega for corruption and
involvement in political killings. Levine said, "It is time for the
Panama Defense Forces to get out of politics."
Levine added, "We should support the Panamanian people in the same
way we supported the creation of democracy in the Phillipines--by
sending a strong, unambiguous signal to Noriega that the United
States cannot and will not support the continued repression of
The House resolution is non-binding, and does not have the force of
law. An aide to Levine said the congressman was drafting legislation
to take Panama's sugar quota away, and that when it is introduced,
"it will have the votes" to pass.
In an Oct. 20 statement on the House action, the State Department
said that while it "shares the concerns of the House over democratic
reform in Panama, we disagree with the strategy of a mandatory
PANAMANIAN GOVERNMENT BANS OCT. 22 DEMONSTRATION
ORGANIZED BY NATIONAL CIVIC CRUSADE
On Oct. 20, the Panamanian government announced that it had banned a
demonstration organized by the National Civic Crusade for Oct. 22,
on the grounds that Crusade and Christian Democratic Party leaders
plan to overthrow the government.
According to the Crusade's bulletin, CRUZADO, opposition supporters
are to leave work at 11 a.m. local time on Thursday, and march
toward the del Carmen Church.
Panamanian President Eric Arturo Delvalle and his ministers signed a
decree banning the demonstration, and "any other mobilization aimed
at subverting order and overthrowing the constitutional government."
The decree instructs authorities to take "necessary measures" to
prevent the demonstration, and bring its leaders "to justice."
The decree warns that all activities aimed at subverting public
order and free transit for the purpose of toppling the current
government are illegal, according to the constitution and the penal
The same document stated that the Oct. 22 demonstration was banned
since overthrow of the government was mentioned by the Crusade in
handbills and leaflets as the major objective of the disorder and
tensions to be created by the demonstrations. (PRENSA LATINA,
PANAMA: NATIONAL CIVIC CRUSADE PROTEST MARCH & GENERAL STRIKE FAIL
[New York Times, October 23,1987] The Panamanian government, and Defense
Forces commander Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, won a major test of strength
Oct. 22 when a protest march and general strike organized by the National
Civic Crusade failed. The opposition, seeking to overthrow Noriega had said
Thursday's protest would be a major showdown--"the beginning of the end"--and
a demonstration of its strength.
On Oct. 20, Panamanian President Eric Arturo Delvalle and his
cabinet signed a decree banning the demonstration, and "any other
mobilization aimed at subverting order and overthrowing the
constitutional government." The decree instructed authorities to
take "necessary measures" to prevent the demonstration, and brings
its leaders "to justice." (See "Panamanian Government Bans Oct. 22
Demonstration Organized by National Civic Crusade," CAU 10/21/87.)
On Thursday, fewer than 400 demonstrators, most of them young,
attended the march. They dispersed quickly in the face of charges by
riot-equipped troops. A few shops in the downtown business districts
closed for the day and boarded up their windows. Most ignored the
calls from protest organizers to shut down at 10:30 a.m.
Huge street demonstrations were held five months ago after one of
Noriega's former associates publicly accused him of rigging the 1984
presidential election, killing political opponents and personally
profiting from corruption.
The government responded with a crackdown. According to opposition
groups, at least 16 organizers were arrested in the last few days
alone. Other activists have disappeared or have been beaten and
briefly detained, along with passerbys and nearly a dozen US
servicemen. Many Crusade leaders have left the country, and others
are in hiding and contemplating the same.
The government has closed four independent newspapers and two radio
stations and has censored television stations with threats of
prosecution. It has also severely hampered the opposition's
leadership by cutting its lines of communication. For local news,
the campaign now relies on facsimile machines lent by private
businesses to obtain accounts printed abroad. It also depends on
what is known here as "lip radio"--word of mouth--to disseminate it.
Demonstrations against Noriega have continued, but week by week they
have become smaller and less well-organized. The campaign has tried
to harness popular discontent by turning the protests into a
personal drive against Noriega. It has portrayed him as a despot and
has called for his removal, an investigation of the accusations
against him and free elections to restore civilian supremacy.
Noriega has managed to deflect some of the criticism. He has
solidified his support in the Defense Forces by doubling its size
and putting senior officers in charge of dozens of lucrative
enterprises. The general has also successfully portrayed himself as
a defender of Panamanian nationalism and the protests as an attack
on the military. That appears to have made him stronger than before
the demonstrations began, Western diplomats said.
Militants in the opposition say they hope that the continuing
protests and support from the US will provoke the military to
overthrow Noriega. But opposition leaders acknowledge that this is a
slim hope. (NEW YORK TIMES, 10/23/87; PRENSA LATINA, 10/22/87)
PANAMA: NOTES ON FAILED OPPOSITION DEMONSTRATION, VIOLENT INCIDENTS
On Oct. 22, hundreds of rifle-bearing combat troops patrolled the
streets in Panama City to enforce a ban against a major
antigovernment demonstration. Protesters from the National Civic
Crusade, an alliance of business, labor and student groups, had
planned to gather at 11 a.m. in front of the Del Carmen church in
the financial district, but stayed away in the face of the massive
display of government force. Shield- and truncheon-carrying riot
police stationed at the site dispersed any group larger than a few
people, at times with tear gas.
The mainly middle-class opposition, in a political crisis that
erupted in June, is calling for military strongman Gen. Manuel
Antonio Noriega to step down. He has been accused of political
assassination and elections tampering. Noriega has blamed the
turmoil on a plot by the United States to overthrow his military
rule in order to renege on 1977 treaties giving Panama control of
the strategic Panama Canal in the year 2000.
Main avenues in the city were patrolled by fully armed troops of the
2000 Battalion, a combat force specially trained to defend the
canal. At least 10 arrests were reported, but no violence. This was
to be the Crusade's first major effort since a general strike called
for Aug. 17 failed to materialize.
Meanwhile, members of the opposition expressed shock at the burning
of one of the city's major department stores, the second such fire
in three months. In early July, paramilitary gunmen torched a luxury
department store, the Mansion Dante, as police stood nearby and
watched. That store was owned by the family of Roberto Eisenmann, an
exiled opposition leader.
On Thursday, firemen continued to fight sporadic flames amid the
smoking skeleton of the downtown Machetazo department store,
consumed in fire on the evening of Oct. 20. Losses at the store,
with more than 600 employes, were calculated at $20 million. The
main building, half a city block in size, and a 10-story tower were
destroyed. A government investigator, Col. Guillermo Leblanc,
attributed the fire to "spontaneous combustion."
The Machetazo store is owned by Juan Ramon Poll, a Cuban-born
Panamanian citizen. Many employes were Crusade followers, often seen
in the streets flapping white handkerchiefs, the Crusade's symbol.
The store management had received several telephone threats warning
the employes to avoid politics, a store administrator said.
Crusade leaders were in hiding after the progovernment newspapers
reported that at least 17 people were arrested earlier this week on
suspicion of sedition. The 17 included at least six members of the
opposition Popular Action Party, whose headquarters was raided and
closed Oct. 20.
The government said it uncovered evidence that opposition protesters
had conspired to begin a guerrilla war, whose tactics would include
shooting American citizens and blaming it on Noriega's Panamanian
Defense Forces. Opposition leaders dismissed these allegations as
In the strife-torn western provincial capital, Chiriqui, gunmen shot
and maimed three throughbred horses belonging to the head of a local
human rights commission, Rodrigo Miranda. Also in Chiriqui, police
raided the headquarters of the opposition Christian Democratic Party
and the homes of two of its leaders. (WASHINGTON POST, 10/23/87)
PANAMA: GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS CLOSE VICE PRESIDENT'S OFFICES
According to politicians and a family member, on Oct. 22, government
officials close to military strongman Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega
closed the offices of Panamanian Vice President Roderick Esquivel.
Word of the action against Esquivel unleashed rumors of a coup among
opposition groups in Panama City.
Spokesmen for President Eric Arturo Delvalle, the Panamanian Defense
Forces and the Justice Ministry did not respond to telephone
requests by the WASHINGTON POST for comment.
When the 10 employes on Esquivel's staff went to work Thursday
morning at his offices in the Banco Nacional de Panama, the
government bank, they were stripped of their official credentials
and turned away by presidential security guards, according to Juan
Esquivel, the vice president's son.
Esquivel, who was away on a four-day trip to Nicaragua, is president
of the Liberal Party, a small centrist group in the alliance that
won the 1984 national elections. During the five-month political
crisis, Esquivel has differed publicly with his government by
calling for an independent investigation into opposition allegations
Under Panama's laws, Esquivel stands next in line to succeed
Delvalle. Esquivel has been viewed by the opposition as an obstacle
to any attempt by the Noriega-controlled Panamanian Defense Forces
to form a new government directly under military control.
Delvalle is widely viewed as a Noreiga figurehead, but in August he
distanced himself briefly from the general when he said he had not
ordered, and did not agree with, the closing of three opposition
newspapers. His comments gave rise to speculation the Defense Forces
would seek to oust him, but there had been no evidence of any coup
Juan Esquivel said his father's staff was instructed not to return
to work by officials from the office of the Minister of the
Presidency, Nander Pitty, a civilian aide to Noriega. It remained
unclear whether Esquivel's office was searched.
Esquivel has a second office in a building of the Presidency
Ministry, but he has not used it in three months, according to
Liberal Party officials. After a mid-July press conference in which
he insisted on an inquiry into the allegations against Noriega,
Esquivel was reportedly barred by officials of the Presidency
Ministry from attending Cabinet meetings.
--On Oct. 26, Esquivel told reporters in Panama City that he was
opposed to government measures with the objective of repressing its
political opposition. In response to questions on the closure of his
offices by the government, the vice president insisted that he will
Esquivel was met at the international airport Oct. 25 on his return
trip from Nicaragua by US Ambassador Arthur Davis. The vice
president said he perceived the ambassador's gesture as an act of
courtesy, particularly in the context of rumors that the government
planned to strip him of his rights as a citizen. Moreover, his
family and former staff are reportedly suffering from harassment.
In response to Davis's "courteous gesture," President Delvalle
called a meeting of the national security council on the afternoon
of Oct. 26 to discuss possible actions to express the government's
Esquivel traveled to Nicaragua to confer with that country's
political opposition parties. (PRENSA LATINA, 10/26/87; WASHINGTON
PANAMA: LIBERAL PARTY WITHDRAWS FROM RULING COALITION
On Oct. 28, Panama's Liberal Party announced that it had terminated
its affiliation with the ruling National Democratic Unity Coalition,
and that the party would henceforth be aligned with the political
Following the closing of Vice President Roderick Esquivel's offices
by government officials Oct. 22, Esquivel supporters called a
meeting of the Liberal political committee. The vice president was
elected president of the Liberal Party earlier this year. Only 24 of
the 40-member committee attended the meeting, but at midnight, the
party's breakaway from the Coalition was approved by a vote of 22 to
The Liberals also issued an ultimatum: party members holding
ministerial level posts were ordered to resign within 48 hours, or
face expulsion from the party. This ultimatum is interesting in
light of the fact that Esquivel himself has declared he will not
resign from the vice presidency. Instead, he plans to "lead the
confrontation" with President Eric Arturo Delvalle's government.
Another statement released by the party requests that its
disciplinary arm expel Justice Minister Rodolfo Chiari de Leon,
leader of the Liberal faction that has consistently supported the
Esquivel has publicly criticized the government for its handling of
the political crisis which erupted in June. The vice president has
not attended cabinet meetings for months. (For details on Esquivel's
troubles with the government, see "Panama: Government Officials
Close Vice President's Offices," CAU 10/28/87.) (PRENSA LATINA,
[The National Democratic Unity Coalition, established prior to the
1984 presidential elections, was made up of the government's
Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD), two right-wing parties, the
Liberal Party, and a splinter group from the main opposition party,
the Authentic Panamanian Party (PPA). To run in the 1984 elections,
the military and the PRD chose Nicolas Ardito Barletta, a former
World Bank vice president, University of Chicago-trained economist.
The Coalition backed Ardito, who became the first elected president
in 16 years. The vote count took place behind closed doors, and it
was widely suspected that the military fixed the vote totals. In
September 1985, the Panamanian Defense Forces replaced Ardito with
Vice President Eric Arturo Delvalle.]
UNIVERSITY OF PANAMA STAFF CONTINUE STRIKE INTO FOURTH WEEK
On Nov. 7, leader of the University of Panama's employee association (ASEUPA),
Xiomara Agudo, told reporters that the university staff would continue its
over three-week strike. The association, she said, had made this decision at a
general assembly meeting in response to Rector Abdiel Adame's refusal to meet
the strikers' demands.
One of ASEUPA's most important demands is the reinstatement of 47
members of the campus security corps. The corpsmen were laid off
after they held three professors hostage, and occupied the rector's
office on Oct. 6.
Agudo said the Oct. 6 action was an "error," but was not meant to
"destabilize" the university as claimed by the rector. In a
statement released Nov. 6, Adame refused to reinstate all corpsmen,
but that 30 of their number would be rehired at entry level.
ASEUPA leader Agudo said the organization had rejected the rector's
decision because it did not fully meet their demands. All 45
security guards, she said, should be reinstated at levels attained
before the lay-off. By forcing them to start over at entry level,
she added, they would lose seniority benefits. (PRENSA LATINA,
SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE VOTES TO SUSPEND
U.S. ECONOMIC & MILITARY AID TO PANAMA
On Nov. 19, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted unanimously
to cut off military and economic aid to Panama, and to suspend that
country's sugar quota to the US market. The 19 to 0 vote came on
legislation introduced in Congress last summer.
After the vote, Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) said the step was
taken to send an "unmistakable message of support" to the Panamanian
people. He added that it should also be a signal to the "venal,
corrupt leadership" of Panama's Defense Forces that the US will not
participate in supporting oppression and abuse of the Panamanian
Cranston, a leader in the effort to obtain Senate ratification of
the Panama Canal treaty in 1978, said the new legislation will have
no effect on US obligations regarding the treaty. He added that
there is no truth to charges by Panamanian military chief Gen.
Manuel Antonio Noriega that the US is trying to renege on the
The legislation states that no US government funds may be
appropriated for use in economic and military support to Panama, nor
will the sugar quota be renewed, until the US president certifies to
Congerss that the government of Panama has demonstrated substantial
progress in: assuring civilian control of the armed forces, and the
end of involvement by Panama Defense Forces and its leaders in non-
miltiary activities and institutions; restoration of press freedoms
and other constitutional guarantees; reaching a satisfactory
agreement between the existing government and the legally
constituted political opposition on the timing and conditions for
free and fair elections; and, conducting an impartial investigation
into accusations of illegal activities by the Panamanian Defense
The full Senate will vote on the bill soon, and it is expected to be
signed into law before the Dec. 15 Christmas break.
The Senate and the House had previously approved non- binding
resolutions calling for a freeze on economic and military aid until
Panama effectively removed the military from politics. Those
resolutions do not have the force of law, as does the bill approved
by the Foreign Relations Committee. However, the executive branch
suspended all US aid to Panama as a result of violent demonstrations
in Panama June 30 that resulted in damage to US Embassy property.
As a result of pressure from the Senate on Panama, the Pentagon has
been forced to "indefinitely suspend" joint military maneuvers with
the Panamanian Defense Forces scheduled for January.
UPDATE ON POLITICAL TURMOIL, STATEMENTS BY OPPOSITION & U.S. OFFICIALS
In an interview on Nov. 15 with the New York Times at his home in
Panama City, former commander Gen. Ruben Dario Paredes said
accusations that Panamanian military leader Gen. Manuel Antonio
Noriega has been involved in election fraud, political
assassination, and drug trafficking are "correct" and "legitimate."
Paredes called on Noriega to resign to avoid a "bloody
Paredes is a senior figure of the military regime that has ruled
Panama since 1968.
In June, accusations by Noriega's cashiered second in command, Col.
Roberto Diaz, triggered a political crisis. Noriega denied the
charges. Since then, protests have continued but seem to be flagging
in the face of government repression.
Diaz was arrested when security forces stormed his home in July and
has since recanted his accusations. Paredes said that he believed
Diaz had done so under duress. "Almost all of Diaz Herrara's
declarations seem to be true. His proofs are only circumstantial,
but he has them because he has intelligence and knows what happened
because he was there...He does not have the photographs of them
doing these things, like falsifying the results of the election."
Until Nov. 15, Paredes had not commented publicly on Diaz's
accusations. The general emphasized that he had no new evidence to
present, and that his perceptions of the situation were drawn from
his knowledge of the Panamanian military and from years of dealing
with Diaz and Noriega. Paredes had been the commanding officer of
Paredes became commander of the armed forces in March 1982. After
resigning in August 1983, he was succeeded by Noriega, then ran
unsuccessfully for president in 1984 against Noriega's chosen
candidate. Paredes is now retired.
According to Paredes, it was clear that the Panama Defense Forces
were responsible for the killing in 1985 of Dr. Hugo Spadafora, a
vocal Noriega opponent who was found beheaded after being taken off
a bus by government security forces. The former commander said
Noriega may not have been directly involved in the murder, but he
has assisted in covering up the incident.
Paredes said that Spadafora was Noriega's enemy because he went to
former president Gen. Omar Torrijos and accused Noriega of
involvement in corruption, drug running, and planning to overthrow
Another accusation by Diaz was that Noriega had directed Torrijos'
death in an airplane crash in 1981. Paredes disagreed, stating that
he was convinced Torrijos died in an accident.
Paredes said the "circumstantial evidence" on Noriega's involvement
in the drug trade was convincing. He said that in his opinion,
Noriega is not directly involved in drug trafficking. "But he has
acted to launder money, and plenty of it."
Next, Paredes said he considered reports that some Panamanian
military officers are active as drug dealers to be dubious. In
contrast, he stated that he believed Noriega had intentionally
ignored activities by drug cartels based in Colombia and elsewhere
in the region.
For Paredes, Noriega is "the cause of this great conflict." The
solution to the national political crisis, he said, is in the hands
of Noriega and President Eric Arturo Delvalle.
--According to a New York Times report (11/19/87) citing "government
officials," Panamanian military chief Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega
offered to undertake sabotage and possibly assassination in
Nicaragua for the Reagan administration. The officials said that
former National Security Council aide Lt. Col. Oliver North had
accepted the sabotage offer on the instructions of ex-National
Security Adviser Adm. John Poindexter. The same sources said
Noriega's plan never materialized.
Computer messages reportedly reviewed by the Iran- contra
congressional investigation committees, but not included in the
final report on the matter released Nov. 18, suggested that Noriega
was also offering to undertake assassination, but that Poindexter
told North not to become involved.
The "officials" said that on the activities attributed to Panama,
the congressional report says only that a "third party" offered to
carry out "Enterprise" operations, and does not indicate that a
foreign government was involved.
According to the report, North told the committee in closed session
that he was dismissed before the sabotage plan could be carried out.
The same officials said it could not be learned whether North
communicated with Noriega directly or whether an intermediary was
used. They added that Panama was previously enlisted in covert
operations to support the contras that involved the CIA.
--On Oct. 22, an estimated one-third of the Panama Defense Forces
15,000 troops were sent into the streets to halt a scheduled
demonstration. This month, the government issued a decree
prohibiting public protests.
Last week, protest marches on Journalists Day and by a women's group
were violently dispersed by riot squad police.
Also this month, the Roman Catholic Church issued a pastoral letter
that complained of "the creation of a climate of intimidation
through threats and clearly repressive attitudes." The document
called on the armed forces to respect regulations that require
officers to retire after 25 years of service. If those rules were
enforced, Noriega would be forced to resign. The church also offered
to mediate between the military and the Civic Crusade, the principal
--As of Nov. 19, employees of the Electricity and Hydraulic
Resources Institute (IRHE) entered the fourth day of a general
strike. They are demanding over $80 million in back pay and funds
for equipment maintenance, as well as autonomy from other government
Pro-government newspaper CRITICA described the IRHE employees union
chairman Isaac Rodriguez as a "cartridge...of the rightist
opposition." Rodriguez, said the newspaper, is a member of the
Workers Socialist Party which has participated in opposition
demonstrations sponsored by the Civic Crusade.
Ministry of Education administrative workers entered their fourth
day of a strike, demanding salary hikes for some 3,000 workers at
the low end of the pay scale. A salary increase for those workers
was to have been implemented on Aug. 1.
Education Minister Manuel Solis Palma said that he understands the
justice of the strikers' demand, but that the Ministry simply lacks
the necessary funds, particularly after the government's austerity
plan announced on Oct. 7.
University of Panama staff members entered the 36th day of a general
strike. They are demanding the reinstatement of over 50 members of
the campus security corps who were fired by the rector after they
occupied his office. (Basic data from Prensa Latina, 11/19/87; New
York Times, 11/19/87; 11/18/87; 11/16/87)
NOTES ON PER CAPITA FOREIGN DEBT, CENTRAL AMERICA & PANAMA
The foreign debt of the five Central American countries and Panama,
compared with the hemisphere's principal debtor nations is small.
However, the six small nations' debt burden becomes quite large when
considering the foreign debt/GDP ratio, and debt per capita. During
a recent hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's
subcommittee on international economic policy, Asst. Treasury James
Conrow presented the following statistics.
The region's three least populated nations--Costa Rica, Nicaragua,
and Panama--hold the largest share of the $22.414 billion debt.
Panama's $4.929 billion debt is the highest on a per capita basis:
$2,200. That country's foreign debt is equivalent to 101% of GDP.
Nicaragua's $6 billion debt is the largest of the six nations, and
is second on a per capita basis: $1,800. The Nicaraguan debt is
double its GDP.
In the Costa Rican case, foreign debt totals $4.206 billion, or
$1,700 per capita, and is equivalent to 95% of GDP.
The Honduran foreign debt of $2.844 billion represents approximately
60% of GDP. Debt per capita is $630.
The $1.77 billion Salvadoran foreign debt is equivalent to
approximately 40% of GDP, and less than $400 per capita.
Guatemala has the smallest foreign debt of the six nations. In 1986,
its foreign debt totaled $2.665 billion, or approximately 25% of the
GDP, and less than $400 per capita.
In contrast to Latin America's principal debtor nations, who owe the
bulk of the debt to commercial banks, less than 40% of these six
nations' debt corresponds to commercial bank creditors.
UPDATE ON U.S. REPRISALS, PANAMANIAN RESPONSE
On Nov. 19, by a vote of 19 to 0, the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee approved a measure similar to one passed in October by the
House Foreign Affairs Committee. The proposals require votes by the
full House and Senate, which may come before the end of the year.
In July, via an executive order the Reagan administration cut off
aid to Panama when a mob caused an estimated $100,000 in damage to
US Embassy property. Prior to the cutoff, Panama was scheduled to
receive $33 million in US economic and military aid this year. The
Senate committee measure would also impose an embargo on Panama's
sugar quota to the US market.
Sen. Jesse Helms amended the aid cutoff measure to allow the CIA to
continue to pay non-governmental people. Humanitarian aid, such as
flood or earthquake relief, education and food could also be
In September, the Senate approved a non-binding resolution calling
for a "non-military transitional government" in Panama, and a
permanent halt to all aid. If approved by both houses of Congress,
the new proposal would assure that the aid stoppage and the
elimination of Panama's sugar quota become law.
In a Nov. 21 interview with pro-government newspaper La Estrella de
Panama, Panamanian President Eric Arturo Delvalle said that his
government is not "afraid of the financial sanctions" approved by
the Senate committee.
In a similar vein, Foreign Minister Jorge Abadia told reporters that
such actions are aimed at forcing the Panamanian government to give
in to US pressures, but that such pressures are "to no avail."
After ruling out a break in diplomatic relations with the US, Abadia
said Washington "will not destroy us as a nation...On the contrary,
now that they are restricting... assistance, we have to learn to get
by on our own resources." (Basic data from New York Times, 11/22/87;
AFP, Prensa Latina, 11/21/87)
NOTE ON PANAMANIAN LEGISLATURE'S RESPONSE TO U.S. PRESSURE
On Nov. 24, Panama's National Assembly approved a resolution
requesting that the government suspend the visas of US military
personnel. The resolution also called on the government to begin
talks toward removing the US Southern Command from Panama. (Basic
data from New York Times, 11/28/87; Prensa Latina, 11/25/87)
PANAMA: U.S. AGENCY FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT OPERATIONS ORDERED CLOSED
On Dec. 3, the State Department announced that the Panamanian
government had ordered the closing of operations by the Agency for
International Development in Panama and is expelling the agency's US
employees and their dependents. The order affects 48 US officials
and about 70 dependents. About 100 Panamanian employees of the
agency will lose their jobs.
The order was reportedly in retaliation for the Reagan
administration's suspension in July of economic and military aid to
Panama after a mob attacked the US Embassy in Panama City on June
30. After the attack on the Embassy the US demanded $106,000 in
compensation. Panama paid, but the aid cutoff was not not lifted.
Washington was informed of the order in a diplomatic note delivered
to the US Embassy on Nov. 30. US citizens pertaining to the Agency
were ordered to leave within seven days.
In fiscal 1987, Panama was to receive $72.3 million in US economic
aid and $6.5 million in military aid, most of which was suspended in
July. After the suspension, however, the US signed agreements to
provide $7.7 million for private sector projects handled by USAID.
About $8.4 million in aid for these projects in fiscal 1988 will be
affected by the closing of the agency's operations.
Administration officials told the New York Times that the decision
to close the agency's operations was made by the commander in chief
of the Panamanian Defense Forces, Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega,
without the knowledge of President Arturo Delvalle. When Ambassador
Arthur H. Davis called on Delvalle on Dec. 2 to ask him to
reconsider, the president reportedly told him he knew nothing about
it and would have to investigate. At a meeting later in the day,
Delvalle informed Davis that the order could not be withdrawn.
Delvalle agreed to give the agency personnel and dependents more
time to close the agency's offices and prepare for departure from
Panama. An agreement with Panama provides for a three-month period
for agency personnel to leave the country.
State Department spokesperson Charles Redman said the US would
comply with the order "as expeditiously as possible." Asked whether
the US was upset by the order, Redman said, "It's the Panamanians
who are losing the benefits of this aid."
Despite the suspension of US economic and military aid in July,
USAID continued to play an important function in administering
projects in the private sector and with non-government
organizations. (Basic data from New York Times, 12/04/87)
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