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Document Creation Date: 
December 22, 2016
Document Release Date: 
May 8, 2012
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Publication Date: 
July 7, 1986
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Declassified in Part - Sanitized Copy Approved for Release 2012/05/08: CIA-RDP90-00965R000605300036-2 AK I IULL APrtAKtu 7 July 1986 v yy ..... v..l nu ?/ Drug king? Spy? Not I, says General Noriega Is run by a military M af' ~ a"? . Panama tion for Barletta, the preceding cam- ^ While Ronald Reagan was busy win- paign was unusual in that los gringos ning aid for Nicaraguan rebels from and American control of the canal were Congress, alarms began ringing over not bitter issues. Panama's military Panama and the canal that makes it a chiefs, including Noriega, appeared to key strategic concern of the U.S. be withdrawing slowly from domina- Together, the canal and U.S. military tion of politics and the economy. bases here mean the American stake in Serious trouble began last September Panama is greater than in all the rest of when Barletta was forced to resign. He Central America combined. Indeed, apparently had pushed too hard for an anxiety about canal security is part of investigation into the brutal murder of the reason for U.S. concern about Dr. Hugo Spadafora, a colorful politi- Marxist control of Nicaragua. Yet cal activist and persistent critic of Nor- many things about Panama are turning iega's rule. Spadafora was last seen sour at once. alive in the custody of troops from the Panama's de facto ruler, military Panama Defense Force, as the nation's strong man Gen. Manuel Noriega, is military, which Noriega commands, is accused of drug trafficking and laun- officially called. dering of drug money, arms smuggling Then came the recent series of re- and spying for Cuba. These charges ports-clearly leaked by high-level have followed those alleging more- Washington sources-about the gener- common regional sins such as election al's alleged misdeeds. For many Ameri- rigging and political intimi- cans ll hi a t s rekindled , dation. The country's fifth doubts about the kind of more than a complaisant "' -U' 3 ipia,n, -s p precisely the goal of conser- front man for Noriega. Un- vativ ff i l e o ic a s and lawmak - employment, inequality, ers who seek to advance economic ct~nnoti.~.. d an ating what one U.S. di to ` ?'""'s %.uaiges that go P mat warns is a "time bomb back to the early 1970s. eral Noriega," adds Representative Whatever their agenda, a Mike Lowry (D-Wash) wh waitin to o off" M g g .,- ose er . r m number of U.S. policymak- chant Marine subcommittee plans In Washington, demands ers are wor i d b r e a out hand hihl l -earngs on te canaater this sum- are growing that Reagan ing canal operations over to mer. If narcotics charges against Pana- "do something" about Pan- a poverty-stricken, politi- manian military chiefs are proven, says ama-especially about Senator Helms claims cally unstable nation. Skep- Lowry, "we'd be talking about with- Noriega-though no one Noriega is corrupt tics fear that Panama's mil- holding dollars from one of our long- seems certain exactly what. itary chiefs are mainly time friends. Congress is pretty serious Behind the agitation is con- interested in operating a about drugs." cern that popular resentment in Pana- Mafia-style racketeering network to en- Noriega seems unworried by the ma could fuel the same kinds of leftist rich themselves and their friends. By headlines and hot words. In an inter- upheaval that brought Fidel Castro to that assessment, the huge cash flow view with U.S.News & World Report, he power in Cuba and the Sandinistas to generated by the canal might prove an brushed aside suggestions that the Rea- power in Nicaragua. irresistible temptation without major gan administration may be turning If prolonged, the furor could revive reform of Panama's endemic corrup- against him. "It doesn't suit President the tensions that were supposed to dis- tion and cronyism. appear under treaties transferring con- "We want to turn the canal over to a dently. "Panama a must plane ainaia dpositive d trol of the canal to Panama by the year viable, stable democracy, not a bunch partner, acting in favor nofAmerican 2000. For seven years, the transition of corrupt drug runners," fumes Jim interests and not in confrontations." moved calmly. A respected pro-U.S. Lucier, a key aide to Senator Jesse The general dismisses critical reports in economist, Nicolas Ardito Barletta, P Helms (R-N.C.). Helms has been a the U.S. press as the product of a con- was elected President of Panama in leading critic of Noriega and the canal spiracy among "bad Panamanians" and 1984. Though there were strong suspi- treaties. "There's tremendous congres- "ultra-rightist forces" in Washington cions that Noriega had stolen the elec- sional concern, particularly about Gen- who hope to overturn the treaties. Continued Declassified in Part - Sanitized Copy Approved for Release 2012/05/08: CIA-RDP90-00965R000605300036-2 Declassified in Part - Sanitized Copy Approved for Release 2012/05/08: CIA-RDP90-00965R000605300036-2 concern of the United States, as the slow transi- tion to full Panamanian control of the canal contin- ues. The treaties under which the U.S. agreed to give up most of its rights were hotly argued and re- main among the most con- troversial acts of the Carter administration. However, Panamanian military sources say that privately the general is angry about the stories. Her orl' is furious most of all about what he sees as "betrayal" by the U U.S. Central Intel- ligence Agency, with which he has had close ties for many-years. There are strong practical and politi- cal reasons for Noriega's confidence. Foreign diplomats and local analysts believe that he eventually will be dam- aged by the steadily mounting accusa- tions. With time, he might have to step aside-especially if a less controversial replacement can be found-to maintain U.S. aid that this year totals $31.2 mil- lion. But for now there is no serious threat to his authority. Political opposition forces are badly divided and poorly organized, lacking ties to influential labor and student groups. Panamanian citizens are highly reluctant to take to the streets to force change, as happened in Haiti and the Philippines. President almost certainly would use force to thwart a real threat under treaty terms guaranteeing perma- nent neutrality of the canal. The official position in Washington is to condemn strongly the offenses Noriega is accused of committing, es- pecially drug running. But ad- ministration spokesmen insist that all reports they have so far about his involvement- although admittedly volumi- nous-are "hearsay, circum- stantial or speculative." For obvious political rea- sons, Washington does not want to chastise authoritar- ianism in Panama while por- traying Nicaragua as the only nondemocratic regime in the region. Finally, there is no official enthusiasm for what many see as a no-win contest with an opponent who can hit back painfully. Washington could easily halt U.S. training of Panama's armed forces, for example. But Noriega could just as eas- ily end or reduce his country's role as home of the biggest, most important U.S. military outpost in all Latin America. More than 9,000 American troops are stationed in Panama, which is headquarters for the Army's South- ern Command. SouthCom's security responsibilities stretch from Mexico's southern border to the tip of Chile. U.S. base rights in Panama run out at the end of 1999, but they could be extended if relations between the two nations remain reasonably warm. Administration strategy apparently calls for waiting to see if the furor sub- sides. It may. But even if the alarm bells now ringing fall silent for a while, they could ring again more loudly as the year 2000 draws nearer. a J by Carta Anne Robbins with JI Washington bureau reports THE 'BIG DITCH' Politics aboil, waters calm Seven years into -the treaties of transition for the Panama Ca- nal, little has changed for the 30-odd ships that navigate the strategic waterway every day. It is still early in the gradual process by which the U.S. is turning the 70-year-old, 50-mile canal over to Panama. By the year 2000, the U.S. is commit- ted to yield the last vestige of administration. For now, transi- tion and traffic run smoothly. Through a binational Panama Canal Commission, the two na- tions share responsibility for what once was called the "big ditch" linking the oceans. Busi- ness has rarely been better. An oil pipeline parallel to the canal has cut the traffic of tankers. But expansion of world trade gener- ally has meant an increase in overall tonnage. In the past eight months, some 124 million tons of goods went through the locks in 8,100 ships-an increase of more than 10 percent over the same period a year earlier. In fiscal 1985, 68 percent of the cargo moved either to or from the U.S., including 13.4 percent of all U.S. seaborne trade. Already, more than 80 per- cent of the 8,000 canal em- ployes are Panamanian. Some 1,300 Americans still perform key tasks, such as piloting ships through locks so narrow that minor errors in navigation can result in major damage to ves- sels or to the canal itself. In time, Panamanians also will take over most of those jobs. The next stage comes in 1990. when a Panamanian is to become head of the commission. Dennis McAuliffe, the American now in charge, says he is confident Pan- amanians can do the job. But many experts worry that Pana- ma's planning for the takeover is lagging. They worry also that historic Panamanian cronyism will prevail, dumping trained personnel in favor of political friends, a fate that already has befallen the country's ports and railroad, which have been taken A recent opposition rally drew only a few hundred pro- testers. This is partly because of fear of repression. But there is a more important deterrent: The military-run regime pro- vides one fourth of all jobs, and government critics risk losing their paychecks. By most estimates, Wash- ington will remain commit- ted to the security of the 50- mile-long "big ditch." Primary U.S. responsibility for canal security expires in 1999. But any American ONE REASON THE CANAL WORRIES SO MANY The battleship U.S.S. New Jersey passes through the Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal, with a cruise ship in the background. Quick passage for Navy vessels between the Atlantic and the Pacific, avoiding the long trip around South America, is a principal Declassified in Part - Sanitized Copy Approved for Release 2012/05/08: CIA-RDP90-00965R000605300036-2