Late Panamanian Dictator Said US Spy

Wednesday June 27, 2001  10:40 am

PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) - The late Panamanian dictator who signed the
accords that led to the U.S. handover of the Panama Canal in 1999 worked as
an informant for U.S. military intelligence, Panamanian media reported.

Omar Torrijos, who seized power in a 1968 coup and ruled Panama until he was
killed in a plane crash in 1981, signed the Panama Canal treaties with
President Carter, which cleared the way for the handover of the canal to
Panama on Dec. 31, 1999.

According to reports Monday in daily newspapers La Prensa and El Panama
America, Torrijos was recruited to work for U.S. military intelligence in
October, 1955, when he was a captain in the national guard, in charge of the
international airport in Panama City.

The papers cited a document reportedly sent to Carter's then-national
security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, on Oct. 14, 1977, that said Torrijos
had agreed to spy to ``compensate for his low salary.''

He was paid $25 a month for his work, and continued to work as an informant
after he was demoted from his captain's position in 1959 for lack of
productivity and irregularity in his reports, the newspapers said.
Eventually, his salary as an informant was increased to $300, the reports

His job was to report on the activity of the national guard and later, as he
gained greater prominence, on political issues, labor and student movements
and the influence of China and the Soviet Union, the newspapers said.

According to the report, Torrijos was less communicative with his U.S.
contacts after he ousted the civilian government of President Arnulfo Arias
in a military coup. Torrijos' former colleagues and family members dismissed
the reports.

``They seem to be speculation with the aim of doing political damage,'' said
former Gen. Ruben Dario Paredes, who took over the national guard after
Torrijos' death.

Torrijos' nephew, Hugo Torrijos, said the reports were an attempt to
``obscure the great success of Torrijos and what he signified for the
(country's) complete sovereignty and other great social achievements in

There was no immediate reaction from officials in Washington.

Manuel Noriega, who took control of the army after Torrijos' death and ruled
the country through rigged elections, was believed to have collaborated with
the CIA in the 1970s.

Noriega fell in disgrace after being linked to drug traffickers. The United
States invaded Panama on Dec. 20, 1989, and removed Noriega from power. He is
now serving a 40-year sentence in Florida for drug-related crimes.

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