“Panama Defense Force’s artillery on the war on drugs” by Gretchen Smalls

General Manuel Antonio Noriega
7 min readMay 9, 2021

A 306-page report issued in August by the government of Panama, “16 Years of Struggle Against Drug Traffic” re­ports an untold story, the history of the Panamanian Defense Forces’ war against the narcotics empire, as it has escalated over the years under the personal command of the man who today heads that Force, Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega.

“16 Years of Struggle” was issued in defense of General Noriega, against an international campaign of slander, innuendo, and rumor launched by Panama’s opposition forces and the U.S. State Department.

The campaign painted Noriega as “the protector of ‘the Panamanian Connection’ “of narcotics and crime, a double­ agent of Cuba and the American CIA, and the head of the “military mafia.”

The authors of that slander have presented no proof, claiming only that U.S.intelligence has “classified evidence” to back up the charges. “16 Years of Struggle” is Panama’s answer.

On orders of President Eric Delvalle, the Panamanian government has made public declassified U.S. and Panamanian documents on Panama’s war on drugs, and provided statistics, background reports, and a history of Pan­ama’s intervention into the international debate on narcotics, to demonstrate not only Panama’s successes in the war on drugs, but also that Panama has actively collaborated with the United States in that war.

The issue is not just to defend Panama’s record on drugs, however. Panama’s counter-attack has dropped several po­litical bombshells into the worldwide battle to build a unified anti-drug command.

The Panamanian government names the British Crown as the original sponsor of international narcotics traffic, spec­ifying the role of the Crown’s British East India Company and its allies in the “great families of New England,” in imposing-by force-“massive addiction to narcotics” upon the colonial world. Narcotics were pushed “officially by the British Empire with the conviction that it was possible to attack the life and health of a backward nation without af­fecting the empire itself, “ Panama’s government report states.

The Liberal Establishment’s media screamed that U.S. presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche was “crazy” and “paranoid, “ when LaRouche’s associates in EIR documented that history in its bestseller, Dope, Inc. Now the Panamanian government has also stated publicly that well-known but little-mentioned history-just as the news breaks in Europe that a “cocaine pipeline” into Britain’s Royal Palace run by the Queen of England’s sister, Princess Margaret, has been uncovered.

The issue has implications for policy. Identifying narcot­ics as an instrument of colonial warfare, is critical to devel­oping an adequate counter-strategy against narcotics, too often treated as a “sociological” problem, without historical roots or purpose. The very existence of humanity today is threatened by the results of that policy, “16 Years of Strug­gle” argues. The narcotics trade, in the words of General Noriega, has become the “fifth horseman of the Apocalypse,” reaching the level of “genocide,” against its special target, youth. New “geopolitical factors” have now entered the drug trade, threatening the future of Western society as it is known today.

Panama’s report is urgent reading by those agencies and personnel responsible for national security within the U.S. government. Precisely as the Reagan administration prepared to build a military alliance within the Americas against nar­cotics, factions within the administration tried to blow apart one of the best working relationships in the war on drugs already established on the continent, the coordination of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and Coast Guard with Pan­ ama’s Defense Forces.

The report provides conclusive evidence that Noriega’s enemies are in the drug-mob. Several questions must then be answered in Washington. Which agencies and personnel be­ gan the campaign of slander against Noriega? Through what channels was that policy made hegemonic in the administra­tion? U.S. State Department officials have made no secret that Noriega and the government of Panama are on their hit­ list for overthrow. But factions within the military and intel­ligence community have also pushed the campaign.

Such questions are no “Panamanian matter.” Tracing back the “get Noriega” campaign to its authors, will provide U.S. officials “red dye” identification of dope-trade assets infil­trated within the U. S. national security apparatus.

As a transportation, banking, and communications cross­ roads for the Americas, the drug mob targeted Panama as a transshipment and coordination center. Until 1968, when Col. Omar Torrijos, with the aid of Noriega, established a new political system in the country, Panama’s politics and economy were in the hands of local representatives of the international oligarchic families, who have used Panama as a general “free-trade” facility center since the days of Teddy Roosevelt. Although 80% of Panama’s economy remains under the control of foreign interests today, with the Torrijos coup, the oligarchy’s political freedom of action became increasingly limited.

Panama’s Defense Forces established an anti-drug pro­ gram in 1970, under the command of Lt.-Colonel Noriega, then head of Intelligence for the National Guard. The policy underpinnings of the anti-drug unit created by Noriega, are outlined in a 1973 speech by Noriega, excerpted in the Doc­umentation following this article. Fighting for a multination­ al strategy against the drug threat, Noriega has repeatedly proposed that Panama’s historic role as a crossroads be turned to different advantage, by establishing an operational center for intelligence, detection, strategy, tactical operations, and logistic support for the war on drugs.

The statistics of drug capture demonstrate the effects of the policy, in the territory under control of Panama’s Forces. (U.S. authorities are still responsible for policing transit through the Canal Zone.)

From 1970–1980, Panama’s Forces captured and destroyed 293 kilograms of cocaine and 2.215 metric tons of marijuana, and deported 201 drug-traffickers, including 46 fugitives from U.S. justice.

With the onset of the Cocaine Boom of the 1980s, Pana­ma’s anti-drug war escalated. From 1980 through the first seven months of this year, approximately 1.5 metric tons of pure cocaine have been seized by Panama’s Defense Forces, while eradication campaigns, including fumigation, were launched against attempts to establish domestic marijuana production; 1.4 metric tons of marijuana transshipped through Panama were captured; and 232 drug-traffickers were de­ ported, including 41 fugitives wanted in the U.S.Since 1984, chemicals used in the processing of cocaine have been seized, as Panama cooperated in a multi-nation effort to shut off the European/U.S.-South American chemical pipeline.

Cooperation with U.S. authorities has been extensive.

In 1980, the Defense Forces established procedures which authorized U.S. Coast Guard Service vessels to board, search, and make arrests, in international waters, on boats of Pana­manian registry suspected of involvement in drug-traffick­ing. That authority is critical, since Panama’s liberal ship­ registry laws, existing since the 1920s, had made Panama a center of ship-registry.

The Defense Forces “have always maintained a close relation of mutual understanding, respect, cooperation and confidence” with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) office in Panama, “16 Years” reports.

In addition to the coordinated seizure of chemicals, the leading success of Panama’s multi-nation approach to the war on drugs, was the 1984 arrest of Colombian cocaine chiefs, Jorge Luis Ochoa and Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela. Information supplied by Panama’s Defense Forces to the DEA, led to their arrest in Spain, in a coordinated operation by the DEA and Spanish authorities.

Shortly thereafter, Panamanian authorities shut down the First Interamericas Bank, headquartered in Panama City, when it was found to be owned by Rodriguez Orejuela.

Breaking up the Kissinger connection

In a White Paper on the Panama Destabilization issued in June 1986, EIR reported that U.S. circles behind the “get­ Noriega” campaign were promoting the interests of the for­ mer Commander of the National Guard, General Ruben Dar­io Paredes, as a counter to General Noriega. Paredes, now retired, was presented throughout the 1980s as the key “U.S. asset” in Panama by the Liberal Establishment.

Former U.S. ambassador to Panama, Ambler Moss, a protege of drug legalization-promotor Sol Linowitz, called Paredes one of the Panamanians “best disposed to the U.S.” In 1983, Henry Kissinger personally stepped forward, to promote Paredes as the future head of state of Panama.

EIR’s White Paper detailed Paredes’s connections to the drug trade and terrorism, as they were known to us then. Panama’s government report, “16 Years of Struggle,” pre­sents new evidence that Kissinger’s friends in Panama at­ tempted in 1984 to establish Panama as a new cocaine-processing center and headquarters for the Colombian cocaine czars. The plot was defeated by Noriega- the man some Washington circles are trying to drive from power.

The Colombian mafia set into motion the plan to seize control of Panama, at the point Colombia launched an all-out war against drug-trafficking, “16 Years” reports. Panama, close to transshipment points, was picked as a site for a new, giant, cocaine laboratory, to replace mafia facilities shut down by Colombian Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, and the ensuing military battle after his death in 1984. The mob “planned to gain clear transit of cocaine through Panama; to use Panamanian banking facilities for their transactions; and finally, to establish a big laboratory in Darien, Panama’s most unpopulated jungle province,” the report explains.

Colombia’s cocaine kingpins, the Ochoa family, began throwing their money around Panama, and “made contact with authorities with political aspirations, and presented them with costly pace horses, and other presents.”

Three Pana­manians offered themselves as the protectors of the mafia plan: the businessmen, Gabriel Mendez, Olmedo Mendez, and Ricardo Tribaldos (the latter a relative of the drug mafia’s editor of La Prensa, Roberto Eisenmann), and Lt.-Col. Ju­lian Melo Borbua, then Executive Secretary of the Defense Forces’ General Command.

General Paredes, the protector of Lt.-Colonel Melo, was one of those who received pace horses from the Ochoas for the plot, “through a rich Panamanian cattle man, who is a member of the political opposition.” Melo was given $4 million by the Ochoa mob, to carry out a coup against Pana­ma’s Government and military command, a plot which was to include the assassination of General Noriega.

Defeated by the combined intelligence and operations of Panama’s Defense Forces, the Colombian military, and the U.S. DEA, the dope mob instead moved its major facilities to Peru and Bolivia in 1984, where, until Alan Garcia came to power in Peru in July 1985, government authorities pro­vided no resistance to the mob’s efforts.

In Panama, Melo was dishonorably discharged from the Defense Forces, so that he could be tried by civilian authorities.