doc. 10 rev.1
16 September 1988
Original:  Spanish



  8.          On September 19, 1986, representatives of the International Human Rights Law Group submitted for consideration by the Commission the following document which summarizes the oral pleadings made on that date.


I.        This case concerns the torture and death of Dr. Hugo Spadafora Franco, a national of Panama.  Spadafora energetically opposed General Manuel Antonio Noriega, Chief of the Defense Forces of Panama (FDP).  The facts establish beyond a doubt the responsibility of the Government of Panama in the cruel assassination of Dr. Spadafora.  Nevertheless, the authorities of the crime and the subsequent punishment of the criminals. (sic)


II.          Relevant facts.


          A.      Hugo Spadafora Franco


1.       An energetic opponent of the Government of Panama; active in democratic movements in panama and other countries.


2.       In recent years, severe criticisms of General Noriega in which he accused him or abusing his power, trafficking in weapons and drugs, and other illegal activities.


3.       As a result of his criticisms, he received several death threats from emissaries of General Noriega.


4.       Nevertheless, Dr. Spadafora began a campaign intended to publicize Noriega’s illegal activities.


B.       The Dr. Spadafora trip to Panama, on September 13, 1985.


1.       On September 13, 1985, he left his place of residence in San José, Costa Rica, on his final trip to Panama.  He followed the same route that he had taken on other occasions, i.e., he flew to the Panamanian border, took a bus from there to David, and then continued on to Panama City.


2.       During the bus trip in Panamanian territory, he was seen by several persons.


2.       He was arbitrarily obliged to get off the bus at one of the check points of the Panamanian Defense Forces, despite the fact that he had on his person his Panamanian identification card.  A plain-clothes agent of the FDP followed him, traveling in the same bus.


3.       The last time he was seen alive was in Concepción, Panama, when he got off the bus in the custody of the plain-clothes agent out of uniform.


4.       The following day he was found dead in Costa Rican territory, a few meters from the Panamanian border.  Spadafora had been decapitated, and his body presented visible signs of torture.


5.       The murder of Spadafora was contributed to the increasing climate of violence and terror that now grips Panama, particularly the Province of Chiriquí.


C.       Events following the assassination of dr. Hugo Spadafora.


1.       The Judicial Investigation Agency of Costa Rica ordered the opening of investigations.  Following the taking of testimony and other weighty evidence, the authorities concluded that Dr. Spadafora had been assassinated in Panama.


2.       The Government of Panama barred a complete and impartial investigation into the facts, allowed interference by the Defense Forces of Panama, which led to the resignation of President Barletta when he acceded to the petition of the Spadafora family for an honest investigation.


2.       Ignoring the overwhelming evidence of Spadafora’s entry into Panama and his detention of an agent of the Panamanian Defense Forces, the Panamanian authorities continued to maintain that the victim had been killed in Costa Rica and that the matter therefore, did not fall within their jurisdiction.


3.       The only “investigation” conducted in Panama concluded with a final discontinuance, based on insufficient evidence, in favor of the three members of the Panamanian Defense Force who had been investigated.  The murder went unsolved.  The flawless, well-grounded dissenting vote cast by Judge Andrés Almendral underscores the shortcomings of the Court’s decision.  The Law Group will submit comments on the presentation made by the Government of Panama and reply to the accusation, before September 25, 1986.


III.          Violations of the American Convention on Human Rights


A.      Panama is a signatory of the Convention.


B.       The Government of Panama violated Dr. Hugo Spadafora Franco’s right to life, his right to humanitarian treatment, and his right to protection from arbitrary arrest.  (Articles 4, 5, and 7).


C.       The Government of Panama has not conducted a thorough, impartial investigation, free of partisan interference.  Hence, the Government has violated Dr. Spadafora’s right to judicial protection (Article 25).


IV.      Petition


The petitioners respectfully request that the Commission:


(1)      Decide to condemn the Government of Panama for having violated the rights to life, humanitarian treatment, protection against arbitrary arrest and judicial protection, enshrined in Articles 4, 5, and 7 of the American Convention on Human Rights.


(2)      Recommend that the Government of Panama order a thorough and impartial investigation of the individuals responsible for the murder, so that they may be properly punished.


(3)      Recommend that the Government of Panama inform the Commission of the measures taken within 60 days following the resolution.


(4)      Resolve to take whatever other measures it deems appropriate.


9.          In Resolution 30/86, adopted during its 68th regular session, on September 19, 1986, the Commission decreed the admissibility of the charge filed by the complainant Mr. Winston Spadafora, particularly in view of the fact that the Government of panama, in its reply dated August 6, 1986, recognized that the internal jurisdiction remedies had been completely exhausted.


10.          On October 2, 1986, representatives of the International Human Rights Law Group sent their observations with respect to the reply of the Government of Panama, dated August 6, 1986.


In part of their presentation, the petitioners made the following verbatim reference:


I.                   ARGUEMENT


The Government has violated the provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights.


A.          The Government is responsible for the arbitrary arrest, torture, and murder of Hugo Spadafora.


1.                 Spadafora entered Panama


Spadafora publicly announced his return to Panama for the purpose of denouncing, together with his attorney Alvid Weeden, the corruption, drug trafficking, and other illegal activities of General Noriega.  On Friday, September 13th, he left his house in San José, Costa Rica, to begin a trip to Panama City, following the same route that he had taken on four other occasions.  Several witnesses saw Spadafora in Panamanian territory on September 13th, including Mr. González Justavino, owner of the Los Mellos restaurant, the bus driver, and his assistant, and two Panamanians who knew him well.  Following a conscientious investigation, the Costa Rican authorities concluded that Hugo Spadafora was killed in Panama, and not in Costa Rican territory.


2.       Spadafora was arrested by Government agents in Concepción, Panama.


All the evidence leads to the conclusion that Spadafora did not voluntarily alight from the bus in Concepción since, on four other occasions, he had made the same trip; moreover, he had arranged to meet his wife in Panama City that same night.


3.       The last time Spadafora was seen alive, he was in the custody of an agent of the Panamanian Defense Forces.


There was not a single witness who alleged having seen Spadafora free, or with friends or relatives, or involved in any activity during the afternoon or evening of September 13th, or in Concepción, Panama, and was picked up again with the appearance of his mutilated corpse on the following day.  Under such circumstances, the burden of proof is on the Government.  The Government did not submit evidence to the contrary.


4.       The conduct of the Government prior to the assassination is another indication of its responsibility for the crime.


All the evidence indicated that the Panamanian Defense Forces and General Noriega in particular, were willing to resort to violence against Spadafora.  The latter was ready to make public Noriega’s illegal activities.  The Military Junta responded with death threats against someone they saw as a threat to the continued impunity of their criminal activities, with the result that words subsequently become deeds.


5.       In those cases in which an individual has last been seen in the custody of Government agents, there is a strong presumption that the Government is responsible for the individual’s disappearance or death.


This has been the position of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in similar cases involving disappearance and death, including Case No. 4326 (Argentina) and Case No. 7951 (Honduras).  In this case, the evidence submitted is as convincing as the evidence in the aforementioned cases, if not more so.  That being the case, it is requested that the same legal standard be applied, establishing the responsibility of the Government of Panama for the assassination of Hugo Spadafora.


6.       The judicial inquiry conducted by the Government was manifestly inadequate, and in no way mitigates the responsibility of the Government for the assassination.


The Government of Panama denied justice by conducting a flawed and partial summary proceeding.  An analysis of that proceeding shows that the Fourth Superior Court accepted inconsistent and unsubstantiated evidence that favored to the three suspects and at the same time, for unacceptable reasons, dismissed essential evidence and ignored important clues that would lead to the truth.  No effort has been made to find the culprits, participants or accomplices.  On the contrary, Government maintained something that cannot be supported in fact, namely, that the victim was killed in Costa Rica.  Thus, the conclusion reached was that the Government had done everything in its power to avoid a thorough investigation of what happened to Hugo Spadafora.


B.          The arbitrary arrest, torture, and assassination of Hugo Spadafora by the Government of Panama is a violation of the Convention (Articles 4, 5, and 7).


C.          The Government did not conduct a thorough and impartial investigation, and this violated the provisions of Article 25 of the Convention.


Lastly, in the petition, the complainants request:


          a)          That it be resolve that the Government has violated Articles 4, 5, 7, 13, and 25 of the Convention; b) that it be recommended that the Government of Panama begin conducting a complete and impartial investigation, free of any influence from the Defense Forces, so that all those responsible may be judged according to Panamanian law; c) that the Government of Panama be requested to inform to the Commission of any progress made in the investigation, within 60 days following the Commission’s adoption of the resolution; and, d) that the Government of Panama be requested to cease and assure cessation of all intimidation of the Spadafora family and of any other person involved in this case.


On that occasion, the accusers also submitted several documents including statements made by Mr. Iván González and Mr. Edwin Guerra to the First Superior Court District attorney’s Office of the Third District of Panama.  In that document, Mr. Iván Darío González (owner of “Los Mellos” restaurant) indicated that Dr. Hugo Spadafora had lunched at his restaurant at noon on Thursday, September 13, 1985, just before taking the bus to Panama City.  For his part, Mr. Edwin Guerra, driver of the bus assigned to the David-border route, indicated that at approximately noon on September 13, 1985, three passengers got on the bus, Dr. Hugo Spadafora, and Mr. Francisco Eliecer González Bonilla (known as Bruce Lee, the primary suspect in the homicide of Spadafora) and a member of the guard at the border barracks whom he had known for quite some time, was amongst them.


The complainants also submitted the testimony of Santos López Lobón, Ricaute Esquivel Ríos to the Costa Rican Judicial Investigation Agency.  Messrs López Lobón and Esquivel Rodríguez, who know Dr. Hugo Spadafora quite well, testified that they saw him being arrested at the Jacú checkpoint on September 13, 1985, early in the afternoon.  Messrs. Ramírez Chavarría and Chinchilla Riós, residents of the area near where Dr. Spadafora’s corpse was found, stated that near their residences they had seen and heard Panamanian Defense Force station wagons at midnight on September 13, 1986.


11.          On October 8, 1986, the Commission transmitted to the Government of Panama the observations made by the complainants on October 2, 1986, and gave it 30 days to send its comments


12.          On January 14, 1986, the Commission reiterated to the Government of Panama the request it first conveyed on October 8, 1986.


13.          In a note sent to the Government of Costa Rica on January 14, 1987, the Commission requested that it send an authenticated copy of the legal proceeding initiated in that country as a result of the discovery of the corpse of Dr. Hugo Spadafora Franco.


14.          In a note dated February 24, 1987, the Government of Panama pointed out the following:


CASE 9726


The Government of the Republic of Panama is of the opinion that the supplementary complaint which has been sent to us on this occasion makes a series of assertions that are lacking in truth and objectivity, and are totally irrelevant to the substance of the case submitted to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.


The Republic of Panama believes that the proceedings filed with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States, and any other supplementary proceedings filed with that Organization, should be strictly confined to what is relevant and pertinent for purposes of establishing the truth of the assertions.  Consideration of relevance and pertinence compel us to conclude that the document entitled Supplementary Complaint ought not to be processed with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in case No. 9726, inasmuch as the aforementioned document contains a speculative list of assertions not at all germane to the processing of the aforementioned case.


In the aforementioned Supplementary Complaint certain statements are made with respect to the investigation of the facts brought to the attention of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights with respect to case No. 9726.  Hence we are obliged to reiterate to Your Excellency the content of Note DMN-576, dated July 21, 1986, in which, as we indicated, there is a detailed thorough list of the facts being investigated.  The Supplementary Complaint has been reviewed by our Office, and we are of the opinion that it constitutes a series of irrelevant and highly subjective statements which are not only untrue but also do not warrant further consideration since they are not germane to the case under consideration, which has been presented to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.  This brings us back to the starting point, namely the situation as originally set forth, which we answered in our note.


The Office of the Attorney General of the Nation is of the opinion that in the proceeding which has given rise to the request for information, information our country is to supply to the Honorable Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the constitutional and legal procedures applicable to such cases have been complied with, and all procedural guarantees enshrined in our legal system have been observed.


15.          The Commission gave the complainant 45 days, beginning on March 3, 1987, to submit his observations.


16.          On March 25, 1987, the Government of Costa Rica sent an authenticated copy of the legal documentation requested by the Commission with respect to the murder of Dr. Hugo Spadafora.  The aforementioned documentation pertains to the case brought before the Trial Court in Golfito, Costa Rica, and contains both the coroner’s report on the autopsy on the corpse of Dr. Spadafora, as well as legal formalities discharged by the Costa Rican Judicial Investigation Agency mentioned earlier by the Government of Panama and by the complainant.


17.          On April 20, 1987, the petitioners sent their comments to the Commission, and reiterated that the Government of Panama had not answered the charges made in the complaint, which the Government has dismissed as allegedly untrue, having found that it was based on “irrelevant” evidence.  The complainants maintain that such evidence, based on eye witness testimony, establishes that Dr. Hugo Spadafora Franco entered Panamanian territory on September 13, 1985, that he was arrested by the Defense Forces in Concepción and that it was the last time he was seen alive.  The complainants added that in its reply to the Commission the Government of Panama had not explained the reason why the Panamanian Legal Investigation had accepted and confirmed contradictory alibis prepared by members of the Defense Forces who were suspects accused in the case, had dismissed essential evidence, and had conducted a completely inadequate investigation into the acts dealt with in the complaint.


18.          On May 26, 1987, in note No. OEA-264-87 of the Permanent Mission of Panama, the Government of Panama sent its comments to the Commission, transcribed below:


I am writing you to offer a reply to your note DM No. 321 of May 5 of this year under cover of which you sent us a copy of the unnumbered note dated April 28, 1987, addressed to you by Mr. Edmundo Vargas Carreño, Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.  The note was accompanied by documentation containing comments pertaining to the reply of the Government of the Republic of Panama with respect to the case designated by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights as No. 9726.


As you will readily understand, and we are certain that the officers of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will understand, the reports submitted by the government attorneys tot he Commission should be based exclusively on the facts and circumstances brought to light in the investigations that were conducted, and which have been gathered into a case file are referred to in our criminal procedural law as a summary proceeding.


The foregoing explains the conceptual framework in which the note from this Attorney General’s Office–designated as DPG-515-86, and dated July 8, 1986–was drafted.  In that note, we endeavored to sum up for Your Excellency the legal framework in which criminal investigations are conducted in our country, and to outline the facts brought to light by the investigation.


Following the reply, our Office received from Your Excellency, under cover of the note D.M.V. No. 792 of November 7, 1986, a document entitled “Supplementary Complaint,” which was submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concerning the same case.  This document elicited our note DPG-206-87, of January 27, 1987.


In this case, we are dealing with a document which seeks to contest assertions contained in our note of January 27, 1987.  The purpose of this challenge would appear to be to convince the Honorable Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to consider the report submitted by our country as insufficient.


In our view, there is a problem of approach with respect to the facts that the complainants have submitted to the Commission since, as you will note, the case designated as No. 9726 refers to acts that caused the death of Dr. Hugo Spadafora Franco.  It is, therefore, the opinion of this Office of the Attorney General that any assertion extraneous to such a regrettable event should be considered completely unpersuasive by the Honorable Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.  When in our note DPG-206-87, dated January 27, 1987, we described to the Supplementary Complaint as a series of subjective statements that are not only untrue but also completely alien to the substance of the case brought before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, we did so on the grounds of the same considerations developed earlier in case No. 9726, since in our view said case should not become a forum for waging attacks of a purely political nature against the Government of the Republic of Panama, based on allegations devoid of truth and of the connotations that the complaints insinuate.


Since the kind of resistance that cases filed with the Honorable Inter-American Commission on Human Rights precipitate is alien to us as explained earlier, we would be grateful if that body would provide us with a detailed account of the facts with respect to case No. 9726; if our analysis of the situation is correct in the sense that assertions which are not germane to the specific deed being investigated, this Office of the Attorney General should refrain from offering any reply to such assertions.  By way of example, the assertions begin with considerations that predate and are not germane to the fatal event that gave rise to the proceedings before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.


In a strictly legal sense, and bearing in mind the matter of concern to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which is to determine whether or not the proper proceedings within the internal jurisdiction of the country have been complied with, designed to determine the existence of a crime and its authorship, this Office of the Attorney General must make the following point:


1.          As indicated in our note DPG-515-86, dated July 8, 1986, the internal jurisdiction procedures have been complied with, though they should not be interpreted as the final conclusion of the actual investigation procedure.  If we take up the points dealt with in the communication referred to, we discover that the investigation was conducted by the First Superior District Attorney of the Third District, which was in due course upheld by the Fourth Superior Court of Justice.  The letter closed the inquiry by handing down a final discontinuance in favor of the persons being investigated.  Moreover, it was further decided to order a temporary discontinuance of the investigation:  in other words, in the event that new evidence were to be presented, the summary proceeding could be reopened.


The foregoing led us to a determination of the concept designated by the term “new evidence.”  In this regard, in a ruling dated June 27, 1986, the Honorable Supreme Court of Justice took a stand on the issue, a decision which we delved into further in our note DPG-515-86, dated June 8, 1986.


In that regard the Criminal Chamber of the Honorable Supreme Court of Justice stated:


In keeping with the structure of our criminal procedural system, only one proceeding shall be instituted for any given crime, even when more than one person may be responsible.  Moreover, a single proceeding shall be instituted when there is only one prisoner although the crimes involved may be several.”  The standard that establishes that principle for criminal proceedings is Article 1984 of the Legal Code, which also provides the following:  “A single proceeding shall also be instituted in the case of collective crimes, although there may be several criminals involved, whose trial may be within the purview of different jurisdictions.”  (Underlining by the Chamber).


It should be pointed out that in keeping with the provisions of Article 204 of the National Constitution, decisions handed down by the Supreme Court of Justice Chambers cannot be appealed on the basis of unconstitutionality, or on the grounds of constitutional guarantees against the Court, for which reason our Office believes that, in this regard, all the jurisdictional procedures established by the laws of the Republic of Panama have been exhausted.


The complainants to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights seek a new investigation.  This would be inadmissible under Panamanian jurisprudence, though this is not to say an investigation that has already been decided by the courts of our country cannot be reopened.  The substance of the issue raised would appear then to be the determination of whether there is new evidence that would make it possible to reopen the proceeding.


It should be recalled that the court hearing with the case issued a final discontinuance for those who had been summoned, and a temporary discontinuance for the investigation, pursuant to the provisions of Article 2138 of the Legal Code, which provides:


Article 2138:  A final discontinuance terminates the respective proceeding against the persons for whom it is ordered, and produces exceptio rei adjudicata.


Temporary discontinuance does not terminate the proceeding.  The investigation of those for whom a temporary discontinuance has been ordered may be continued whenever new evidence is presented.


In this regard, the examining authorities of the Republic of Panama cannot accede to what the complainants seek, inasmuch as the only elements they add to their beliefs are speculative assertions devoid of in evidentiary value.


An adverse decision handed down by the Honorable Commission, based on consideration of such speculative assertions, would constitute a dire precedent, inasmuch as it would be based on adverse legal interests which are producing assertions devoid of evidentiary value.  That in turn, would complete to undermine the legal process as an appropriate means to seek the truth.  This, in turn, would destroy the very essence of the democratic societies in the American Hemisphere.


2.          If we maintain the premise that the Honorable Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is interested in determining whether or not the appropriate internal jurisdictional procedures have been declarations contained in investigations contained in investigations conducted by other States, official cognizance of which has not been taken by the authorities of the Republic of Panama.  Once again, we return to the original point.  We wonder whether, in order to nullify the briefs submitted by the plaintiffs, it would be necessary to force the internal jurisdiction procedures of each country, indicating to the examining authorities that they should regard as presumed pieces of evidence, facts heretofore unknown to them, inasmuch as they had not been introduced earlier.


In our view–and in so doing we reiterate our initial conclusions–the proceeding underway with the Honorable Inter-American Commission on Human Rights with respect to case No. 9726 offers two approaches, that are presently at odds.  One is the legal aspect, based on the consideration of the evidence submitted and weighed at the proper stage of the proceeding, and in accordance with appropriate legal procedures.  The second approach involves a series of assertions based on speculation from political sources that are adverse to the government of the country.  Hence, as you will readily understand, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will be dealing with a dilemma in which serenity, equanimity, and proper legal sense must determine whether the appropriate legal remedies in the country’s internal jurisdiction have been complied with in the investigation that was conducted, as indeed they have.


Upon reiterating each and every one of the concepts developed by this office in our notes DPG-515-86, dated July 8, 1986, and DPG-206-87, dated January 27, 1987, expressly establishing that we respect the efforts being made by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, that we admire the good intentions of the persons comprising each of its parts, and that it is our view that said body has an objective legal criterion that will enable it to recognize that our country has complied with the State’s internal jurisdictional procedures.


19.          On June 26, 1987, the complainants also submitted several documents pertaining to the case in reference, among them statements made by Mr. Nicolás Ardito Barletta, former President of the Republic of Panama, and by Coronel Roberto Díaz Herrera.


On June 11, 1987, Mr. Nicolas Ardito Barletta made the following statement:




The present situation confronting the country is critical, but one that offers opportunities.  Critical because all of the information that is being revealed by Coronel Díaz Herrera draws attention to very serious matters that strike the conscience of all Panamanians, and opportune, because it paves the way for the situation to be clarified with a maximum sense of national responsibility and with everyone’s involvement, in a manner that will make possible the national reconciliation so essential, on the basis of respect for the Constitution and law as basic standards for the democratic way of life.


Now that events have demonstrated what I had foreseen in the economic and political spheres, I should make two clarifications, and I have been waiting for the proper moment to do so in order to put them to the people of Panama, which is sovereign with respect to decisions concerning the fate of the nation:


1.          The entire country is aware of the fact that I was forced out of the Office of the Constitution, primarily because of my decision to have a non-political commission appointed to investigate the crime committed against Dr. Spadafora.  On Wednesday, September 25, 1985, from New York I insisted with Mr. Del Valle and Coronel Díaz Herrera–who are together at the General Barracks–that the Commission be announced.  I had decided on its memberships the day before.  When on the following Friday, there were complaints against my decision at the Command of the Panamanian Defense Forces, I told the commandants that they should “support it, since otherwise the entire country would interpret the complaints as indicative of their involvement in the crime.”  Colonel Días Herrera has given the details of what transpired on the day I was forced to leave office.


On April 26, 1986, I stated publicly at the Command Headquarters of the Panamanian Defense Forces that I was not forced to leave the Office President “because of economic policy, as some had alleged.  Differences in this area are negotiated and agreed upon, and such agreements already had reached an advanced stage.  Instead, the causes were due to basic political differences with respect to the constitutional operation of the various agencies of the government, effective democracy and the events that occurred in September 1985,” an obvious reference and to the investigation of the crime committed against Dr. Spadafora.


I continue to hold the belief that national peace and reconciliation call for a full clarification of that crime.


2.          I assumed the Presidency in 1984, convinced that there had been a narrow but legitimate electoral triumph, with credentials that had been issued by the proper body, a conviction based on information then available to me, and which I still possess.  If there had been fraud, as now alleged by former high ranking government officials, then the vote should be recounted, and the results should be verified for the good of the nation.


The needs a constructive change toward effective democracy with justice and development in peace, with respect for the Constitution and through national reconciliation.  For that reason, I made the constructive change which was the central plank of our election campaign and the centerpiece of my administration’s program.  I also believe that this is the feeling of the Panamanian people today.  All of us Panamanians should selflessly help achieve this objective.  May God help us find the way!


(signed) N. Ardito Barletta


For his part, Colonel Roberto Días Herrera made the following statement on June 10, 1987:




10:00 a.m., Wednesday June 10, 1987.


Question:  Can you describe, from the beginning and in your own words, exactly when it was that the possibility of murdering Hugo Spadafora was first discussed, and everything that happened?  And once we know what happened in you own words, I would like to ask certain specific questions.  When was the first time that the possibility of murdering Hugo Spadafora came up in meetings with the guards?  Was there any discussion about this?


Reply:  I am going to be very specific about this.  Look, General Noriega complained to me at least twice, since he (Noriega) was G-2.  We were more or less on the same level–Lieutenant Colonels.  I had a personal friendship with Hugo Spadafora; a couple of times we went out together with our wives.  Anyway, at that time I was not in a position to put much pressure on him.


Question:  How long ago was that?


Reply:  From ’75 to ’78.  At that point, Hugo also made himself scarce, although I did see him a couple of times, and about four months prior to his death, he saw his wife at a store and sent me along regards.  He was with one of his daughters.  No when I arrive, really … well, a series of publications written by Hugo came out against him, in which Hugo accused him of very grave, serious things, and he began to lobby within the Chiefs of Staff saying that Hugo was a danger to national security, etc.  I heard these things.  Now, he was always had what I call a group, or a small team, for repression, for crimes …


Question:  And had this group already committed other crimes?  Had it already been established, and had it done other things prior to this affair?


Reply:  Well, in my opinion, that group has been involved in unresolved deaths, particularly that of Major Madriñan, and later, in the case of Hugo Spadafora, Major Córdoba, and even in this case, although I don’t have concrete evidence, but I have verbal confessions, in the case of Dr. Mauro Zúñiga, Major Trujillo, and other lower ranking officers.  When this happened, the first news I had of it, as Chief of Staff, was in the newspaper “La Prensa” which denounced it; but when they reported it to me, I made inquiries the night before, there was a dispatch signed by Colonel Ow Young, if memory serves me well, and I myself, hearing the dispatch when the G-2 gave me all the information to the effect that there was talk, and that it was going to appear in the newspaper “La Prensa,” that Hugo Spadafora had disappeared, etc., and that no such thing had happened and that they knew that he was on the other side.  Several things like that…


Question:  Do we know the date of that?


Reply:  I cannot place the date just now.  The news was published on the 15th (September, 1985).  Tuesday the 13th, the corpse was found on the 14th … but I really did not have information about this, until actually read about the death in the newspaper; I mean his …  Then since I was in charge of the Commander’s office, I first called Colonel Ow Young, who is the G-2.  He told me that he did not know anything.  I called Major Córdoba, who was in Chiriquí and I really interrogated him.  He told me that he did not know either and that Hugo Spadafora had not died in Chiriquí.  I called Major Madriñan, Chief of the DENI, who told me that Hugo Spadafora had not died in Chiriquí, that they did not know anything, since he had been up in Europe until the time the corpse was found in Costa Rica.  Then I checked, tried to check further, that he had been calling David, really, through this and that person and others in Chiriquí.  They were not calling me.  When I tried to contact a couple of times to give him the information, they kept telling that he was in a clinic.  That really made me suspicious, particularly because I was here, because he really was not a man who played clean, no.  I continued to put pressure on particularly Córdoba.  I summoned him to Panama, he made excuses, and he really tried to avoid coming, as per my orders, where he should be at time.  However, Córdoba had been one of his real favorites.  Naturally, I now understand that he was telling him “do not go to Panama, do not go to Díaz Herrera, and do not give him the information.”  Well, he did not give it to me; he felt much more protected, just like Madriñan.


After that, there was the Hoffman case.  When the Hoffman case occurred, Colonel called me; (it is good that I remembered it) and told me that they had sent a German who had a lot of information on the Hugo Spadafora case, but, that since I had more “feeling” than he–and there is something that I really remember now, very curious–he would have Inspector Demitilo Córdoba from the DENI bring him to me.  So I began to talk with this man.  I though he was a bit nervous.  Nevertheless, I thought that his nervousness was because of the type of statements that he was making.  And I really have to admit that I was completely taken in by the gentleman, who is a … anyway … I realize that he is a pathological liar, and the he had been involved with him for quite some time.  I was so taken in, that with Congressman Alfredo Oranges in my office, thinking that we really had a man who knew a great deal about the case, I had Oranges try to contact Winnie Spadafora when they were already on their way to Chitre, and I called the base in Rio Hato, the National Guard, Captain … .


With all these facts, and everything he said he knew about the crime against Spadafora, and all this malarkey that has been written around here, I have to say that they really fooled me.  I then tried to spare the Spadafora family further pain.  I though there was a man who was a key figure in the assassination, and with Alfredo Oranges, I tried to tell him that they’re sending him a message, and try to stop the Spadafora family, particularly Winnie, because there was a man.  Not only that, I also put the man on television, and I got this live, trying to avoid a massacre in the country, believing that we had a key piece, really but everything was really a bunch of malarkey, a trick, concocted by the very people who worked with General Noriega …  From that standpoint, he is the one that concocted all this, in order to try to get rid of a terrible enemy kept accusing him of things, during one of his trips to Europe, and any responsibility of he street or population (sic) (public opinion) would involve the responsibility that I had at the time …


Question:  Why were you there and …?


Reply:  Apparently in command, as I say, because really he has always given me limited commands:  in other words, he had contact with all the officers and …


Question:  In this group that committed crimes, can you name the individuals or persons who were in this group?


Reply:  Well, look, I would say that my most important link to the Spadafora case was when I realized that everything had been concocted in Chiriquí or most of the execution, the crime, under the direction of Major Córdoba and with subordinates who had been indicated, el Cholito, the other one … I do not know, “Bruce Lee” … since it was “Bruce Lee” who did the thing …  So I went back to Colonel Justine very worried–at least I was worried–I do not know about Colonel Justine.  At his office in Amador, I ordered to hand over those responsible, and he told me that he could not hand over Major Córdoba.  I then realized that he was protecting Major Córdoba.  I used a little strategy in my response.  I said “okay, at least hand over those who committed the crime, in other words those who physically committed the crime, who most likely were sergeants, corporals, or what-have-you, and I told him, “protect Córdoba if you want…”  But at that point I, too, am protecting myself from him, because I was so much as telling him “I know who you are,” and that was really dangerous.  So then I added: “…and after they have been officially implicated, man, in seven or eight months when the case is closed you send them to Israel–that is what I said to him–to you friend General Harari.  You give them money and let them go there and escape.”  But naturally I wanted to gain some time.  He said he was about to do so, but after he had more or less promised to do so, I left and I realized that he was doing exactly the opposite.


Because, naturally, he was involved, and could not hand over a small “fry,” because after the medium size fry there was a medium size piece, and from the small piece up.  It was at that point, I would say, that I tried to force the situation, so that at the levels involving the actual physical execution there might be some element.  With the explosive situation in Panama it might be very difficult for him to really prevent the whole thing from ballooning. (sic)


Question:  Delving a bit into the planning of the crime, was there any reason to believe that … in other words, what role did Noriega play in all of this, in the prior planning?  In other words, he went off to Europe, right, while the crime was being committed?  But prior to that, he had some sort of relationship with the group.  He gave direct orders.  What sort of relationship was it?


Reply:  I am not so clear about that specifically.  I assume he left a plan in operation, which has a lot to do with his ability to use electronic spying, and, ultimately with …  The type of connection that he has always had with certain police authorities in Costa Rica, who undoubtedly had been following Hugo there, and sending back information… And also paying them …  He pays out a lot for work abroad.


So he set up a plan, while abroad, and left the plan in motion.  I have no doubt that this is what happened, although I have no concrete evidence.  But, I am certain that this is what happened.


Question:  And were there any talks with Noriega afterwards about the crime in which he could somehow be implicated?


Reply:  No, no.  After I pressured him there in Amador and I realized that if he did not want to hand over anyone, either a corporal or a sergeant, it was because he himself was involved.  At that point I simply moved on to another subject because after all, I was not about to say to him that he was a criminal.


Question:  So, what I have heard around here is that you have implicated a group organized within the National Guard, in the assassination of Hugo Spadafora, and that this includes, at least, Colonel Córdoba …


Reply:  Major Córdoba.


Question:  … and other subordinates under him?  Are there others at his own level who …?


Reply:  Major Madriñan.  Captain del Cid.  Mario del Cid.


Question:  You are implicating them at least as officers, in the murder of Spadafora?  Secondly, did this group operate under orders from Noriega?


Reply:  Directly.  This group has always dealt directly with General Noriega.  Furthermore, it is a group that, as the other members of the Chiefs of Staff know–though they will not say so now–has never taken orders from anyone else.  It is a group totally, that is to say, almost completely independent of other members …


Question:  Within the National Guard?


Reply:  Yes, that is to say, they operate very freely because they have been adopted directly by General Noriega.


Question:  Did they have meetings, for example, directly with Noriega?


Reply:  It is a very closely knit group that even has drinks together, etc.  Major Córdoba is a real alcoholic, to such an extent that out of Chiriquí, in public, early in the morning, at 6:00 a.m. he began shooting a machine gun, and things of the sort.  So he must have other types of problems, the …


Question:  And your feeling that this group, including Major Córdoba, was responsible for the murder, was in part because of the chat, the talk that you had with him afterwards.  In other words, do we have here a recording of any conversation between you and Major Córdoba?  And if I remember what you said correctly, you are disposed to suspect the persons implicated.


Reply:  That is interesting.  Look.  Before the meeting in Amador–and it is good to bring this out–when I realized, calling Córdoba and asking him “What happened, what happened, what happened,” and he says, “no nothing,” and I learn that the crime was committed in Chiriquí, then I began to play another role with Córdoba, particularly because Noriega was not here in Panama.  So I said to him, “Okay, Córdoba, I already know what they did.  What happened then?  Tell me who the people are, so I can try to help.”  But at that point, he refused to give me any information, and what he began telling me afterwards was that he had put all of the pieces together.  So, this is very important.  Then I discovered that Córdoba was involved in the case, beyond a doubt.  This I discovered when General Noriega arrived, because General Noriega went from Europe to New York.  In New York, I said to hem “get back here.”  And it was at that point that what I told you just now happened, which only “La Prensa” reported shortly thereafter.  I really do not know where they got the information, because it was quite accurate.  I believe that it was from Guillermo Sánchez Borbón.  I planed to overthrow Noriega because of the Spadafora case, and when Colonel Castillo and Colonel Justine and I reached an agreement, in particular in recognizing that I could be sold out, but they, too, had an interest in trying to overthrow Noriega, not because of the Spadafora case but because of succession within the Institution.


However, from the tactical standpoint, I have very little mobilization capability.  All of the important commands were directly under General Noriega, as is the case now.  Well, that ‘s natural.  I myself took a chance with Major Palacios Góndola of the 2000th Battalion in Cimarrón.  I do not have to say why here; however, we have been on good terms and he is a wonderful person, and I ordered him to transfer the Battalion to Panama.  Half the Battalion.  I was expecting Castillo to react, because as G-3–Justine less, actually–however, as G-3 he was the one who had combat units at least formally under his orders.  Well, this is history now, but if I had been able to consolidate, especially with this one company that was guarding us, under the command of Captain Giroldi, who definitely was on the look out for me at all times.  That company provided us security in the area.  I wanted to have a counterweight in the area of the central barracks itself, to try even to provoke the situation, with Dr. Nicolás Ardito Marletta, who had and showed an interest at least as far as I could tell, in appointing an investigatory commission; that we would coordinate the presidency and engineer an internal (military) coup d’etat.  It really was not easy, and I was taking a tremendous risk.  Because he had troops there three kilometers into Amador, and these are the troops that have been trained by Israelis so they are really dangerous troops when sent on a mission.  And I was able to confirm this, because by a trick, fifteen days before I retired, I sent half of my escort to train there and I had them trained, actually, for the first time.  I used some story.  I told Colonel Castillo that I had a troop full of bums, and “restaurant diners,” and that I wanted to wear them down; I wanted them to be trained.  Oddly enough, they agreed.  At that point, Second Lieutenant Ochoa, who was the head of my escort and another eight men were trained for me, and I saw what their capability was, because in 15 days they really got them trained, although the training was not as intensive as what they got in Israel.


So, I knew by a telephone order from Captain Giroldi, the Urraca company would arrest me.  I could not let Major Palacios Góndola know this, because I did not want to involve him.  I did not know how he would react if I said to him “Look what we are trying to do is overthrow General Noriega.”  This was very difficult. Then he got nervous and called me for the first time saying:  “What’s going on?  Why are troops being moved?”  Then Justine got nervous, and Castillo said: “Well Colonel, what’s this about?  So what I said was “Look,” and here I was covering myself, “I am …” and since they have a certain respect for me–they have to because of my political capabilities–I said to them:  “Look, there’s going to be such a reaction in the street because of the Spadafora thing that we’ll have to have troops.  And we have to have somebody of higher rank at the central barracks.”  So I started toying with these two ideas, but I felt a great deal of anxiety.  Later, when I had him come from New York, he wanted to stay another night there, trying to buy time to see if things would get more complicated in Panama.  Most likely thinking that I would be brought to trial because I was the duty commandant, he wanted to take more time.  But then the fact that I had mobilized troops because I moved them by force, that is to say I brought pressure to bear, and Palacios Góndola listened to me–another Major did not and half the battalion left.  When I saw the degree of risk, I put part of this half battalion on traffic duty, under the orders of my brother-in-law, Major Sifiro.  That was protection as well, in order to have a few things there.  I transferred Major Palacios to the central barracks for a company.  But, at that point, I was that both Justine and Castillo were holding back.  So when Justine and Castillo began holding back, they took away my insurance policy and went into what here in Panama we call “Rifa Time,” in other words, in a desperate act in which you have to take some sort of decision.  And I took advantage of the situation for the sake of my survival as well as Dr. Barletta’s.  From the ethical standpoint, I had no qualms about this, because I myself had maintained that he and the judges were involved in fraud.  I then decided to call in several politicians such as Dr. Bethancourt, and President Del Valle himself, and some 20 or 30 persons.  I changed the thing because Nicolás Ardito Barletta was trying to overthrow General Noriega using the Spadafora case.  At that point, we went over the whole situation, and I began to pressure Dr. Barletta to leave when he arrived.  So, when he arrived here, what I did was change the direction of things and tell him Dr. Barletta was behind my movements.


Question:  So then, you are implicating the National Guard, specifically a group within the National Guard …?


Reply:  One group, one group, one group.  There were very many people who, like me, kid not know anything …


Question:  … Under the direct command of General Noriega in the death of Hugo Spadafora (sic).


Reply:  Who died in Panamanian territory, and you may report that to any international body.  I will stand by what I have said here.


Question:  Fine, fine.


Reply:  I declare that the foregoing statements constitute testimony concerning my knowledge with respect to the events that occurred surrounding the murder of Dr. Hugo Spadafora.


Panama, June 10, 1987.



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