20 de Mar de 2023


Torrijos and the revolution

On October 11, 1968, for the first time in the history of the country a military junta replaced the President of the Republic.

On October 11, 1968, for the first time in the history of the country a military junta replaced the President of the Republic.

Arnulfo Arias Madrid was overthrown by a members of the National Defense Force headed by Major Boris Martínez and the Lieutenant Colonel Omar Torrijos Herrera.

The “provisional government” was replaced by a series of generals starting with Omar Torrijos and finishing with Manuel Antonio Noriega.

According to the lawyer, Guillermo A. Cochez the coup was a consequence of the fear the military has of Arnulfo Arias. He was planning to separate the arm forces chiefs to avoid being overthrown again like it happened to him in 1941 and 1951.

Arias asked for the resignation of the general Bolivar Vallarino and appointed Omar Torrijos, who was then executive secretary of the Arm Forces headquarters as Military Attaché of Panama in El Salvador. He removed Federico Boyd from the powerful Panama Viejo barracks and appointed Luis Carlos Duque a Panamanian, resident in Argentina as head of the Arm Forces.

The chiefs were not happy with changes and Mayor Boris Martinez with other officers decided to get rid off Arias Madrid.

Later on, a fight for the power started between Martínez and Torrijos, that lasted for several months, until Martínez was exiled to Miami.

A group of civilian worked together with the militaries, while others were opposed to the so called “revolutionary process by 1969, Torrijos had the complete control of the country and was promoted to general.

During that period many of Arnulto Arias Madrid supporters were incarcerated as enemies of the state, eventually they were liberated after a time of instability.

Torrijos became friends with the them dictator of Nicaragua, Anastacio Somoza. Later he looked for alliances with local Marxists, who eventually got him in contact with Fidel Castro and the communists in Cuba. His business venture created a new cast of rich people.

At that time Torrijos made famous the slogan: “We are not with the right or the left, we are with Panama.”

The general changed the constitution to make legal the new military regime, who was disguised as a legitimate one thanks to the appointment of civilians to the Presidency of the Republic.

In 1979, the Revolutionary Democratic Party was created under the Torrijos Carter Treaty. The United States insisted that Panama needed a more open democracy and political freewill.

Perhaps one of the best accomplishment of the Torrijos era from 1969 to 1981 when he died in a airplane accident, was that he managed for the United States to give back the Panama Canal to the Panamanians.

Cochez said in his article “Revolución o Involución” (Revolution or Involution?) that within the framework of the 1968 revolution many doors were opened to those sectors of the population that until then were closed to them.

The peasants were able to send their children to university and people living in slums were given housing in newly constructed apartment buildings, but said Cochez, they came hand to hand with corruption.

Roberto Díaz Herrera in his article “The Torrijismo and beyond”, described Torrijos as a social man with an obsession of wanting to help the poor at any cost.

The military era is surrounded by accusations of death squads and people who vanished in thin air, apart from the constant air of repression that reigned during that time.

Cochez said that the negotiations with the United States regarding the canal took a high toll. A referendum to decide if the treaty should be ratified, also perpetuated the military regime and made it legal.

“Torrijos name was also related to the Colombian Mafia and its founder Santiago Ocampo Zuluaga,” said Cochez.

The military regime was a somber time for many Panamanian who did not have the opportunity to express their opinions without fear for their lives or for their families.

Many Panamanians went into voluntary exile rather than have to live in a country that did not have respect for human rights or freedom of speech.

Since that time, many things have changed, but we still carry the legacy of Torrijos through the Revolutionary Democratic Party, the structure of the National Assembly and of course the constitution.

Currently Panama is beginning to learn how to handle democracy and a new generation of politicians is beginning to emerge.

The October 11 1968 coup is part of our history and we are what we are because of our past that eventually will shape a more promising future.