REPORT OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION
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.
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.
A. Hugo Spadafora Franco
An energetic opponent of the Government of Panama; active in democratic
movements in panama and other countries.
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
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.
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
During the bus trip in Panamanian territory, he was seen by several
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.
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.
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,
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,
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).
petitioners respectfully request that the Commission:
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.
Recommend that the Government of Panama order a thorough and impartial
investigation of the individuals responsible for the murder, so that they may be
Recommend that the Government of Panama inform the Commission of the
measures taken within 60 days following the resolution.
Resolve to take whatever other measures it deems appropriate.
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.
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
The Government has violated the provisions of the American Convention
on Human Rights.
The Government is responsible for the arbitrary arrest, torture, and
murder of Hugo Spadafora.
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.
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).
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
On January 14, 1986, the Commission reiterated to the Government of
Panama the request it first conveyed on October 8, 1986.
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
In a note dated February 24, 1987, the Government of Panama pointed out
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.
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.
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.
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
MADE BY DR. NICOLAS ARDITO BARLETTA
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 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.
I continue to hold the belief that national peace and
reconciliation call for a full clarification of that crime.
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
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!
N. Ardito Barletta
For his part, Colonel Roberto Días Herrera made the following statement on June 10, 1987:
STATEMENT BY COLONEL ROBERTO DIAZ HERRERA
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
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
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
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
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?
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?
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
Reply: Yes, that is to say,
they operate very freely because they have been adopted directly by General
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
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.
(R) ROBERTO DIAZ HERRERA