Panama - Unavailable
Cuna Indian mola design of a United States
Air Force airplane
ACCORDING TO the 1983 amended version of the 1972 Constitution
of the Republic of Panama, the national defense and public security
of the country are the responsibility of the Panama Defense Forces
(Fuerzas de Defensa de Panamá--FDP). Before the FDP was created in
1983, a paramilitary organization called the National Guard had
handled national security functions. After the 1968 military coup
that brought General Omar Torrijos Herrera to power, the National
Guard became the dominant political institution in the country.
This legacy of military involvement in politics continued after
Torrijos's death in 1981, even though the political system was
ostensibly transformed from a military dictatorship into a civilian
democracy, and the National Guard replaced by the FDP.
Negotiation of the Panama Canal treaties during the late 1970s
led to changes in Panama's national security system. When the Canal
Zone was integrated into the republic, people began to think of
their country as a single territorial entity. This changed attitude
was reflected in the military segments of the National Guard, which
moved to make the institution less a police force and more a true
national army capable of defending the expanded national territory.
The implementation agreements of the treaties referred to the
"Panamanian Armed Forces," rather than to "Panama's police force"
or "Panama's paramilitary force," as had been done in the past.
Transformation of the National Guard into a national army was
accomplished in 1983, when legislation was passed creating the FDP.
The treaties also stimulated creation of a national army by
reducing United States responsibility in Panama. Since the early
1900s, the armed forces of the United States had provided the
primary defense of the Canal Zone and, in effect, of Panama itself.
The treaties mandate cooperation and coordination in the protection
and defense of the canal until December 31, 1999, when the United
States is to withdraw its troops. After 1999 Panama will be fully
responsible for the operation, but the United States will continue
to share responsibility for the defense of the canal.
By the mid-1980s, the strength of the FDP was estimated at
around 15,000, including the Ground Forces, composed of infantry
battalions and companies equivalent in size to a small army or
United States infantry brigade. Other major segments were the
Panamanian Air Force, National Navy, Police Forces, and National
Guard. The FDP was theoretically administered through the Ministry
of Government and Justice; there was no ministry of defense.
Internal security problems, however, grew in the 1980s. By 1987
widespread concern over the lack of democratic institutions had
generated major challenges to government authority. The integrity
of the Panamanian system of justice was broadly questioned as well
as the personal ethics of highly placed government officials.
Newspapers in Panama and the United States reported widespread drug
trafficking within the country and implicated the FDP. Panama was
alleged to be both a transshipment point for the movement of drugs
from South America to North America and a banking haven for
laundering funds. The volume of such activity was not documented,
however. In response to a general strike and widespread public
disturbances, the government declared a state of emergency
(subsequently lifted) and temporarily suspended articles of the
Constitution guaranteeing basic rights such as freedom of speech
Data as of December 1987