The General Staff
Article 36 of the 1983 law stated that "The commander in chief
of the Defense Forces . . . will have an advisory body
comprised of officers with the rank of general, colonel, and
lieutenant colonel." This advisory body was called the General
Staff and its members were appointed by the commander in chief. The
primary task assigned to the General Staff was to help the
commander in chief with planning in the areas of military
operations, training, and administration.
The structure of the General Staff of the FDP was inherited
from its predecessor, the National Guard. The General Staff was
structured is approximately the same way as a United States Army
staff at division level or above. The basic similarity was in the
section breakdown, that is, G-1, Personnel; G-2, Intelligence; G-3,
Operations; G-4, Logistics; and G-5, Civic Action. There were a
chief of staff and two deputy chiefs of staff, who obviously
occupied positions of extreme importance within this highly
centralized command structure. In June 1987, the position of vice
chief of staff was spilt into two new positions: the deputy chief
of staff for ground matters, who served concurrently as G-3, and
the deputy chief of staff for aviation matters, who also occupied
the G-5 position. The chief of staff, deputy chiefs of staff, and
assistant chiefs were all full colonels.
In addition to the General Staff, there were two other
structures at the level of the general command. There was a Special
General Staff that incorporated the War Material Services, Military
Health Battalion, Communications Section, General Services,
Chaplaincy, and Public Relations. There was also a Personal General
Staff supplying advice to the commander in chief on an "as needed"
basis. The Personal General Staff included five sections: Economic
Affairs, Judicial Affairs, International Affairs, Political
Affairs, and National Security Affairs. The Personal General Staff
seemed to institutionalize the involvement of the FDP in a wide
range of civilian policy matters--an involvement that can be traced
back to the days when Torrijos commanded the National Guard.
Noriega commented that the new staff structure initiated with
passage of the 1983 law furthered the goal of "performing our
mission more effectively and realistically in conformance with the
geopolitical situation from which Panama cannot escape . . . . "
and pointed to "the formation of a new Personal General
Staff of the Commander . . . ." This staff functioned in
essence as an in-house National Security Council.
Data as of December 1987