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Coup Leader’s Widow Said U.S. Promised Support, Then Delayed With PM-US-Panama, Bjt

October 13, 1989

MIAMI (AP) _ The U.S. military’s cautious attitude toward coup leaders in Panama stalled vital aid at a key moment, according to the widow of the failed rebellion’s leader.

Adela Bonilla de Giroldi, who fled Panama with the rest of her family after her husband, Maj. Moises Giroldi, was killed by troops loyal to Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, served as an initial go-between for rebels and U.S. authorities.

When Maj. Giroldi seized Noriega’s headquarters and detained the general on Oct. 3, his aide, Capt. Javier Licona, tried to use a phone number U.S authorities had given them for emergencies, Mrs. Giroldi said Thursday. But U.S. officials on the other end balked, she said.

″They stuck by the book. When Capt. Licona asked for help, they had to investigate if he was Capt. Licona, and if he was, how could he prove it,″ she said. ″It would have taken his mama, his papa and everyone else to prove he was Capt. Licona.″

Licona was forced to leave the military headquarters and travel a few miles to Fort Clayton for U.S. authorities to accept his identity. Once at Fort Clayton, he called army headquarters to talk to Giroldi, but Noriega’s troops already were taking control, Mrs. Giroldi said.

″A lot of time was lost,″ she said, blaming the delay on ″the bureaucracy that exists within the (U.S.) Army - they stick to the book.″

Licona remained at Fort Clayton and later flew to the United States with other refugees. He is the highest-ranking member of the conspiracy to survive the coup attempt. He has been unavailable to reporters.

U.S. authorities have defended their decision to refrain from actively supporting the revolt, in part because they were unclear about the rebellion’s goals. One U.S. goal has been to have Noriega extradited to the United States to face drug charges; the coup plotters apparently planned only to retire Noriega, not to extradite him.

A sergeant who was involved in the coup and was among those who reached the United States afterward told The New York Times that he never heard Giroldi speak of killing Noriega or turning him over to the United States.

″He was too strict a military officer to do anything like that,″ the sergeant, a member of Giroldi’s battalion, was quoted as saying in today’s Times.

Mrs. Giroldi said she made first contact with U.S. authorities on Oct. 1, two days before the coup, when a friend arranged for her to meet an Army colonel at the friend’s home.

″What my husband wanted was for them to overfly air force bases ... so that no one could leave, and also to close off the roads″ around the headquarters, she said.

The colonel made arrangements with two civilian-clad Americans, who then met privately with her husband while she waited outside. After the meeting, without revealing details, Giroldi said that the coup would be Oct. 3.

″My husband told me they made an agreement,″ she said. ″He told me there were no problems, we were going ahead, and that everything would turn out well.″

She did not place all the blame for the coup’s failure on the United States, however, saying the worst betrayal came from other Panamanian officers, especially Maj. Federico Oleochoa.

Oleochoa initially cooperated with the coup - for example, by allowing Licona to leave the army headquarters during the coup to go to Fort Clayton - but then switched sides, she said.

Mrs. Giroldi strongly disputed statements made by Noriega in interviews published Thursday saying that the plotters had been promised or received money from the United States.

″If they had paid the sum of $1 million, where is it?″ she said.

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