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Businessman Leaves Panama to Seek Support for Opposition

June 16, 1987

PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) _ A prominent businessman and former ambassador to the United States says he has left Panama after receiving threats from the military, and plans to begin a tour calling for the ouster of the country’s military leaders.

Gabriel Lewis Galindo met Monday with political leaders in Costa Rica in what he said was the start of his campaign. He said he was working with the newly-formed National Civic Crusade, an organization of Panamanian business, political and church representatives that is calling on citizens to conduct civil disobedience.

Most banks and stores in Panama City reopened Monday and the streets filled with traffic. Shops had closed during street demonstrations last week to demand removal of Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega and other leaders.

Stores had stayed closed as part of the civil disobedience campaign begun after the government on Thursday declared a state of emergency that suspended constitutional rights, including the freedoms of expression and assembly.

Lewis Galindo, who was ambassador to the United States under Gen. Omar Torrijos in 1977, told reporters in Costa Rica that he left Panama over the weekend after he was threatened by the military and suffered ill treatment.

He did not provide details, but said the mistreatment included destruction of his Isthmus Bank. The bank was open on Monday.

Lewis Galindo called on Noriega to leave the country.

″Democracy will triumph, not rifles, and Gen. Noriega will fall at any moment,″ he said.

Lewis Galindo said he also plans to visit Colombia, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Spain and the United States.

Noriega said at a news conference in David, Panama, on Sunday that LLewis Galindo would have no problem returning home.

Panama’s ambassador to Costa Rica, David Pere, said at a news conference that Lewis Galindo ″is part of a conspiracy that seeks to destabilize the Panamanian government.″

″Information I have from Panama says Lewis Galindo had frequented officials of the Defense Forces to propose a coup d’etat against President (Eric) Delvalle and against General Noriega,″ Pere said.

The unrest in Panama flared after Col. Roberto Diaz Herrera, recently retired head of the joint chiefs of staff, said that Noriega was linked to the death of Torrijos and an opposition leader, and election fraud.

Noriega succeeded Torrijos, who died in a 1981 plane crash, as leader of the armed forces and the power behind the government.

Such charges were made earlier, but never by anyone high in the military or the government.

Noriega denies the charges and says they were trumped up in part by conservative sectors in the United States that do not want to transfer control of the canal at the end of 1999, as called for under 1977 treaties.

Panamanian soldiers on Monday briefly detained an editor and an employee of the opposition newspaper La Prensa.

La Prensa and two other opposition newspapers, El Siglo and La Extra, have refused to publish since Friday rather than submit articles about the unrest to government censors under the state of emergency.

Update hourly