President Names Cabinet Giving More Voice to Military
PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) _ Panama’s civilian president has named a new Cabinet that gives more influence to the military-backed coalition that helped bring him to power.
An opposition leader charged Sunday the changes amounted to a virtual military takeover of President Nicolas Ardito Barletta’s troubled seven-month- ol d government.
The president’s Cabinet resigned last Friday, touching off intense political maneuverings and rumors of a coup.
A brief communique issued Sunday by the presidential press office described the new 12-member Cabinet - which includes six hold-overs from the previous government - as ″more representative″ of the parties that backed Barletta’s candidacy in elections here last year.
Jorge Abadia Arias, a leading official of the powerful Democratic Revolutionary Party, was designated foreign minister.
His party, which was founded by late Panamanian strongman Gen. Omar Torrijos, is widely believed to have prompted the shake-up in government because of its discontent with Barletta’s handling of Panama’s deepening economic crisis.
Ricaurte Vasquez, who has served for the past seven months as this debt- plagued nation’s chief negotiator in talks with the International Monetary Fund and commercial creditors, retained his post as minister of planning and economic policy.
Unemployment has been estimated as high as 40 percent in some areas. In addition, principal payments on the country’s $3.8 billion foreign debt have been suspended since the beginning of the year.
Sunday’s communique, read by presidential spokeswoman Migdalia Fuentes, said the new Cabinet would take the ″actions and responsibilities required to overcome the acute fiscal and economic situation and to execute programs of national development.″
The Cabinet announcement came on the eve of a demonstration by opposition groups on the first anniversary of Barletta’s election. The opposition claims the president won his narrow victory by fraud.
Ricardo Arias Calderon, one of the organizers of today’s planned demonstration, termed events over the weekend as ″the end of Barletta’s administration″ and ″the beginning of another administration, the administration of General Noriega.″
Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, commander of the military that ruled Panama until Barletta’s election, is considered the undisputed power behind the Democratic Revolutionary Party as well as several smaller parties in Barletta’s coalition government.
Arias Calderon, president of Panama’s Christian Democratic Party and an opposition candidate for vice president in the last elections, said all but two of Barletta’s new Cabinet ministers were hand-picked by the military and ″will answer to military leadership″ instead of to their civilian president.