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Diplomat, Citing “Corruption,” Breaks with Noriega

February 12, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A senior Panamanian diplomat broke with his country’s military-dominated government Friday, declaring he could no longer in good conscience serve a regime stained by ″corruption, illigitimacy and dishonesty.″

Lawrence Chewning Fabrega, minister counselor at Panama’s mission to the Organization of American States here, told a news conference his decision to resign was triggered by a speech he was ordered to give at an OAS ceremony on Wednesday.

Chewning had said in the speech that the Reagan administration was attempting to overthrow the Panamanian government and was waging a campaign of ″moral and economic aggresion″ against Panama.

″These remarks were not written by me, nor did they represent the way I feel or think,″ Chewning said, adding that they were prepared by Panama’s ambassador to the OAS, Roberto Leyton, and the Panamanian Foreign Ministry.

Chewning’s resignation followed an extraordinary week in which Panamanian strongman Manuel Antonio Noriega was indicted by two federal grand juries in Florida on drug-related charges and was accused by former associates before a congressional panel of engaging in an array of corrupt activities.

Speaking through a translator at OAS headquarters, Chewning said: ″My conscience, my dignity and my deep religious beliefs prevent me from continuing to be used as an instrument of a government characterized by corruption, illigitimacy and dishonesty.″

Panama’s OAS mission had no statement on Chewning’s resignation, and Ambassador Leyton was not available for comment. Gabriel Lewis, a former Panamanian ambassador who has been lobbying in Washington against Noriega’s rule, said Chewning’s resignation proves there are ″worthy individuals″ in the Panamanian government who refuse to continue supporting Noriega.

Chewning said he did not resign on the day of the OAS ceremony because he felt it was inappropriate, given the nature of the event. The occasion was the formal incorporation of West Germany into an international agreement designed to guarantee the neutrality of the Panama Canal once the waterway comes under Panamanian control in the year 2000.

In his speech Wednesday, Chewning had said the United States, in pursuing a hostile attitude toward the Panamanian government, was attempting to evade its treaty pledge to relinquish control over the canal.

On Friday, he said he believes the United States will faithfully comply with its commitments.

Chewning said he was not seeking political asylum in the United States and was confident he would not be the target of reprisals by the Panamanian government.

He will be ineligible to remain in this country because his visa allowing him to remain here is valid only so long as he maintained his status as a diplomat. He said he has about a month to decide what to do in the future.

Chewning, 46, served in the OAS post for a year and a half. He previously had worked in Panama’s Foreign Ministry, its embassy in Belgium and its embassy in Washington accredited to the U.S. government.

He and his wife are expecting their fourth child.

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