From Hiding, Deposed Vice President Calls for Noriega’s Ouster With AM-Panama
PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) _ Panama’s ousted vice president called Sunday for armed guerrilla resistance to Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega if the nation’s military strongman tries to remain in power.
But Roderick Esquivel, in an interview with The Associated Press at his hideout, predicted that Noriega, because of mounting U.S. economic pressure, would be forced to flee the country in a week.
″The Panamanian people’s vocation for peace is less than its vocation for liberty and democracy,″ said Esquivel, who was removed from office on Feb. 26 along with President Eric Arturo Delvalle.
Both men were ousted by the national legislature a day after Delvalle tried to fire Noriega as the head of Panama’s 15,000-member Defense Forces.
Esquivel said he and Delvalle have been moving from house to house for the past 10 days to avoid arrest.
″Fortunately, I have many good friends,″ he said.
The interview, the first given to an American correspondent, was granted on condition that his location not be divulged.
Esquivel said the people supported the economic squeeze being applied on Panama by the United States.
″The entire population is prepared to suffer economic hardship. And in a second phase, they are ready to sacrifice their lives,″ he said.
If Noriega tries to ride out the storm, he added, ″democracy must be obtained by fighting for it.″
He said a rudimentary guerrilla infrastructure was already in place but did not elaborate.
His lawyer, Oscar Ucros who was present during the interview, said, ″The biggest problem the leaders of the opposition parties have right now is restraining their young people who want to take to the streets with arms.″
Esquivel, a physician and a member of the Liberal Party, said there were ″big cracks″ in the unity of the Defense Forces.
″There are a great number of officers who are not disposed to participate in corruption, especially this type of narcotics traffic. Panama is a small country and they (the officers) have children growing up here,″ he said.
Noriega was indicted last month in Florida on drug trafficking charges. He has denied those accusations.
Esquivel called for the formation of a goverment of national unity headed by Delvalle, who the United States still recognizes as Panama’s legitimate leader. The unity government, he said, would include representatives of all political parties and the National Civic Crusade.
The Crusade, an alliance of some 200 professional, business, labor and political groups, has spearheaded opposition against Noriega since its formation last June.
Esquivel said such a government would include members of the military, which he said would be purged with the aid of honest officers.
″There are lots of corrupt civilians, too,″ he said. ″So there would also be a purge of civilians.″
Asked about a possible replacement of Noriega that might leave the balance of power in the hands of corrupt officers, he replied, ″It is not a matter of simply changing faces. We must dismantle an entire apparatus.″
Esquivel and Delvalle had been bitterly divided over government policy in the months before they were ousted.
Esquivel had criticized the government’s closure of opposition news media. He also had accused the government of human rights abuses and said he had been treated as a pariah in the Cabinet.
But since they were deposed, Esquivel said he has been in telephone contact with Delvalle, who he said was with a Panamanian family on Panamanian soil.
″I gave him my unqualified support, which I think is the right thing for all opponents of the current regime to do,″ he said.
Esquivel said Delvalle sounded to him ″as if, by finally taking action against Noriega, he had relieved himself of a great burden.″
The chief of the Defense Forces is considered the real power behind the government in this nation with a population of 2.2 million.