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Legislature Nominates Noriega Ally for Canal Administrator

June 30, 1989

PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) _ The legislature Thursday nominated Tomas Altamirano Duque, a newspaper publisher and friend of de facto leader Gen. Manuel Noriega, as the administrator of the Panama Canal.

But Panamanian and American sources expressed doubts Altamirano Duque will get the approval of the U.S. Senate to head the Panama Canal Commission, which is a U.S. federal agency.

Under treaties signed by the two countries in 1977 turning sovereignty of the waterway over to Panama, a Panamanian citizen is to be the canal administrator as of Jan. 1, 1990. But the candidate, after being nominated by Panama, must have the consent of the U.S. Senate.

″If they don’t like me, they can fire me,″ said Altamirano Duque told reporters after the legislature voted 42-0, with 13 abstentions, to nominate him over four other candidates.

″I am not anti-American and I am not a Communist. The U.S. has a great people that believe in democracy, but sometimes its governent goes down a different path,″ he added. ″The U.S. should have no objection, but if it opposes it, it will be another violation of the treaties.″

Altamirano Duque, 55, is a prominent businessman, former Cabinet member and publisher of La Estrella, Panama’s biggest newspaper. He is also is a longtime legislator for the ruling Revolutionary Democratic Party and holds a business administration degree from the University of Florida.

A visa he had to travel to the United States was revoked by the embassy in September, ostensibly because of his friendship with Noriega and other top military officers who hold power.

Another obstacle apparently is that the Bush administration does not recognize acting president Manuel Solis Palma’s government and insists ousted President Eric Arturo Delvalle is Panama’s legitimate president.

Noriega was indicted by federal grand juries in Florida on drug smuggling and money laundering charges in February 1988. A few days later, Delvalle fired Noriega as chief of the Defense Forces.

But Noriega, who controlled a majority of congressmen, had the legislature fire Delvalle instead and named Solis Palma, then the education minister, acting president.

Since then, efforts by the U.S. to oust Noriega, including economic sanctions against Panama, have failed to budge him from power.

The commission, created to administer the canal until the year 2000 when Panama takes over the waterway, has an American administrator - currently Dennis McAuliffe - and a Panamanian deputy administrator.

The deputy administrator, Fernando Manfredo, was considered a strong candidate whom the United States would have approved without reservations.

But Panamanian government identifies Manfredo too much with U.S. interests, and he received no votes when his name was proposed in the legislature.

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