Deafening silence by Panamanian mainstream media about file 'too hot to handle.'
An extensive case file, dating back to 1985, was distributed April 6th among the Panamanian media. The contents (sworn statements, court records, correspondence between the various judicial authorities as well as the armed forces and the police) describe a case in which four Colombian narco traffickers came to Panama in an attempt to get back a shipment of 500 kilos of cocaine that had allegedly been stolen from them by Floyd Carlton and Teofilo Watson, both pilots of General Noriega at the time. In order to find Watson, they kidnapped his wife and several children. Several statements include PRD Presidential candidate Martin Torrijos as being involved in this kidnap. The names of the Colombians are Abelardo Camelo Cardenas, Diego Berrio Castaņo, Dario Augusto Rua Alvares and Mario de Jesus Castro.
Apart from a little blurb in La Critica, all Panamanian media have maintained a strict omerta about the case for almost a week now.
In their attempts to recoup the lost cocaine shipment, the Colombians received the help of various Panamanians, among which Raul Mata Zuņiga and Dolando "Salsa" Flores, it is stated in the file.
A summary of the case, which reads like a script of something between a thriller and a wild west movie, relates how on June 30st, 1985, this Colombian-Panamanian group grabbed the wife of Teofilo Watson, Judy Hidalgo de Watson, and her little daughter as well as two brothers, all minors. They were then taken to a private estate in Isla Verde where Judy de Watson was interrogated about the whereabouts of her husband. To emphasize the seriousness of the matter, they simulated the execution of Watson's daughter outside while Judy de Watson was interrogated inside the house, firing a round of machine gunfire.
The kidnappers indicated to Mrs. Watson that they had powerful connections in Panama which included the son of General Omar Torrijos, Martin Torrijos. And indeed, when the kidnappers and their victims arrived at the estate, they met there with Eric Abrego and his wife, as well as with Martin Torrijos and his fiancé, says the summary.
Before arriving at the estate in Isla Verde however, the cars of the kidnappers got stuck in the mud, and Raul Mata Zuņiga went for help. He returned with Martin Torrijos' car, a red Nissan Patrol. When after many efforts the cars were released from the mud, the group went to the house where they met with Martin Torrijos, Eric Abrego, and their company.
Torrijos and Abrega left shortly thereafter, and were not present during the interrogation and when the shots were fired, according to several statements in the file.
Later on, the victims were released by their kidnappers who then continued their search in Chiriqui for the two pilots Floyd Carlton and Teofilo Watson. However, this time the Colombians were captured, by the police, for not carrying documents and locked up in the police station of David, the capital of Chiriqui.
Enters the scene Martin Torrijos again. According to testimony by Raul Mata Zuņiga and Agustin Bedoya, Torrijos actively participated in efforts to get the four Colombians released, by making for example phone calls to a Mr. Romulo Abad, who was a good friend of mayor Cordoba of David.
According to the statement given by Major Augustin Bedoya Garcia, the Panamanian side of the whole group knew each other well, and would frequent the house of Martin Torrijos, conversing about subjects such as "how is the operation going," "how is the estate doing," and how business was going.
One of the Colombians, Abelardo Camelo Cardenas, was convicted in 1993 in Costa Rica on drug trafficking charges.
The case file also contains a sworn statement by Martin Torrijos himself. In that statement, which directly contradicts various other statements of those involved, Torrijos admits that he lend his Nissan Patrol and later arranged for a tractor to release the kidnappers' cars from the mud, but denies to have been involved in any other way with the kidnappers and their efforts.
It is unclear why the Panamanian mainstream media have so far refused to pay attention to the case or at least make the documents available. As a result, this web site is the only place where you can find some of the documents:
Statement of one of the Colombians involved, a Mario de Jesus Castro, who also mentions Martin Torrijos: PDF file
There is another statement of Raul Mata Zuņiga in which he relates how Martin tried to get the Colombians liberated when they were captured in David, and how Colonel Diaz Herrera told Martin to "stay out of this matter." The quality is too low for scanning though.
Update 2005: This story was first published on April 12th, 2004, not too long before presidential elections. Since then, it turned out that Arnulfista legislator Blandon had leaked the file to the press. Blandon was the lawyer of one of the other suspects, Zuņiga, involved in the case. Even so, the information in the file was important enough to justify a thorough journalistic investigation, yet not one of the corporate mainstream media outlets touched it.
For some time, this website received more traffic than those of the Panamanian papers because of this article. A week later, we were contacted by Major Augustin Bedoya Garcia, who told us that the statements were given under pressure because Noriega wanted his drugs back at all cost. He did not explain if he had been pressured to include Martin Torrijos in his statements and why.
As we all know, Torrijos won the elections. He appointed Col. Diaz Herrera, who at one point reportedly told him to stay out of the narco case, as ambassador in Peru. The ex-mayor of David, "Papo" Cordoba, also mentioned in the story, was recently given a sentence reduction and freed. Raul Mata Zuņiga moved to Hamburg after Torrijos appointed his wife as the consul there, and then Noriega's daughter Sandra was appointed in a diplomatic position in the Dominican Republic. To top it off, The former wife of Teofilo Watson - the kidnap victim - was given a job with ARI.