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Volume 14, Number 13
July 13, 2008

news

Also in this section:
Varela slate wins Panameñista primary
Some details disputed, others indisputable in liberation of FARC hostages
While terrorist angle gets the most press play, cancellation of pardons casts bigger shadow
Dictatorship accused of throwing illegal migrants out of helicopters

Assembly gives Torrijos power to reorganize police and security agencies by decree
Protesting parents pierce Internet firewall over China school collapse
A campaign slogan to remember
Ngobe Comarca community blockaded after school protest
Panama News Briefs

Ex-soldier faces probe for tossing people out of PDF helicopters
by Eric Jackson, from other media

A story based on an investigation by La Prensa, which relied on five unidentified former Panama Defense Forces members as sources, alleges that in 1982 and 1983 former Major Luis "Papo" Córdoba, at the time a captain heading the PDF garrison in Darien province, ordered the summary killings of at least 20 illegal immigrants, mostly Colombians, mostly by throwing them out of helicopters over the Gulf of San Miguel or the jungle. None of the names of these people had previously figured in human rights groups' or the Truth Commission's lists of the dictatorship's victims, as there was nobody in Panama to complain of their disappearances.

After the 1989 invasion 
Córdoba, having been in the meantime transferred to Chiriqui province and promoted to colonel, was tried on a number of charges and convicted of the 1984 kidnapping and murder of farmer Edwin Amaya. In a higher profile case he was acquitted in the kidnapping / torture / murder / decapitation of dissident Hugo Spadafora, although the victim was last seen being taken off of a bus by soldiers under Córdoba's command. The brutality of the Spadafora murder set off a series of protests that caused the dictatorship to lose control of political events in Panama, although it managed to hold onto power until the US intervention. Córdoba was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the Amaya murder but obtained an early release from the Torrijos administration when it took office in 2004.

Although PRD-aligned judges have sometimes ruled that in a murder case where the body is never found there is a statute of limitations that applies --- the theory being that although there is no limitation on the time to bring a murder case, there is in a disappearance --- the Public Ministry says that it will open a criminal investigation about the 1982 and 1983 death flights. In a few of the alleged summary execution of illegal migrants La Prensa reported that the bodies were buried in the jungle and it might be possible to recover some remains. It's unlikely that any trace of the people thrown from the PDF's US-supplied Huey helicopters will ever be found.

Throwing people out of helicopters to their deaths had by various published accounts its precedents among US forces during the Vietnam War, but there were never any trials, let alone any convictions, for such alleged war crimes against Vietnamese prisoners. During South America's "dirty wars" of the 1970s and 1980s the practice was adopted by the Chilean and Argentine forces, and there are former members of Argentina's Navy who are serving prison terms for this.

Papo Córdoba, who has made no public response to the allegations, is now an Evangelical preacher in Tocumen.



Also in this section:
Varela slate wins Panameñista primary
Some details disputed, others indisputable in liberation of FARC hostages
While terrorist angle gets the most press play, cancellation of pardons casts bigger shadow
Dictatorship accused of throwing illegal migrants out of helicopters
Assembly gives Torrijos power to reorganize police and security agencies by decree
Protesting parents pierce Internet firewall over China school collapse
A campaign slogan to remember
Ngobe Comarca community blockaded after school protest
Panama News Briefs

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