Ex-Panamanian official links LaRouche to Noriega

Loudoun Times-Mirror Staff Writer

"Blandon said Noriega sent cash donations to the LaRouche organization in the United States, utilizing the military attache in the Panamanian embassy and other officials to make the deliveries."

FEBRUARY 4, 1988--A former high-ranking member of the Panamanian government said in an interview with the Loudoun Times-Mirror Feb. 2 that Panamanian strongman Gen. Manuel Noriega ordered the murder of an opposition leader and then provided the Lyndon LaRouche organization with a report on the murder prepared by Panamanian intelligence, which LaRouche publications--including Executive Intelligence Review--used to blame the murder on others.

In return for the favorable press and other stories which attacked Noriega's enemies, including Sen. Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina), Jose I. Blandon, who served as the Panamanian consul to New York, said Noriega sent cash donations to the LaRouche organization in the United States, utilizing the military attache in the Panamanian embassy and other officials of the Panamanian government to make the deliveries.

LaRouche spokesman Dana Scanlon denied the allegations, which may resurface when Blandon testifies before Congress.

Members of the Panamanian exile community now living in the United States because of death threats in their home country say a military dictator has made the country a safe haven for arms dealers and drug traffickers, while suspending civil liberties and shutting down the free press. Instead, they say, the government-controlled newspapers carry front-page articles with headlines such as "LaRouche Congratulates the Regime" and news stories provided by LaRouche's Executive Intelligence Review News Service (EIRN), which was named in a Virginia indictment for selling unregistered securities and banned from the practice by the State Corporation Commission (SCC).

At the center of the storm is Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, commander of Panama's defense forces and the country's de facto ruler, and the organization of Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr.

Noriega is also the subject of a federal grand jury's investigation in Miami, Fla., where he may be indicted within the week on charges of racketeering, gun-running and drug-smuggling, according to the Jan. 30 edition of The Miami Herald, which said the grand jury was also investigating a relationship between Noriega and Fidel Castro, leader of communist Cuba.

Blandon said Feb. 2 that while Noriega's spokesmen have said the general never visited Panama [misprint: should read "never visited Cuba"--DK], he provided the grand jury with a picture of Noriega, Castro and a representative of a Colombian drug cartel which was operating in Panama after bribing Noriega. The picture, he said, was taken in Cuba.

The lone voices in Noriega's defense have been the government-controlled Panamanian newspapers, Noriega's spokesmen and the publications of LaRouche, the perennial presidential candidate who has waged a relentless battle against Noriega's critics, labelling them drug dealers, arms smugglers and communists.

"When Jesse Helms criticized Noriega concerning the murder of the member of the Panamanian opposition, LaRouche wrote that Helms had been brainwashed by Soviet agents."

Panamanian exiles say it is an accepted fact that a relationship exists between LaRouche and Noriega, adding that the government pays the LaRouche organization to praise Noriega and "bash" his opponents.

And when the conservative Helms criticized Noriega concerning the murder of the member of the Panamanian opposition, LaRouche wrote in the March 7, 1986, edition of Executive Intelligence Review that Helms had been brainwashed by Soviet agents planted on his staff, had gone "haywire" and committed "treason."

The article, which carried the headline "Why Does Helms Think Nazis Will Democratize Panama?" and LaRouche's byline, was one of seven articles concerning Panama carried by EIR in the March 7, 1986 edition: Six of those articles praised Noriega and denounced his critics, while the seventh article featured a smiling Noriega and the text of a speech EIR said he made to Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government on Feb. 28, 1985.

The title of that article was "The Military's Role in Securing Democracy."

According to Panamanian exiles, former members of the Panamanian government and a convicted drug dealer who testified before Congress, however, the Panamanian strongman has turned his country into a sanctuary for drug dealers who receive military protection, military escorts for their drugs, fake passports, and a money-laundering system in return for bribes paid to Noriega.

And according to three members of the exile community here in the United States, it's a given fact that there is a financial relationship between LaRouche and Noriega: that in return for money, LaRouche praises Noriega in the various publications under his control, and labels the opposition as drug dealers, gun-runners, and in Helms' case, brainwashed agents of the Soviet government bent on treason.

One such exile is Roberto Eisenmann, the former publisher and editor of the Panama opposition daily La Prensa, which Noriega closed July 26, 1987. The paper, Eisenmann said, reopened Jan. 20, 1988.

Although the paper has been reopened and Eisenmann would like to return, he said Jan. 29 he would continue to monitor the situation from Miami as the result of a death threat he received following a New York Times story by Seymour Hersh which broke the story of the alleged drug dealing by Noriega.

Eisenmann said he was on his way back to Panama after completing a fellowship at Harvard when the New York Times story broke, waiting in Miami for his connecting flight to Panama.

"Noriega automatically blamed me," Eisenmann said, "and I immediately received a death threat. The rubber-stamp legislature passed a resolution condemning me as a traitor to the nation."

"Noriega said those three bastards will never come in as long as I'm here," Eisenmann added, explaining that included himself; Guermo Sanchez, an associate editor of La Prensa, also in exile in Florida; and Gabriel Calindo, the former Panamanian ambassador to the United States, now in exile in Washington, D.C.

"In many instances [according to credit card receipts filed in a lawsuit], top members of LaRouche's 'security/intelligence' staff were traveling to and from Panama or stopping over in Panama."

Eisenmann was quite familiar with the LaRouche organization and its activities in Panama, and travel records entered into the public record as the result of a lawsuit brought against the LaRouche organization show extensive travel to Panama by members of the group.

When Peter J. Gonzalez of New York-based Sans Souci Travel filed a lawsuit seeking $106,000, he said the LaRouche organization owed him for flights taken on other people's credit cards (which the credit companies refused to honor), included were the details of that travel.

In many instances, top members of LaRouche's "security/intelligence" staff were travelling to and from Panama. Often, they would make trips to various points in South America and then stop over in Panama on their way back to the United States.

"They put out a book on me," Eisenmann said, "'Eisenmann the Drug Runner,' and so forth. There was a piece in the government paper two months ago: 'LaRouche Congratulates the Regime'....This is after all the court cases against LaRouche, yet the government paper had it on the front page as a major item."

Another exile, a former member of the government who asked not to be identified, said the government papers regularly used EIRNS articles.

Eisenmann said he was surprised when he saw the articles condemning him as a drug runner, particularly since they carried the bylines of two young Panamanians. Eisenmann said he knew the family of one of the young men, Rojelo Maduro, who now goes under the name of Ralph [usually Roger--DK] Maduro and lives in Leesburg, according to an internal LaRouche phone list obtained by the Loudoun Times-Mirror.

Eisenmann said Maduro's family had attempted to "bring him home," but failed.

"It's a tragic story," Eisenmann said.

When asked about the relationship between LaRouche and Noriega, Eisenmann said it was an accepted fact in government circles within Panama, a sentiment echoed by two other members of the exile community and confirmed by Blandon.

"Oh yes," Eisenmann said when asked if he thought Noriega paid the LaRouche organization. "I have no doubt that's the case, because within government circles in Panama, it was an accepted fact that LaRouche was their extension in the United States."

"One of Noriega's spokesmen in Panama, Mario Rognoni, was the man who set up meetings between members of the LaRouche organization and high-ranking officers of the Panamanian Defense Forces."

Two other members of the Panamanian exile community echoed Eisenmann's assertions, and all three men said the trail to LaRouche could be outlined by Jose I. Blandon, the former Panamanian consul to New York. In addition, the government official who asked to not be named said a "Capt. Motta" was LaRouche's contact at the Panamanian embassy in Washington, and that one of Noriega's spokesmen in Panama, Mario Rognoni, was the group's contact in Panama and the man who set up meetings between members of the LaRouche organization and high-ranking officers of the Panamanian Defense Forces.

Blandon, however, is no longer part of the Noriega regime. He is now in the protective custody of U.S. Marshals after receiving death threats. He has testified before the grand jury in Miami. In addition, he has granted interviews to The Miami Herald and The Washington Post, in which he outlined what was described as a decade of drug trafficking, gun running, and official corruption. In addition, The Miami Herald's story detailed an ongoing relationship between Noriega and Castro.

During the Feb. 2 interview, Blandon said Noriega's relationship with Castro was extensive and ongoing, and included drugs and exporting Cuban goods through Panama and importing American high-technology goods from the United States through Panama to Cuba.

According to Blandon, the LaRouche organization had to be aware of the relationship between Noriega and Castro because one of EIR's contacts in Panama, Mario Panther, was a communist member of the Panamanian government who had traveled to Cuba himself.

The Oct. 2, 1987, edition of EIR featured an article which carried the headline of "LaRouche's Enemies Are Panama's Enemies" and the byline of Mario "Parnther," who had appeared before the LaRouche-funded Commission to Investigate Human Rights Violations in the United States. According to a former Panamanian government official who asked not to be identified, Parnther was really the same Mario Panther who Blandon said delivered the cash on behalf of Noriega.

On Feb. 1, the NBC Nightly News noted that congressional sources had reported that Blandon had testified that Noriega paid the LaRouche organization. The Feb. 2 edition of The Washington Post quoted Blandon as saying there was indeed a financial relationship between Noriega and the LaRouche organization, but that the money given to the LaRouche organization was a donation and not payment for services rendered.

Dana Scanlon, spokesman for the LaRouche Democratic Campaign, said NBC was "lying."

"Very briefly, NBC is lying," she said Feb. 2. When asked about the Post article which said money had been paid to the LaRouche organization by the Noriega regime, she said, "That's simply not true."

Blandon insisted Noriega did make the payments to the LaRouche organization and that the relationship went back to 1982. He said he did not know how much money had been paid to the LaRouche organization, but added that Motta, Rognoni and Panther should know.

Eisenmann said the purpose of the relationship was two-fold.

"There is definitely a relationship," Eisenmann said. "The LaRouche people have put out four or five EIRs with reference to Noriega, which say he's the best thing that ever happened to Panama, and bash every one of us in the opposition. I have been the brunt of many attacks."

Eisenmann, however, has not been alone.

In the Oct. 24, 1986, edition of EIR. Eisenmann, Helms and a murdered member of the opposition all came under attack in an article which carried Gretchen Small's byline. Small quoted extensively fron the government-controlled Panamanian newspapers, which EIRNS allegedly supplies, to bolster her case.

"The assassinated 'political dissident' whose cause Congress has adopted is Hugo Spadafora," the article read, "a Panamanian terrorist gun-runner whose decapitated body was found in a U.S. mailbag on Sept. 14, 1985, on the Costa Rican side of the Paso Canoas River, which divides Costa Rica and Panama."

"Since that moment," the EIR article continued, "Panamanian assets of the drug trade, centered around Roberto Eisenmann's newspaper, La Prensa, have insisted that Spadafora was killed by the Defense Forces, on orders of its commander, Gen. Manuel Noriega, in order to silence Spadafora's denunciations of corruption inside the defense forces."

"To present Spadafora as a 'whistle blower' on corruption, is itself ludicrous," the article stated. "The man's business was trafficking in arms and drugs."

"[Spadafora] was the deputy minister of public health," said a former Panamanian government official who asked to not be named. "He was an idealist who loved to fight for democracy."

According to this former government official, Spadafora was a medic in an African "war of liberation" who returned to Central America when the regime of Anastasio Somoza was being overthrown in Nicaragua. Later, this official said, Spadafora became "disenchanted" with the Sandinistas and returned to his native Panama.

"Blandon said he was present when members of the Panamanian military intelligence prepared the official report on Spadafora's murder, which was then delivered to the LaRouche organization. Blandon added that he had read the LaRouche version and that it matched the intelligence report."

"No, he was not a drug runner, no, not at all," the official continued. "He was an idealist and a very courageous man."

"Frankly," he said, "this man fell in disgrace with Noriega when Torrijos [Omar Torrijos, former military ruler of Panama] was alive, and he had the courage to tell Torrijos that Noriega was trying to assassinate Torrijos, and then Torrijos brought Noriega and Spadafora together, and he repeated it in front of Noriega. And I know Mr. Blandon was there."

Blandon confirmed that he was at that meeting, and that Noriega knew the details of Spadafora's murder because he had ordered it.

Blandon said he was also present when members of the Panamanian military intelligence prepared the official report on Spadafora's murder, which was then delivered to the LaRouche organization. Blandon added that he had read the LaRouche version of the Spadafora affair and that it matched the report prepared by Panamanian intelligence.

The cover of the March 7, 1986 EIR carried pictures of Spadafora's family, two of whom had chained themselves to a post to protest Spadafora's murder. The other picture showed Helms standing with former Israeli defense minister Ariel Sharon.

"The cover shows an alarming combination," EIR editor Nora Hamerman wrote in her signature piece, "From the Editor."

"On the left," she continued, "our photographer Carlos Wesley caught the brother and sister of Panamanian terrorist Hugo Spadafora last October in their cultish protest in Panama City over Spadafora's unsolved murder."

Hamerman said it was no coincidence that the protest came at the same time "the Gnostic fraternity of Panama" protested the killing.

"The terms used by the Panamanian gnostics were exactly those EIR had come across earlier, in the narco-terrorist underworld of Colombia: an underworld run by the Gnostics, with their hatred of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and their bizarre sexual rituals. These Gnostics, and the old Nazi Arnulfo Arias, are what the once-patriotic Sen. Jesse Helms has embraced."

According to Blandon and The Miami Herald, one of the acts being investigated by the the Miami grand jury is an assertion by Blandon that one of Noriega's subordinates accepted a $5 million bribe from the Medellin drug cartel of Colombia to allow it to operate a cocaine-manufacturing plant in Panama.