Advertisement

Panamanian strongman Gen. Omar Torrijos was given a hero's...

By TOMAS A. CUPAS

PANAMA CITY, Panama -- Panamanian strongman Gen. Omar Torrijos was given a hero's funeral today at Metropolitan Cathderal where a U.S. delegation headed by Vice President George Bush's wife joined 8,000 mourners in honoring the man who ended American control over the Panama Canal.

About 100,000 Panamanians filed past Torrijos' casket in the cathedral before the funeral, the most majestic such ceremony since slain President Gen. Jose Antonio Ramon was buried in 1955.

Advertisement

An estimated 8,000 people, including delegations from the United States, Cuba and 13 other nations, packed the Metropolitan Cathedral for the services.

Torrijos' widow, Raquel Pauzner de Torrijos, and three of his children sat in the first row of the church during the mass offered by the Roman Catholic archbishop of Panama City, Marcos McGrath.

'The death of Omar Torrijos Herrera has left a grievous emptiness,' the archbishop said in his homily. 'How it is going to be filled we do not know.'

Advertisement

Behind the flag-draped coffin, stood an oil painting depicting the 52-year-old Torrijos in military uniform but without his usual jungle bush hat and cigar.

On top of the flag rested an ammunition belt and two of Torrijos' possessions that perhaps were the most treasured and most telling of the charismatic leader -- his Australian-style bush hat and his canteen.

Around the coffin, which had lain in state for 24 hours, stood an honor guard that included President Aristides Royo, Vice President Ricardo de la Espriella and Torrijos' eldest son, Dumas.

From the cathedral, a torch-lit red firetruck was to bear Torrijos' coffin on the 14-block route to the Amador cemetery, burial ground for the country's heroes.

Streets along the route were lined with people before the procession began.

But the occasion was marred by suggestions the CIA may have been responsible for the firey plane crash Friday that killed Torrijos, who effectively ruled the nation of 1.9 million since leading a military coup in 1968.

'A suspicious coincidence of ... accidents that have snuffed the lives of prominent, progressive Latin American personalities could be linked to the operations of the CIA,' Nicaraguan Agriculture Minister Jaime Wheelock said.

Quoting Wheelock, a top member of Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista regime, the Managua newspaper Nuevo Diario said 'There is little doubt that the (CIA) has participated in numerous opportunities in political assassinations and crimes against revolutionarty leaders.'

Advertisement

Municipal workers plastered the walls of Panama City with 7-foot-high photo portraits of a cigar-chomping Torrijos wearing a bush hat. Panamanian politicians went on national television to praise his 13-year rule as the country's strongman leader.

Torrijos, who led a military coup against President Arnulf Arrias in 1968 and ruled as the head of the National Guard, was the prime mover behind the 1977 Panama Canal Treaty, which guarantees Panamanian control over the canal by 1999.

At Panama's International Airport, uniformed National Guardsmen watched over the terminal and runways as delegations arrived from around the world.

The American delegation was led by Barbara Bush, the wife of Vice President George Bush, Chief of Staff David Jones, and former American negotiators of the canal treaty Ellsworth Bunker and Sol Linowitz.

On Monday, thousands of Panamanians, many weeping, lined the 10-mile route for a glimpse of the funeral car carrying Torrijos between Patillas hospital and the Metropoltian Cathedral.

At the Cathedral, thousands surged toward the entrance shoting 'We want to see Omar.' Inside hundreds more filed past the coffin, and saw the general's trademarks -- a bush hat, canteen and gun holster -- lying at one side.

Latest Headlines

Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us

Advertisement