Omar Torrijos

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Omar Efraín Torrijos Herrera (February 13, 1929 – July 31, 1981) was the Commander of the Panamanian National Guard and the de facto leader of Panama from 1968 to 1981. Torrijos was never oficially the president of Panama, but instead held titles such as "Maximum Leader of the Panamanian Revolution" and "Supreme Chief of Government". Although he was considered a leftist dictator, he simultaneously had the support of the US as he opposed communism. His politics were based instead on progressivism.

Torrijos is best known for negotiating the 1977 Torrijos-Carter Treaties that eventually gave Panama full sovereignty over the Panama Canal, at noon on December 31, 1999.

His son, Martín Torrijos, won the presidential election on May 2, 2004 and took office on September 1, 2004.

Contents

Background

Torrijos was born in Santiago in the province of Veraguas, the sixth of twelve children. His father, José Maria Torrijos, was originally from Colombia, and was employed as a teacher. He was educated at the local Juan Demóstenes Arosemena School and won a scholarship to the military academy in San Salvador. He graduated with a commission as a second lieutenant. He joined the Panamanian army, the National Guard (Guardia Nacional), in 1952. He was promoted to captain in 1956 and took a cadet course at the School of the Americas in 1965.

Career

He had reached the rank of lieutenant colonel by 1966 and in 1968 he and Major Boris Martínez led a successful coup d'état against the recently elected president of Panama, Arnulfo Arias, after only eleven days in office, when he tried to order Torrijos to a foreign post. Although a two-man junta was appointed, Martinez and Torrijos were the true leaders from the beginning. Soon after the coup, Torrijos was promoted to full colonel and named commandant of the National Guard. They barred all political activity and shut down the legislature. They also seized control of three newspapers owned by Arias' brother, Harmodio and blackmailed the owners of the country's oldest newspaper, La Estrella de Panama, into becoming a government mouthpiece.

In the internal power struggle that followed Torrijos emerged victorious — he exiled Martínez in 1969 and promoted himself to brigadier general.

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