Dignity Battalions

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The Dignity Battalions are a paramilitary militia created by Panama's government in the 1980s to help defend Panama against both invasion by the United States and internal subversive activity.[1] They were formed in early April 1988 and were de facto dissolved along with the Panamanian Defense Forces on February 10, 1990.

Structure[edit]

Around eleven battalions were eventually formed with seven more existing on paper in rural areas. They were administered by the Panamanian Defense Forces through a "Dignity Brigade Staff" made up of selected government employees. Each battalion contained from 25 to 250 male and female volunteers. Battalions often had patriotic names such as the "Christopher Columbus Battalion", the "Saint Michael the Archangel Battalion" and the "Latin Liberation Battalion". Around five battalions were formed in Panama City. Battalions also existed in Rio Hato, Colon and Fort Cimmeron. [2]

1989 election[edit]

At the Panamanian presidential elections of 7 May 1989, Guillermo Endara Galimany, along with vice presidential candidates Ricardo Arias-Calderon and Guillermo "Billy" Ford [3] ran against Manuel Noriega's candidate Carlos Duque. The U.S. Government gave $10 million to the Endara campaign and election results were annulled by the Panamanian Government on May 10.[4] Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, there as an observer, denounced Noriega, saying the election had been "stolen".[5] Noriega advocates complained that the elections had already been tampered with when the United States backed Noriega's opposition by funding their campaign.

Another factor that adversely affected the 1989 electoral process, as reported to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, was the predicament of various political leaders who had been forced to leave the country. The Government of Panama adopted a practice of detaining and harassing the political opposition, seizing their property and forcing them to leave the country. This prevented a major group from participating in election activities and thus gave the government coalition an advantage. Many journalists and members of the opposition were detained for long periods without being charged.[6]

Amid the outcry, Noriega unleashed his Dignity Battalions to suppress demonstrations.[7] In an image caught on video and played out in news sources around the world, they attacked Billy Ford's car. Ford's bodyguards were shot and killed. Billy Ford attempted to flee as one member of the Dignity Battalions pummeled him repeatedly with a metal pipe. This image, displayed on the front cover of the May 22, 1989 TIME magazine,[8] brought worldwide attention to Noriega's regime. The other two presidential candidates were also severely beaten.[9]

The leader of the battalions, appointed by Noriega, was Benjamin Colamarco, former Minister of Public Works (2006) under President Martín Torrijos' administration. Members wore red shirts with the name of the organization printed on them.

In a 1989 interview with the New York Times, United States General Maxwell R. Thurman said, referring to the Dignity Battalions, "I am looking inward because I have the security responsibility for all Panama therefore I don't want the dingbats blowing their way through the embassy." [10] The nickname also appears in a number of other sources.

References[edit]