This Month in History: Senior Cuban Spy Helped Shape Panama’s Future Reply

August 1972:  America Department (DA) officer Alfredo Garcia Almeida visited Panama in August 1972 under cover as the Panama specialist for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX), according to declassified Army Intelligence reports.  Under this guise, he handled travel to Cuba by Panamanians as well as Cuban travel to Panama. During his visit, Garcia met with Colonel Omar Torrijos and Lieutenant Colonel Manuel Antonio Noriega Morena.  The Guardia Nacional (National Guard)(GN) consisted of both the Panamanian Army and the civilian police force, so Torrijos, as the GN Commandant, was the de facto head of the Panamanian government. Noriega was the GN’s G-2 (senior intelligence officer).

August 1974:  Cuba reestablished diplomatic relations with Panama.  Havana’s first ambassador was DA officer Alfredo Garcia Almeida.  In November 1975, legendary spy master Manuel “Redbeard” Pineiro led a high-level Cuban delegation, which met with the Panamanian leadership.  Noriega, now the Panama Defense Force (PDF) G-2, was among the officials met.  The same year, Pineiro advised Torrijos during negotiations of the Panama Canal Treaties.  Now self-promoted to General, Torrijos developed into one of Castro’s closest supporters and sympathized with Cuba’s anti-US themes but became restrained as Havana’s subsequent interventions in Central America threatened regional stability.

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