Leader of Failed Panama Coup Is Buried

From Times Wire Services

The army major who led the unsuccessful coup a week ago against Panama's Gen. Manuel A. Noriega was buried Monday.

Several reports have said that an enraged Noriega shot Maj. Moises Giroldi Vega to death minutes after the coup attempt against the Panamanian leader.

Relatives of Giroldi, 38, said he was shot once in the neck and twice in the chest. At a funeral Mass attended by about 100 people, his mother, Eloisa, cried, "They murdered him!" and flung herself on the coffin.

The major led an uprising Oct. 3 and captured Noriega, who commands the Panama Defense Forces and controls the government. But the rebels gave up when loyalists counterattacked the military headquarters while U.S. troops looked on from a few hundred yards away.

Defense Forces officials said eight officers and two sergeants were killed in the coup. However, they have not explained the circumstances or responded to reports that some were slain after surrendering.

Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and several U.S. publications have said Noriega personally shot Giroldi in the final moments of the doomed uprising.

Over the weekend, Capt. Leon Tejada, another rebel, was buried at the same small, red-stone church as Giroldi. "He had one bullet wound in the right temple," said Tejada's mother, Esther, who was at the church again for Giroldi's burial.

"They were good friends," Esther Tejada said. "My son had just come back from (U.N. duty in) Namibia last Saturday. On Tuesday, he told his wife he had to go to headquarters and would return later to go see his baby girl.

"We did not hear anything until Wednesday when they said on television that he was dead. We picked up the body."

Giroldi's widow and three children did not attend the funeral. They reportedly were under U.S. Army protection at Ft. Clayton in Panama after the coup attempt.

However, the Washington Post quoted Panamanian dissident sources in Miami as saying that Giroldi's family was flown to safety in the United States over the weekend. Fourteen Panamanian military officers and enlisted personnel associated with the coup attempt were also flown to the United States and are in hiding, according to the sources.

Also on Monday, opposition leader Guillermo Endara ended a 19-day hunger strike and entered a clinic to "normalize my body's system."

A medical bulletin said that his "conscious process was excellent and his conversation coherent," but he was suffering "from progressive debilitation."

Endara undertook the fast to protest the government's annulment of May 7 national elections in which he was a presidential candidate. Foreign observers and the Roman Catholic Church here have said that Endara's ticket actually won the elections by a 3-1 margin, but Noriega had the results annulled May 10. U.S. officials have said they consider Endara the legitimate president of Panama.

At a news conference, Endara said he felt his hunger strike was a success. He said the opposition did not look with approval on Giroldi's attempted coup because it represented "Noriega-ism without Noriega," not a movement toward democracy.

The opposition leader has urged Panamanians to delay paying taxes and utility bills and to shun the government-operated lottery and casinos, on which the regime has depended for much of its revenue during the past 18 months.

Last Thursday, Endara took refuge in the Vatican's embassy after soldiers beat him and threw him out of his office. Shortly before the assault, Noriega claimed that the United States planned to install Endara as president.

The United States has applied economic sanctions and other pressure against Panama to try to topple Noriega since federal grand juries in Florida indicted him early last year on drug trafficking and money laundering charges.

Noriega asserts that all efforts to oust him are part of a U.S. plot to renege on the 1977 treaties that turned the Panama Canal over to his country.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World