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Panama: The General Staff
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Missions and Organization of the Defense Forces > The General Staff


Article 36 of the 1983 law stated that "The commander in chief of the Defense Forces . . . will have an advisory body comprised of officers with the rank of general, colonel, and lieutenant colonel." This advisory body was called the General Staff and its members were appointed by the commander in chief. The primary task assigned to the General Staff was to help the commander in chief with planning in the areas of military operations, training, and administration.

The structure of the General Staff of the FDP was inherited from its predecessor, the National Guard. The General Staff was structured is approximately the same way as a United States Army staff at division level or above. The basic similarity was in the section breakdown, that is, G-1, Personnel; G-2, Intelligence; G-3, Operations; G-4, Logistics; and G-5, Civic Action. There were a chief of staff and two deputy chiefs of staff, who obviously occupied positions of extreme importance within this highly centralized command structure. In June 1987, the position of vice chief of staff was spilt into two new positions: the deputy chief of staff for ground matters, who served concurrently as G-3, and the deputy chief of staff for aviation matters, who also occupied the G-5 position. The chief of staff, deputy chiefs of staff, and assistant chiefs were all full colonels.

In addition to the General Staff, there were two other structures at the level of the general command. There was a Special General Staff that incorporated the War Material Services, Military Health Battalion, Communications Section, General Services, Chaplaincy, and Public Relations. There was also a Personal General Staff supplying advice to the commander in chief on an "as needed" basis. The Personal General Staff included five sections: Economic Affairs, Judicial Affairs, International Affairs, Political Affairs, and National Security Affairs. The Personal General Staff seemed to institutionalize the involvement of the FDP in a wide range of civilian policy matters -- an involvement that can be traced back to the days when Torrijos commanded the National Guard. Noriega commented that the new staff structure initiated with passage of the 1983 law furthered the goal of "performing our mission more effectively and realistically in conformance with the geopolitical situation from which Panama cannot escape . . . . " and pointed to "the formation of a new Personal General Staff of the Commander . . . ." This staff functioned in essence as an in-house National Security Council.

Data as of December 1987

Last Updated: December 1987

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Panama was first published in 1987. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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