The Panamanian government is growing increasingly bitter over charges by U. S. Senate foes of the Panama Canal treaties that the government and family of head of state Gen. Omar Torrijos have sanctioned, or been directly involved in the international narcotics trade.
The charges, originally made during the early 1970s, have been revived on the U. S. Senate floor in recent weeks by a number of treaty opponents, including Sen. Robert Dole (D-Ala.), and Jesse Helms, (R-N.C.).
Urging Senate rejection of the treaties, Helms state last month that evidence showed "Torrijos and his immediate family are heavily involved in controlling the flow of cocaine and other drugs from South America" to the United States.
Panamanian officials, including the heads of the country's military and civilian intelligence agencies, say the charges are old, unproven and the result of what they describe as U. S. political manipulation" aimed at discrediting the Torrijos government during the Nixon years.
To weaken Panama's bargaining position on the canal in the early 1970s, the officials allege, Washington accused Panama of tolerating international drug traffic. At the same time, they say, the United States consciously witheld information that would have enabled Panama to move more aggressively against the narcotics trade.
Now, the Panamaians say these unfair accusations are being revived by treaty opponents in the United States.
The Senate charges enter on allegations that Torrijos' brother, Moises, was involved in a 1971 heroin smuggling case that resulted in the New York conviction of two Panamanians.
Recent U. S. press accounts have stated that Moises Torrijos was indicted by the federal grand jury in New York in 1972. That indictment, if it exists, remains sealed since Torrijos, currently the Panamanian ambassador to Spain, has not set foot in the United States since that time.
While the Senators have charged that Panama covered up the Moises case, Panamanian officials say that, despite repeated requests, the U. S. government has never furnished Panama with any evidence to back up allegations against him.
Dario Arosemena, head os Panama's civilian intelligence agency, said in an interview that John Ingersoll, head of the former U.S. Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, visited Gen. Torrijos here in 1972 to discuss the case.
"Torrijos demanded that Ingersoll give him evidence against his brother, Moises, if it existed," Arosemena said. "He promised he would put Moises in jail if the evidence indicated."
In Washington, officials of the U.S. Drugs Enforcement Agency, successor to the bureau of narcotics, declined to discuss "what Torrijos told Ingersoll" at the meeting.
DEA officials confirmed, however, that "no actionable information was subsequently given to Gen. Torrijos."
Nor, said Arosemena, has the United States ever provided Panama with any evidence to back up the variety of other allegations that have surfaced charging official Panamanian involvement in drug trafficking.
Given the resentment that have long existed here over real and imagines United States slights, Panamanians tend to view the Nixon administration's refusal to coorperate on narcotics control - coupled with efforts by Senate treaty opponents to revive these old allegations - as part of a political conspiracy.
Little evidence have surfaced to support such a conspiracy theory but there are indications that Panama like other countries along the international drug routes, was treated arbitrarily by U.S. narcotics agents during the Nixon years.
On waging its "war on drugs" in the early 1970s, the United States deliberately cut out the agents of a number of friendly countries as untrustworthy.
U.S. narcotics agents, attached to agencies abroad, often engaged in covert operations aimed both at stopping foreign drug activity bringing the traffickers to the United States for trial. Much of this was done without consulting local officials.
There is little reason to believe that the U.S. drug agencies, in their eagerness to halt narcotics traffic, or the Nixon administration, in its fledging treaty negotiations with the then-militant Torrijos government, witheld imformation about drug trade in Panama for political reasons.
Damaging public charges that the Torrijos family and government were involved in the narcotics business, in fact, first surfaced in the same place they are currently at issue - the U.S. Congress.
In 1972, Rep. John M. Murphy (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Canal Subcommittee, visited Panama as part of an investigations into narcotics activity.
Shortly after Murphy's return to the United States in February 1972, columnist Jack Anderson reported that U.S. narcotics agents in Panama has told the congressman that Moises Torrijos was involved in drug trafficking.
The State Department quickly denied the Anderson report, and the U.S. drug agents also denied they had passed the information, apparently part of the then-current investigation, to Murphy. Panama, nevertheless, expelled the agents for "interference in internal affairs."
Why, enraged Panamanian officials asked, were the U.S. federal agents telling unproven stories to a congressman, who was a known opponent of treaty negotiations, when the United States had not even informed the Panamanian government?
The incident was followed by Ingersoll's Panama trip and the release, in December 1972, of a Murphy subcommittee narcotics report that cited Panama as "one of the most glaring examples of officials corruption."
The subsequent slackening of the pace of negotiations, attributable in part to a belief that Torrijos was somehow involved in drug-related corruption, led Panamanian military intelligence chief Lt. Col. Manuel Antonio Noriega to conclude that U.S. anti-narcotics activities here were "a clear political mission to discredit our government."
The Panamanians, one DEA official agreed recently, never saw those activities as "a law enforcement thin. Everything was a political slight."
Despite official U.S. denials that Gen. Torrijos had ever been the target of a narcotics investigation, the harshest slap of all came in December 1972. Murphy, in a newspaper article, asked whether United States was "negotiating a treaty . . . with a government that condones or is actually involved in a drug-running operation into the United States."
That question - never publicly answered and almost entirely on the allegations about Moises Torrijos that Murphy first brought to light - has now been revived by Dole. he recently called on the Carter administration to release a number of aging files that he said, "bear directly upon allegations of drug trafficking by Gen. Torrijos."
The Justice Department, citing security restrictions, has decline to release those files.
Several senators, as a result, have implied that Carter is concealing proof of Torrijos complicity in the drug trade in an effort to avoid further damaging his chances of winning Senate ratification of the Panama Canal treaties.
Dole, who has also accused Torrijos regime of strong Communist ties, has amplified the charges to include a suggestion that Torrijos, "perhaps in conjunction with Fidel Castro, is involved in illegal drug operation."
For their part, the Panamanian officials point to a dramatic increase in the quantity of narcotics siezed here since 1974, when DEA began a program of close local coordination, as evidence of what a cooperative effort can do.