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Omar Torrijos Herrera

Torrijos Herrera, Omar (ōmärˈ tōrēˈhōs ārāˈrä) [key], 1929–81, military leader, dictator of Panama (1968–78). As a lieutenant colonel, he led, together with Col. Boris Martínez, the coup (1968) that ousted President Arnulfo Arias. In 1969, he exiled Martínez, and promoted himself to brigadier general. Later that year, following a coup attempt by younger officers, he tightened his grip on the country. He instituted wide-ranging economic and social reforms, espousing birth control, expropriating land, and attacking Panama's powerful families. In Sept., 1972, an elected assembly granted Torrijos full civil and military powers for six years. He successfully negotiated new Panama Canal treaties (1977) with U.S. President Jimmy Carter that transferred the Canal Zone and ultimately the canal to Panamanian control. In 1978, he chose not to run for president, though he remained as commander of the National Guard. He died in a plane crash.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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