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Why Panama?

Why Panama? image Why Panama? image
Parent Issue
Month
March
Year
1990
Copyright
Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held By
Agenda Publications
OCR Text

When the Reagan and Noriega regimes were on better lerms, the U.S. made Panama a revealing offer. It offered to turn the Panama Canal back 10 years early (by 1990) in exchange for a 15-year extensión of U.S. rights to use the 14 military bases it currently occupies. To the U. S., the canal itself is of little economie, strategie, or military consequence. Most aircraft carriers can't fit through it. The U.S. Navy, unlike at the time when the canal was built, has a large fleet in every ocean on the planet. Moreover, the canal cannot be defended. An explosión in one of several practically indefensibie places would close it down. And as all the nations of the world have free access to the canal, andas its mostly Panamanian work forcé has been running it on a break-even basis, no nation has much of a rational interest in closing the canal or preventing it from geiting entirely into Panamanian hands. We can probably trust George Bush when he says that it is the U.S. government's intention to tum the canal over to complete Panamanian ownership and control by the Dec. 31, 1999 deadline. At this point the Panama Canal is important to Bush only because it serves as a smokescreen for what the U.S. really wants - a continuation of an agreement with Panama to allo w the presence of U .S. military bases there, especially the U.S . Armed Forces Southern Commandheadquarters atQuarry Heights in Panama City. The Southern Command is an administrative unit for all U.S. military forces for Latin America and the Caribbean. Having the headquarters in Panama gives the U.S. acentrally-locatedposition from which to o versee these military operations. The 1965 U.S. invasión of the Dominican Republic, the 1983 invasión of Grenada, the contra war against Nicaragua, U.S. operations in El Salvador, and military missions to Guatemala, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador have all been run on a to-day basis from there. The Southern Command also oper ates Ho ward Air Forcé B ase and Albrook Field. The former was used in 1967 by the planes which carried U-Mdesigned heat sensors which detected the campfires of Che Guevara's Bolivian guerrilla band so that troops on the ground could track him down and kill him. Albrook Field is the home of the Inter-American Air Force Academy, which trains almost all Latin American air forces, including the Salvadoran pilots who drop napalm on villages in FMLN-controlled areas. On the Pacific side of Panama, the U.S. Navy runs Rodman Navy Base, an associated Marine detachment. On the Atlantic side, the Navy runs an electronic installation at Caleta Island. The U.S. Army has Fort Clayton, the biggest Army base south of the border on the Pacific side. On the Atlantic side, the 7th Special Forces Group carries on its "counter-insurgency" acüvities all over Latin America from Fort Davis. Also on the Atlantic side is the U.S. Army's Jungle Operations Training Center at Fort Sherman. The policy which makes Panama "strategie" is U.S. domination of Latin America and the Caribbean. Most Panamanian observers expect there will be a Panamanian attempt to revise that part of the 1977 Panama Canal Treaties which would force the U.S. Southern Command out of Panama (see PANAMA, page 4) WHY PANAMA? (from page one) bytheendofthecentury.Youwon'tseeitonTV.but the prospect of keeping U.S. military bases in Panama into the third millenium is what George Bush was willing to send U.S. troops there to die for. The U.S. is undercutting Guillermo Endara Reasonable people can argüe about the faimess ofPanama'sMay 1989election.TheNoriega-backed COLINA slate had control of broadcasting and the newspapers. Noriega's troops had control of the streets. The U.S.-backed opposition had a $10 million slush fund and a country bied white by U.S. sanctions and fed up with Noriega. There can be no reasonable doubt that Panamanians voted for the ticket headed by Guillermo Endara by a wide margin. Under the old regime. Panama had weak fïgurehead civilian presiden ts who were ordered about by military offïcers at the Commandancia, the headquarters of Panama's Defense Forces (PDF). Under the new regime. Panama has a weak figurehead civilian president who is ordered about by military officers at Quarry Heights, the headquarters of the U.S. Southern Command. Knowledgeable Panamanian and U.S. observers tend to agree that Endara is a puppet who is not well liked by his handlers. M any believe that he will not serve out his term of office. Endara represents the stongest current in Panamanian politics - nationalism. Thus in 1987 when the U.S. openly turned against Noriega and invited opposition leaders to meet with then U.S. ambassador Arthur Davis, Endara was not invited. The Reagan administration was boosting Ricardo Arias, the leader of the Chrisiian Democratie Party, as its preferred opposition leader at the time due to his reliably pro-U.Sstance. Arias iscurrently first vice president of Panama. When, in a series of meetings hosted by the U.S . ambassador and Catholic archbishop Marcos McGrath, the opposition slate for the 1989 elections was formed, it bec ame necessary to put the nationalist arnulfistas at the head of the ticket. This was done to unite anti-Noriega forces in a slate that could win. Endara, a veteran arnulfista, had few enemies and no national reputation to attack. Thus he made the perfect figurehead presidential candidate. "Inaugurated" in a secret ceremony at a U.S. military base a few hours bef ore the invasión started. Endara, his first vice president Ricardo Arias and second vice president Guillermo Ford, theoretically took charge of Panama's government. The chain of command unraveled almost immediately. Endara announced that if captured, Noriega would be prosecuted in Panamarather than be extradited to the U.S. to face drug charges since the Panamanian Constitution prohibits extradition of its citizens to other countries. The U.S. Army announced that Noriega would be extradited. First Vice President Arias (who upon inauguration became minister of justice and government) announced that Panama lacked facilities to try Noriega and thus would send Noriega to the U.S. In the end Noriega was sent to the U.S. without any extradition proceedings. When Endara announced a plan for compensating the many Panamanians who suffered losses from the U.S. invasión, Second Vice President Guillermo Ford announced that there would be no "handouts" under the new regime. George Bush announced that no injured Panamanians or families of those killed would receive compensaü'on. Endara announced that a standing military would be abolished in Panama because it is unaffordable and because of past abuses. His plan to hire only a small pólice forcé was well-received. However, U.S. Army General Mark Cisneros and First Vice President Arias went on a speaking tour to convince the population that they need to defend themselves against Fidel Castro. The new army, which has become visible again, consists of many of Noriega's old force. With U.S. prodding. Endara named Arias as the civilian commander of the new army, though the Panamanian constitution reserves this post for the president It appears that the U.S. is running Pa' nama behind Endara's back through the vice presiden ts. There Is a wave of reprensión in Panama ' TheleadersofPanama'slaborunionswereamong the first targets of the U.S. Army 's arrests. Though most were never charged with any crime and were released after a few weeks in U.S. custody, a full scale attack on organized labor is under way. There have been massive political fïrings of public employees. Usually the reasons given are corruption or support for the old regime, based in many cases upon anonymous denunciations and workers are given no chance to contest the accusations. In Chitré, a provincial capital, 59 out of 60 city employees were fired. Most post office employees have lost their jobs. Even street vendors have had their liccnses cancelled. The Panamanian Teachers Federation, who denounced the invasión, saw their retirement village looted and stripped of plumbing, electrical wiring, fixtures and even roof ing under the watchf ui eyes of the U.S. Army and the Panamanian pólice. Such offïcially-approved looting has taken place all over Panama, resulting in the stripping of govemment buildings, the homes of former military officers and public officials, Dignity Battalion members and political activists. U.S. troops occupied the University of Panama during the firstday of the invasión, which coincided with the middle of finals week. A door to door search produced none o f the arms that were al legedly sought. The new semester was scheduled to begin in March, but the Education Ministry has announced that it will be delayed by at least a few weeks. La Estrella and other Panamanian newspapers have reported rumors of planned purges of faculty, administration, students with low grade point averages and tuition strikers (leftists who withheld tuition to protest against Noriega). So far, other than vague references to "reforms," Education Minister Ada Gordon has neither confirmed nor denied these stories. Many observers expect the "reforms" to be little more than a series of meas ur es to purge the left from academie life. Probably the most unreported bit of repression is the indictment of 14 doctors for allegedly allo w ing Santo Tomas Hospital to be turned into an armed camp by forces who fought against the invasión. The hospital was under the control of the PDF and Dignity Battalions for the first few days of the invasión. The hospital was the only place where both wounded Panamanian combátante and civilians caught in the crossfire could be treated. Hospital personnel allo wed photographs of the overflowing morgue to be taken and gave out casualty figures that sharply contrasted with the low numbers disseminated by the U.S. Southern Command. There is no freedom of the press The American public was led to believe that freedom of the press was one of the issues which justifïed Operation Just Cause. When the invasión took place, Panama had four daily newspapers, all of which parroted the Noriega line. When the first post-invasion editions carne out, Panama had four daily papers that were rabidly antiNoriega. The largest paper, La Estrella, has a long history of being pro-government, no matter which government is in power. The other three papers. La Critica, La República and El Siglio were confïscated by the new regime and "retumed to their rightful owners." La Prensa (co-owned by Vice President Arias) reopened with the help of the Miami Herald. Panama America, an arnulfista paper also started publishing after being closed since 1969. There is no Panamanian newspaper that took an anti-invasion position. Nor did one Panamanian newspaper report on the true extent of casualties or dam ages caused by the invasión. One of the first acts of the new government was the closing of three televisión stations and 10 radio stations, purportedly because it was suspected that their financial records were not in order. The closure of the 13 broadcasters effectively put all criticism of the invasión off of the air. As some of the stations have resumed broadcasting, they have come back with uniformly pro-government managements and editorial policies. In the early hours of the invasión, U.S. Army helicopter gunships blasted the govemment TV station, channel 2 off the air. Shortly after the invasión, channel 4 went back on the air with a proinvasion editorial position and many "public service announcements" celebrating "liberation" and "the new Panama." Not a single critic of the invasión was heard on channel 4 news. Neither was there any coverage of the repression or the death, injury and destruction caused by the invasión. You won 't see it on TV, but the prospect of keeping U.S. military bases In Panama Into the third millennium is what George Bush was willing to send U.S. troops there to die tor.