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Report From Panama A Canal Runs Through It Will The U.s. Give It Back?

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I fíndti a bit ironie that the GOPistiying tosell fris bill of goods to Panamanians. But economie de pende ncy which is considered unhealthy at home is freely exported. Kind of like chlorodane and DDT. People have expected something like this for a long time. But it was still unsettting when Olivar Garza, the U.S. embassy's charge d'affaires in Panama City, said that the U.S. has a "strategie necessity" formilitary bases here afterthe end of 1 999, when a 1 977 treaty says they must go. Of course, Jesse Helms, George Bush, Ronald Reagan, et al have been saying this for a long time. But this is the first time that the Clinton administration has said anything of this sort in public. Surely it was no more than a footnote in U.S. mainstream news, but it was, and is, a big deal down here. It set the stage for all sorts of political posturing. Guillermo Endara, the ex-president whosenomination was arranged by the U.S. embassy and whose disastrous term began when he was swom in by U.S. troops at Fort Clayton during ttie 1989 invasión, now says that Garza' s statement proves that his successor is an American puppet Roberto Bsenmann, who came back from Miami to a U.S.staged imitation hero's reception right after the invasión and re-opened his La Prensa newspaper with the Miami Herald's support, now says he's against a bases treaty. But President Ernesto 'Toro" Pérez Balladares isn't saying much. His f oreign minister says that the govemment is always ready to talk to the gringos about anything. But there has been no official U.S. request for negotiations over a bases treaty, so Panama's govemment insists. But at the bases, they are making maintenance and financial plans that go beyond the year 2000. They're allowing military personnel to come down here with dependents, something quite unusual for a base that's scheduled to close so soon. They're investing a lot of money in mprovements to bases that are supposed to be abandoned within less than five years. But for the record, the United States Armed Forces Southern Command is committed to leaving on schedule. And it might not be a lie. Military planners are always preparing for the remotest possibilities. A lot of Panamanians want the bases to stay . They don 't have confidence that the govemment can make good use of the assets that are supposed to be tumed over. They think that the country can't get along without the 3,000 or so Panamanian jobs on the bases and the high rents that troops pay to Panama City landtords. They wantaptece of any rent that the gringos may pay for the bases in the next millennium. But if Toro is to agree to any such deal, his party will bedestroyed. Hisfellow Democratie Revolutionary Party member Balbina Herrera, president of the natkxVs legislatura, was repeatedly arrested and harassed by U.S. troops afterthe invasión, and she'd lead a party revolt in the legislatura if the president tried to pass a bases treaty. But maybe there could be enough votes to put the question on the ballot, where U.S. campaign slush funds would come into play. Such an eventuality would finally make a Panamanian voterout of me. Soy panameño, también. I know all too well what a disaster it has always been when Panama has looked to the north for sal vation. What IVe sean with my own eyes was horrible enough, but Chase, the messenger who fetched the ink cartridgeforthe computeron which l'm writing at this moment, is from El Chorrillo. He tells me about theirbonesandasheswerescrapedupanddumped in the bay. These are the true wages of the dependent mentality, what you get when you count on f oreign invaders to rid your country of an obnoxious dictator. Ifinditabitironic that the GOP is tiyingtosell this bilí of goods to Panamanians. There is a large Panamanian community in New York City, and l'm sure that Helms and Gingrich see those of its members who look to the U.S. govemment for money as the most despicable of welfare bums. But economie dependencywhichisconsjderedunhealthyathome is freely exported. Kind of like chlorodane and DDT. But maybe it wont come to that. Does ainton really prefer to keep Panamanian civilians on the Defense Department pay roll when people who can vote for him are getting laid off? When his underling throws the "s-word" around, can Clinton coherentiy say what the strategy is, for what purpose? After victorious military actions against Panama and the oíd Medellin Cartel failed to affect the cocaine flow, can he credibly say that the U.S. needs military bases in order to win the War on Drugs? Ithink that Clinton will move toprolong Panama's occupation if the Republicans press him to do so and people like you say nothing about ft. So speakjng as Panamanian citizen number 3-721 -1 31 8 more than as an oíd gringo hippie, I 'm asking foryour help. Cali the White House and demand an end to ttiis slidetoward infamy. And l'll teil Toro the same thing, just in case Clinton won 't listen to you. Support indigenous land claims On a separate but spiritually related subject, I must mention my recent joumalistic venture to the NgobeBugle General Congress. It was sort of a big town meeting of Panama's most popukxis indigenous natkxi. It's a hungry nation, divided into three little Western Panama enclaves by people who stde and are continuing to steal their land, water and mineral resources. In the district where the congress was held, more than three quarters of all elementan school kids drop out of school. Malnutritton is the norm. And a multinational copper mining consortium wants to strip mine land which the Ngobe claim as their own. The congress elected some talented new leaders, including a president named Marcelino Montezuma, to lead ttiem in the struggle to win a unified Comarca (commonwealth) out of large parts of three Panamanian provinces. Down here every progressive person, evety environmentalist, anyone withknowted ge and a decent he art, is plugging for these people. The congress has this sophisticated journalist Mitzity Tugri, who used to work for a Mexican press agency, as its press secretary. But the equipment that she and her nation own consist of two manual typewrtters. Not that they don 't have several people who can use a Macintosh, but their knowledge and determi nation are greater than their resources. Got an okj Mac that you'ne about to trade up? Got a fax machine to spare? Got some spare change? You can put these resources to good use by donating them to the Ngobe-Bugle General Congress. They're up against a powerful corporate propaganda machine which is buying full-page multicolor newspaper ads telling people how their strip mine will make Panama rich without affecting the environment They're up against a computerized oligarchy used to taking the best indigenous land for their ranches and coffee plantations and mountain retreats. They're fighting for what's rightfully theirs with little more than their mainourished bodies. There aren't too many better causes that you could support If you can speak Spanish (or Ngobe), cali Mitzity Tugri at 01 1 -507-74-3664 to arrange the details of yourdonation. You can reach herby mail at Apartado 1051, David, Chiriqui, Panama If you can only communicate in English, contact me at my work phone at 01 1 -507-69-1 456, or by mail at Apartado 815 Balboa, Ancon, Panama, and l'll make the connection with Ms. Tugri foryou. Thanks for whatever help you can offer. Eric Jackson, an Associate Editor of AGENDA, fíled this report f rom Panama, where he has been living since February, 1994.


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