Friday, March 27, 2009

US Invasion of Panama - Ch.3

Panama’s Only Sin is Refusing to go Down on its Knees

Located at the south-eastern-most end of Central America, Panama was one of the countries liberated by Simon Bolivar. Culturally and ethnically, it extends the Colombian-Venezuelan coast, and it is also a Caribbean nation. It is Caribbean because of its varied, historical ties to the Antilles.

The location and shape of Panama’s territory makes its geographic position the main natural resource of the country – it is an isthmus that links the two continents of America and is at the very center of the hemisphere and the Caribbean. Thanks to this, shipping transit between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as well as other forms of international communication and trade, are possible.

If exploited rationally and peacefully, this asset could provide resources to finance the full development of the country’s other productive capacities. But it hasn’t been able to. For centuries, Panama’s geographic advantage has been subject to the control of successive colonial and imperialist powers, hardly leaving even marginal benefits for Panama, and creating structural distortions in te country’s economy.

The most irritation of these experiences has been and remains the hegemony of the United States, which has carried out numerous armed interventions since the beginning of the nineteenth century and which currently militarily occupies the central part of the country.

National struggles against US excesses and to recover the territorial and moral integrity of Panama have been at the center of its history. We have fought to win complete independence and to exercise real sovereignty over the nation’s main natural resource, as well as control over our country’s development. We Panamanians have the right to determine this.

The 1977 canal treaties were a result of this history; of the tragic and heroic events of January 1964; and of the complex and prolonged negotiations led by Gen. Omar Torrijos during the 1970s, backed by mobilizations of the Panamanian people and international solidarity even though these treaties, which are now in effect, are far from satisfying all of Panama’s just demands, they represent important progress toward achieving our national objectives.

In accordance with the treaties, civil administration of the canal became bi-national, with an increasing Panamanian share of control. The canal is to be turned over to Panama completely by the year 2000. Responsibility for its protection and defense is to rest increasingly with the Panamanian armed forces, while the US military presence is to begin decreasing, so that the last foreign soldier leaves the country by the end of the century.

The treaties clearly establish that US forces remain in Panama for the time being exclusively to provide protection and defense of the canal. And that this must always be carried out in coordination with the Panamanian armed forces. US forces cannot be utilized for any other purpose.

Since the signing and ratification of the treaties, Panama has scrupulously carried them out and the United States has systematically violated them. The US Congress unilaterally passed the so-called Murphy Law, or Law 96-70, which it uses to gaggle over and deny Panama a large part of the benefits and rights that belong to us in the administration of and profits from the canal.1

In the military sphere, the United States has created and maintains two structures in Panama that violate the pact:

The 193d Brigade of its southern army tries to justify its presence on the basis of protection and defense of the canal.

Even more serious is the Southern Command, which is an enormous complex dedicated to military control, espionage, and intervention against all the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. Neither the existence nor the activities of the Southern Command are authorized by the treaties, or by Panama’s laws or government. Both the Panamanian parliament and government have repeatedly demanded its removal, denouncing it before the world’s principle international forums.

These two foreign military structures have nothing to do with protecting the canal. The canal’s security is guaranteed by its neutrality, as well as its efficiency in the permanent service of the peaceful navigation and commerce of the nations of the world. It is also guaranteed by the good will of the Panamanian people, who make it possible for the canal to operate and who voluntarily refrain from interrupting its functioning.

 Neither Panama nor the canal have enemies, or reasons to have them. The only thing that threatens the security of the waterway is the unwanted presence of the military forces and installations of a foreign power that is constantly involved in conflicts and rivalries in other parts of the world.

Both from a military and an economic point of view, it is absurd to station installations and large numbers of troops on the banks of the canal. This restricts its functioning and prevents the area from being used for more productive activities.

The canal has no nearby potential aggressors and would be vulnerable only if faced with a missile attack from outside the region. Anybody who wants to defend the canal against this hypothetical possibility does not need to do it from inside Panama. Inside our territory, the Panamanian forces are sufficient to protect and defend the installation of the waterway.

This is precisely why the Panamanian Defense Forces exist: to guarantee Panama’s neutrality and the security not only of the canal but of all the country’s resources. Our armed forces do this for the benefit of the international community and without threatening the sovereignty or security of third parties.

One reason for the existence of the Panamanian armed forces is to eliminate the legacy of colonialism and neo-colonialism, and guarantee the integrity and self-determination of the country. This is in compliance with the clause in the treaties stating that for US troops to withdraw, Panama must have sufficient armed forces to replace them.

It’s for this reason also that the current administration in Washington has concentrated its attakes against the Panamanian military and against its Torrijista officers. In the ten years since the signing and ratification of the treaties, the strategic goals of the United States in the region have changed decisively. For them it’s no longer merely a question of controlling the canal. They want to control the entire sub-continent. To do this, they must eliminate three obstacles once and for all.

First, change the terms of the canal treaties to broaden the authority of the US military presence and to prolong it beyond this century.

Second, eliminate Torrijismo as the dominant political current and restore an oligarchic alternative government that will agree to and administer new canal accords.

Finally, under the guise of “professionalism,” eliminate the nationalist, popular character of the young Panamanian armed forces. That is to say, break its civic commitments and turn it into the kind of repressive force necessary to impose the objectives I referred to, against the will of the nation.

Going against the grain of the real historical, ethnic, cultural, economic, and political characteristics of the country, US administrations have insidsted on subsuming Panamain their Central American strategy. Contrary to this picture, however, the Contadora initiative and previous initiatives -  ut not as part of the sub-regional conflicts.2

Nevertheless, with characteristic US arrogance, in December 1985 Vice-Admiral John Poindexter – then head of the US National Security Council – made the following demands:

The Panamanian government must break with the Contadora efforts. It must provide logistical and training facilities for the Nicaraguan contras. And it must assign special units of its armed forces to initiate acts of aggression against Nicaragua. When Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega firmly refused, he was warned that he would have to face the consequences.

Economic reprisals against Panama were initiated the following January with the cancellation of assistance that had been agreed to through the US Agency for International Development. The slander campaign against Noriega and other Panamanian leaders began in March, throught Col. Oliver North’s “leaking” to the press of “secret” National Security Council documents, as the US press itself has revealed. The campaign has not let us since then, systematically pursuing its objective of isolating Panama.

This attack is directed not only against the Contadora Group (although the US government put pressure simultaneously on other members of it, particularly Mexico). Significantly, during that same time, Gen. John Galvin, then head of the Sourthern Comnand and the current commander of NATO’s troops, made Panama an offer. He proposed turning over civil administration of the canal to the country by 1990 – ten years ahead of schedule – if Panama would allow US military bases to remain in the country for fifteen more years, until the year 2015.

There’s nothing naïve about the US conception of turning over the canal. On the one hand it recognizes that the waterway has been more efficient, secure,and profitable since Panamanians began sharing in its administration. On the other hand, the essence of the US conception is something else: it proposes the “nationalization” of the canal, in which Panama would agree to privatize it – in other words, turn the canal over to multinational corporations dominated by US capital. This would serve not only to dilute Panamanian demands, but also to discourage Latin American, Japanese, and European participation in the creation of new alternatives for the canal.

US strategy to bring Panamanina nationalism to its knees has been able to combine various operations at the same time. It has carried out a campaign directed at the US public and at Latin America and the world, aimed at discrediting General Noriega and other leaders. (It is necessary for them to prepare US public opinion for a military intervention much more costly even than the invasion of Grenada.) It has accused them of a variety of crimes, such as drug trafficking, and has tired to make it appear as though a bloody dictatorship rules Panama.

Throughout this long campaign the United States has used to the utmost its undisputed control over the mass media in most parts of the world. It temporarily succeeded in its efforts to neutralize international solidarity with Panama and paralyze a Latin American response to the flagrant aggression committed against a Latin American country.

At the same time, in addition to the psychological damage it inflicted with this type of aggression, the US government attempted to fashion a united front of right-wing political parties within Panama. When this failed to bring results, it organized a front headed by business and oligarchic sectors that succeeded in winning over numerous middle-class professional associations and civic organizations. This front had the support of the church hierarchy, most of the foreign banks, and the political parties I mentioned.

Throught this the US government aimed at – and temporarily succeeded in – destabilizing the political and economic life of the country. It initiated a process of social subversion that was supposed to lead within a short period of time to the setting up of a de facto government and the final breaking up of Torrijismo and the Defense Forces. The aim of the US propaganda and disinformation campaign outside the country was to cover up the neo-colonialist nature of this movement, making it appear as though the movement’s aims were “democratic.”

At the same time, intense pressure was put on members of the oligarchy – both those who were pro-US, as wellas vacillating members of the government alliance. Officials of the armed forces who were less patriotic were also pressured. All of this ws done to break their resistance psychologically and intimidate them into surrendering. This led to the betrayal of ex-Colonel Diaz and ex-President Eric Arturo Devalle, neither of whom have any political significance of their own, as well as a group of officers.3

However, far from weakening the popular, patriotic movement, these moves helped purify and strengthen it. They opened the door to the establishment of a constitutional government with a patriotic character and a much broader social base.

On top of everything else, in its arrogance, ignorance, and desperation, the US government carried out a brutal series of economic aggressions against Panama, alone with military threats. It has severely damaged the Panamanian economy, particularly hurting the Panamanian people.

However, the imperialist plan did not foresee the resolute resistance of the Panamanian people. Nor that the imperialist actions themselves would become the best indictment of the true neo-colonialist character of the internal subversion.

This has led to the breaking u[ of the social and political front of the pro-US opposition, which has been stigmatized irrevocable for its role as pawns of the US errors. And the prolonged patriotic resistance has finally opened up the eyes of Latin American and world public opinion. This resistance is also increasingly becoming a political problem within the United States.

The temporary relative success achieved by the opposition has made possible a more self-critical examination of the political errors made by the Panamanian government over the last several years.

The government formed an electoral alliance with sectors of the oligarchy in 1984. It subsequently adopted a policy of concessions toward the International Monetary Fund. It allowed productive sectors of the economy to be de-capitalized in the name of servicing the foreign debt and speculative finance capital, turning the country into a net exporter of capital. It allowed Torrijismo’s basic forms of popular organization and participation to become weak. It maintained a government that was clearly unpopular, in the name of a supposed respect for formal democracy and to avoid incurring Washington’s disfavor. These were errors that of necessity alienated important sectors of the middle class and demobilized popular support.

Panama has reiterated its decision to continue and deepen the process of democratization. But it is not willing to denigrate democracy, reducing it to a mere succession of electoral matches in which the oligarchs take their turn in the government according to what pleases Washington. The cornerstone of real democracy is respect for popular, national sovereignty and the genuine exercise of national sovereignty and the genuine exercise of national self-determination.

US Invasion of Panama

There is no democracy under conditions of foreign tutelage or interference, or by being forced to imitate foreign models. There is no democracy without effective democratization of the economic, social, and cultural structures of the country, with the people’s participation.

There is no democracy if it’s left to US consuls to decide who can and cannot be president of Panama, or which Panamanian civilian or military officials can keep their positions and whether they can remain in the country. This is a matter of principle and is not negotiable.

In Panama we have witnessed and are witnessing what will probably be the US model of destabilization and control for the whole region in the coming years. Panama has been and continues to be an arena for experimentation with new forms of psychological warfare and neo-colonial domination that are already being tested in other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean.

It’s not only a moral imperative, where a small Latin American country whose only sin is effusing to go down on its knees is being subjected to the brutal and blatant aggression of a great power. It is also a political imperative, because the methods being used to force Panama into submission are obviously intended for more general use and are more than a simple precedent.

What is at stake is the sovereignty, self-determination, and dignity of all our nations and peoples. At stake is the right of the Latin American and Caribbean peoples to decide on their own forms of democracy, to determine their own future according to their own interests. Our fate – that of all of us – is either the right to popular, national liberation, or neo-colonial slavery. That’s why we say to certain governments that are too docile, too timid, too complacent: Do not ask for whom the bell tolls in Panama; it tolls for thee.

- pages 30-39

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