Panama: The not so inoffensive visitors
by Sonia Sanchez Granma International Apparently, to avoid losing ground in its hegemony over the area and to prevent Panama from taking any independent course, the US has proposed an agreement with Panama's Government concerning "visiting forces", those which, it seems, could be stationed in the disputed Canal Zone. Definitely suspicious. So much so that the Panamanian head of state hastened to declare it out of context at a time when the country's domestic agenda is complicated by discontent over the minimum wage and other thorny issues. The initiative can be simply summed up as excluding US troops from requiring passports or permission from the Panamanian Government in order to move through the zone, from which the US had to withdraw every one of their soldiers in December 1999, in accordance with the Torrijos-Carter Treaties. The proposal would also permit US troops to carry arms in case of need, and to import, export and establish their own transportation and communications logistics. Furthermore, they would not have to stand trial in any Panamanian court and would be exempt from all national customs, immigration and taxation procedures. These intentions are not as inoffensive as Washington is portraying them. Many questions have been raised such as the possibility of US forces undertaking military training exercises or even combat operations. This is of particular concern given the legacy of toxic material and unexploded mines and bombs left behind after the Canal was handed over to the Panamanian authorities. According to statistics published on the Internet by the Latin American Program, part of the US Fellowship of Reconciliation organisation, more than 120,000 unexploded devices were left behind, which have already led to the death of 21 Panamanians. The proposed agreement is a flagrant violation of the Panama Canal's neutrality and the country's sovereignty. It could also bring Panama into the conflict between Washington and Colombia.