The Guardian September 13, 2000


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.

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