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Date: Sun, 23 Jun 1996 07:26:46 GMT
Sender: Activists Mailing List <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.MISSOURI.EDU>
Subject: Panama: Central America UPDATE 06/15

/** reg.panama: 21.0 **/
** Topic: Panama: Central America UPDATE 06/15 **
** Written 1:35 PM Jun 20, 1996 by cip in cdp:reg.panama **
Central America UPDATE - Panama section

(Home page: http://www.us.net/cip/caupdate.htm)

Panama hosts XXVI OAS General Assembly

From Central America Update, 1-15 June 1996

The hemisphere's foreign ministers convened in Panama City during the week of June 3 for the body's seventeenth General Assembly. Many proposals and resolutions were considered, including a controversial rebuke of U.S. policy toward Cuba.

Participants approved a declaration, the "Consensus of Panama," calling for the implementation of a number of policies.

Among them is an increase in funding for the removal of antipersonnel mines in Central America. The mines, which are left over from the civil wars of the 1980s, number about 170,000: 100,000 in Nicaragua, 30,000 in Honduras, 35,000 in Guatemala and 5,000 in Costa Rica. (While no number is given for El Salvador by a recent OAS report, a Belgian company hired by that country for demining claims it has deactivated 9,553 so far and thousands remain.)35 Their removal is estimated to cost US$6 million and to take four more years.36

Part of the consensus document also called for the creation of an OAS commission to help ease the transfer of the Panama Canal to Panamanan hands. The "consensus" also calls for increased hemispheric efforts toward economic integration and against narcotrafficking and corruption.

The highest-profile event at the assembly was the overwhelming passage of a resolution seeking a panel's opinion on the international legality of the United States' "Helms-Burton" law. The resolution, which passed by a 23-1 margin with the U.S. as the only dissenting vote, seeks to review the U.S. measure, which allows U.S. nationals to sue foreign firms that use their former property in Cuba.

Helms-Burton is widely opposed in the hemisphere, as it is viewed as a U.S. attempt to enforce its laws beyond its borders. 33 of the 34 OAS members sponsored the draft resolution, which was adopted on June 4. Mexico and Canada -- the United States' two NAFTA partners -- led the effort to pass the resolution, a rare example of OAS defiance of U.S. policy.

U.S. Ambassador to the OAS Harriet Babbitt reacted with strong language, calling the resolution a "blatant interventionist" effort to overrule U.S. domestic law and criticizing what she saw as its sponsors' "diplomatic cowardice". Costa Rican Foreign Minister Fernando Naranjo characterized Ms. Babbitt's language as "intemperate."37 Guatemalan President Alvaro Arzu said the U.S. response was "very harsh."38 Honduran Foreign Minister Delmer Urbizo Panting discarded the possibility that his vote on the issue would have any effect on his country's "excellent relations" with the U.S.

Babbitt said that though the resolution was "not helpful", "it should not overshadow the enormous areas of cooperation" at the meeting.39 OAS Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria said the "frank dialogue"over Helms-Burton strengthened and invigorated the organization. The next general assembly will be held in Guatemala in 1997.


35 "Gaviria Calls for International Effort to Remove Central American Land Mines." Central American News. Informatica International, June 8, 1996.

36 Bill Rodgers. "OAS/Centam Mines." Voice of America English-Language Broadcasts. June 5, 1996.

37 Bill Rodgers. "OAS/ Helms-Burton." Voice of America English Language Broadcasts. June 4, 1996.

38 "Presidente califica de `dura' respuesta de EEUU a OEA." ACAN-EFE . June 6, 1996

39 Christopher Marquis. "OAS assails U.S. on Helms-Burton." The Miami Herald. June 5, 1996.

Thank you for reading the Central America UPDATE. Please direct all comments to me at isacson@us.net.

-- Adam Isacson, Center for International Policy

The UPDATE is compiled by the Center for International Policy's Demilitarization Program. It is a semimonthly summary of security-related news in Central America.