The U.S. Southern Command--the military brass in charge of protecting United States big-business interests in Latin America--announced over the summer that the Pentagon wants to occupy Panama indefinitely.
On Aug. 19, the Panama newspaper La Prensa reported that U.S. Gen. Barry McCaffrey of the Southern Command said the Pentagon wants to maintain 5,000 U.S. troops at four bases after the year 2000, which is when they are supposed to leave.
Under the terms of the Panama treaties of 1977, all U.S. bases are supposed to be turned over to the Panamanians and all U.S. occupation soldiers are supposed to leave before Jan. 1, 2000.
But a new base agreement allowing the U.S. bases and troops to stay can be renegotiated if both sides agree.
The president and the civilian State Department are supposed to be in charge of matters of state like this. But a month after the brass went public, the Clinton administration has not yet commented on the Southern Command's "proposal."
Clinton's record of caving in to the military brass and the ultra-right suggests that the White House won't shoot down the Pentagon proposal.
The Balladares government in Panama is a successor to the Guillermo Endara government. U.S. military officers installed Endara during the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989.
It is hardly likely that the Pentagon's creation will disagree with its "proposal"--no matter what the people of Panama think.
The December 1989 invasion overthrew the government of Panama, kidnapped Panamanian head of state Manuel Noriega, and jailed him in the United States. Meanwhile Endara was sworn in as "president" on a U.S. military base under Marine guard.
Along the way, the Pentagon bombed and set fire to working-class neighborhoods like El Chorillo where Noriega had popular support. U.S. troops killed unknown thousands of civilians.
A statement signed by Catholic Bishops Walter Sullivan and Thomas Gumbleton, former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and others calls on people to oppose the Pentagon's plans. "As long as a single U.S. military facility operates in Panama," the statement reads in part, "it will be a symbol of foreign occupation and dependence for all of Latin America."
The U.S. military created the Panama Canal and the Canal Zone almost a hundred years ago to dominate the Americas. They are in Panama and they rightfully belong to the people of Panama.
Until the Panamanian people control their own country, no country in Latin America will be safe from U.S. military aggression.
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