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SouthComm Gone, New "SOA" on the Way?
Weekly News Update on the Americas, issue #415, 11 January 1998
On Jan. 8, US ambassador William Hughes handed over to Panamanian foreign minister Ricardo Arias the key symbolizing the transfer of authority over the Quarry Heights military installations west of the capital, where the US Southern Command was headquartered for nearly fifty years until its recent move to Miami. The Quarry Heights installations--comprising nearly 30 acres with 33 buildings, a restaurant, a post office, a barber shop and a 14-room hotel--are the only US military installations scheduled for transfer to Panamanian control this year. Until the end of 1999, the US will keep operating seven bases in Panama with some 4,000 soldiers. [El Nuevo Herald (Miami) 1/9/98 from AP] Under the 1978 Panama Canal Treaties, all US troops were to leave Panama by Dec. 31, 1999. However, the agreements for the CMA surveillance and training base will allow US troops to remain in Panama beyond 1999, even though the CMA will technically be on Panamanian territory and under civilian control [see Update #414].
The deputy foreign ministers of Colombia, Mexico and Brazil were scheduled to start talks on Jan. 12 with Panamanian and US government negotiators over their countries' participation in the CMA. Panama has said it will not sign the accords until the participation of other nations in the CMA is assured. [Notimex 1/9/98, 1/10/98; La Prensa 1/6/98, 1/9/98]
A delegation of US senators accompanied by high-ranking US military officers and experts in Latin American affairs arrived in Panama on Jan. 5 for a three-day visit. The delegation is led by Republican majority leader Trent Lott (R-MS) and includes senators John Breaux (D-LA), Frank Murkowski (R-AK), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), Mike DeWine (R-OH), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Pat Roberts (R-KS). The main themes brought up by the delegation in Panama were the CMA and the acquittal of Panamanians accused of the murder of US soldier Zak Hernandez [see Update #402, 405]. The delegation's week-long trip also includes stops in Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico. [El Siglo (Panama) 1/6/98, 1/7/98; Notimex 1/9/98] Lott insisted that the CMA "could serve as a model to the world." [LP 1/7/98] However, the senators complained of a lack of concrete information about the CMA accords. [El Panama America 1/8/98]
Fragments of information about the CMA are emerging: Panamanian negotiator Adolfo Ahumada, a foreign ministry adviser, revealed that while the CMA accords provide for foreigners assigned to the CMA to be tried in Panama for any crimes committed during their deployment, it mandates that they will serve out the sentences for those crimes in their home countries. It has also been revealed that in addition to keeping a lookout for planes suspected of carrying illegal drug shipments, the CMA will provide training for judges, prosecutors and police agents charged with cases of drug trafficking. [CNN en Espanol web site 1/6/98 from Reuter]
"A new School of the Americas will be re-created in our territory (the classes on interrogation and torture will change their objective: from fighting communists to fighting drug traffickers). And who will decide who is what?" wrote Panamanian businessperson and political figure I. Roberto Eisenmann, Jr., founding president of the daily La Prensa and president of the Foundation for the Development of Citizens, in an essay about his reasons for opposing the CMA. Eisenmann urged Panamanians to vote "no" when the CMA question is put to a referendum. [The US Army School of the Americas (SOA) was located in Panama from 1946 until it closed in September 1984; it was reopened four months later at Fort Benning, Georgia.] [ES 1/9/98]
A "Meeting for Sovereignty" was called by the Sovereign Panama Front (FPS) for Jan. 10 at the University of Panama in an attempt to build up a pro-sovereignty movement and galvanize opposition to US intervention in Panama. [Article from Panama Information Center Facing the Year 2000 (CIP2000) 1/8/98, forwarded by Nuevo Amanecer Press]
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