CENTRAL AMERICA UPDATE May 25, 1990 Copyright 1990 Latin America Data Base, Latin American

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CENTRAL AMERICA UPDATE May 25, 1990 Copyright 1990 Latin America Data Base, Latin American Institute, University of New Mexico. Project Director: Dr. Nelson Valdes Managing Editor: Dr. Barbara A. Kohl LONG-TERM U.S. OBJECTIVES BEHIND PANAMA INVASION: COMMENTARY By Barbara A. Kohl LADB Managing Editor Late last year, Gen. Antonio Manuel Noriega was given sweeping powers to rule until the state of war imposed by the US on Panama had ended. Officials in Washington denounced the general for declaring war on the US. On Dec. 16, a US soldier was shot to death near Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF) headquarters. Washington reacted by piling opprobrium on Noriega's vicious killers. The PDF said the US officers had broken through checkpoints and fired at the headquarters building, wounding three persons. At about the same time, US official sources described a lurid incident in which a "Navy couple" was threatened and harassed by Noriega's men. Details on this incident from other sources were sparse. On Dec. 20, the US invaded Panama to "protect American lives," and install democracy in that country. Both rationales were linked to the US government's repeated denunciations of the Noriega regime for its brutality and pervasive involvement in the drug trade. Secretary of State James Baker spoke of (unconfirmed) reports that Noriega was planning commando attacks on a US residential neighborhood. "Operation Just Cause" was described as a success. The invasion can be summarized as follows: F-117 Stealth bombers--never before used in combat--dropped 2,000-lb. bombs on military and apparently civilian targets. The PDF headquarters were annihilated, and half the Chorrillo neighborhood surrounding the headquarters was leveled. Houses that escaped the bombing caught fire. At least 20,000 inhabitants of Chorrillo were left homeless. US planes bombed and helicopters strafed in the San Miguelito neighborhood, and in Old Panama. Panama's military and police forces were dismembered. A total of 26 US soldiers died, and 300 were wounded. Among the Panamanian dead were 314 military personnel. The civilian death toll, according to the Pentagon's first complete post-invasion count, was 202. The Panamanian government says "less than 600" Panamanians died altogether. Church organizations, human rights groups and survivors of dead and missing Panamanians say the real civilian death toll was between 1,000 and 2,000. According to a report by the Boston-based Physicians for Human Rights, more than 3,000 Panamanians were wounded. About 10,000 people were abruptly unemployed by the invasion due to fighting and looting which destroyed 75% of the commercial sector in Panama City. Overall unemployment prior to the invasion was 20%; post-invasion levels are estimated at over 30%. Material damage caused by the invasion has been estimated at between $1 billion and $2 billion. Estimates of losses due to looting are around $1 billion. (Add to this about $3 billion in losses after two years of US economic sanctions.) On credibility of US justifications for invasion Washington's two major justifications for the invasion are simply not credible. With the exception of El Salvador, no Latin American government accepted the US line. Most governments in the region strongly condemned the military operation, asserting that the US had violated international law. Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela have called for new elections in Panama. Latin American governments have been slow to restore full diplomatic relations with Panama. At present, Panama's relations with several governments in the region are at the attache level. Democracy is grounded, in part, on the rule of law. The invasion violated US treaty obligations, and the Organization of American States (OAS) Charter. Latin Americans and people of other nationalities throughout the world reject the notion that a foreign occupation army can legitimately or successfully impose democracy (or any other set of policies or form of government preferred by the occupier). Ret. Adm. Eugene J. Carroll, deputy director of the Center for Defense Information, has said that in no way can 26 dead and 300 wounded US soldiers and thousands of Panamanian casualties be justified because of a "level of pre-invasion violence...lower than what normally exists in Washington, DC, every day." Next, the self-defense argument falls flat because the US invading forces concentrated on pulverizing the PDF. US residents were left to their own devices. If the Dignity Battalions were half as vicious as described, they could have killed dozens of US citizens. A disgusted Central American diplomat who requested anonymity was quoted by Notimex (Mexican government press service) as follows: "Washington used 30,000 men, air support, tanks, and...dropped 4,000 bombs on Panama in only one day. It offered all this up to world public opinion as an operation to arrest a drug trafficker." Regarding the human rights abuses attributed to Gen. Noriega's soldiers, police, and "thugs" (Dignity Battalions), some human rights monitors have noted that the Salvadoran and Guatemalan security forces each commit more abuses in an average month than their Panamanian counterparts managed in a year or more. On drug trade links, government officials and/or military officers in the Bahamas, Jamaica, Guatemala, Colombia, Bolivia, Mexico, and Peru, among others, have been identified as suspects or guilty by the US Drug Enforcement Administration and State Department. The governments mentioned above have not been subjected to economic embargo, trade sanctions, and unrelenting "bad press" engineered by Washington. Panama was not distinct from these and other countries in terms of rights abuses and drug trade machinations. Long-term objectives underlying decision to invade US objectives behind the invasion had little or nothing to do with protecting US citizens, installing democracy, and reducing human rights abuses and drug trafficking. Three more likely interrelated objectives--albeit of the long-term, structural sort--are Washington's commitment to control of the military anywhere in its sphere of influence which includes all of Latin America, maintenance of US military facilities in Panama, and control over the (future) Canal. Noriega, once an eager provider of intelligence to the CIA and partner in numerous dirty tricks, went rogue. The US effectively lost control of the PDF, which had been organized and trained with considerable US assistance. Thus, the PDF and Panama's police force had to be dismantled in order to be reconstructed into an entity subject to US control or suasion. US military doctrine does not require an immediate or near future use of, or cooperation with, a given military organization in Latin America. The imperative is to control all of them to ensure the pursuit of US intelligence, strategic, and political objectives whenever the need and desire arise. The 1977 Canal treaties signed by the governments of Gen. Omar Torrijos and President Jimmy Carter specify that existing US military installations are to be closed down by the year 2000. The territory currently held by the US military would come under the exclusive control of the Panamanian government. In addition to defense of the Panama Canal, the US Southern Command is in charge of coordinating all US military operations and exercises in Latin America, as well as US military aid programs to governments in the region. The US Army's training center for jungle warfare operations and an inter-American air force academy are also located in Panama. Data derived from innumerable underwater listening devices--likely in the Pacific and Caribbean, and perhaps elsewhere as well--are transmitted to the Southern Command for processing. There are undoubtedly other facilities and projects in Panama overseen by the Southern Command that are not common knowledge, or deliberately kept secret. In recent months, the US media has reported on feasibility studies and debate by the Pentagon and congressional committees on possible new locations for the Southern Command. Among others, sites in Texas, Louisiana, and Honduras are being evaluated. Even assuming that discussion of alternative future sites for the Command is not simply a ruse to deflect attention from Washington's real intentions vis-a-vis the Canal treaties, State Department and Pentagon planners are probably committed to keeping at least some facilities connected with the Southern Command in place beyond the year 2000. Moreover, in the next nine years--given the hemispheric-scale "drug war," for instance--US military planners may foresee the need for installation of other, different facilities in Panama. Another factor which enters into the equation is the federal government's fiscal constraints. At some point in the 1990s, we will likely be inundated by the media with assertions that moving all Southern Command facilities is much too costly to contemplate. By this time, the US will have invested billions in aid monies and trade concessions in Panama. Meanwhile, Washington will have conducted business as usual by threatening to withhold economic goodies unless the Panamanian government gives way in an incremental fashion on the intent and the letter of the Canal accords. A variety of understandings, gentlemen's agreements or more formal accords are possible in the next nine years. In order for the US to enhance the viability of realizing a series of more or less desirable "preferences"--called keeping one's options open--, a friendly government and controllable military (or militarized police force) in Panama are mandatory. It is well-known that plans are underway to replace the existing Canal. For instance, modern supertankers and certain types of cargo ships cannot easily pass through the locks, if at all. Engineering feasibility studies on diverse sites and canal designs in both Panama and Nicaragua are already numerous. While the US government may not be particularly committed to overseeing control and defense of the existing Canal after 2000, its future reincarnation is a different matter. To ensure US dominance or priority (strategic, economic) in the administration of the new Canal, friendly governments and militaries in both Nicaragua and Panama are crucial. The possibility of the government "hosting" the canal playing off the US against other major economic powers (say, Japan) for its own economic and nationalistic gains--in Washington's imperial domain, yet--would be anathema. Source: PeaceNet - cdp:carnet.oldladb

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