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I recently retired from the Bureau of International Commerce of the Department of Commerce. My work took me to most of the Third World nations, and especially to Latin America, over a period of some 13 years. I have seen great progress in that time.
With Panama I have a very special background, a living experience of some years and a familiarity with all the peoples of all walks of life. As a result, I was particularly concerned for the negotiation of a new Panama Treaty, which would give greater assurance, and I quote the State Department: "Of an open and neutral Canal.”
The letters appended to my written testimony attest to my arduous and successful efforts to divert some congressional attempts to stop negotiations and to work in enlisting our multinational corporations to support treaty negotiation.
However I, as so many in the United States and even in Panama, was misled. I am anxious that what I have learned be shared with you and your constituents.
Nevertheless, I will very briefly cover only the highlights of the testimony I submit for the record.
CONCENTRATION OF POWERS IN PANAMA GOVERNMENT
In 1968, through a military coup, for the first time in their history, Panamanians found themselves under the brutal rule of one of the most corrupt and arbitrary dictatorships in Latin America.
Today Panamanians live in constant fear. Telephones are tapped, mail intercepted, houses searched in the dark of night, people arbitrarily arrested, and the population intimidated by a large organization of paid informers.
All governments which come to power by force try to give legitimacy to their origins and legality to their malpractices. In 1972, Torrijos, true to form, called elections for a “constitutional assembly," which later found itself to be not that, but a permanent assembly.
The new Constitution, which was read and passed in one week, subordinates the legislative, executive, and judicial power to the National Guard. It goes further. It subordinates everything to Torrijos, as the "maximum leader," and subjects all powers and all rights of the Constitution to his whim and that exercised by people who he may appoint and remove.
This concentration of dictatorial powers is without parallel in the constitutions of any other Latin American country. But it does not give an idea of the complete power that the dictator and the National Guard actually exercise.
CABINET DECREES 341, 342, AND 343 The constitution exists for cosmetic reasons and does not impose in practice any limits to the use and abuse of the governmental powers. For example, in 1969, the government promulgated the cabinet decrees 341, 342, and 343, which should be studied at great length because they will eventually affect American citizens in what is now the Canal Zone.
Under these decrees the exercise of the right of peaceful assembly is a crime, a crime against the state; dissident opinions are subversive; and all political activities are counterrevolutionary. As far as we know other Latin American dictatorships don't have legislation as repressive as Panama. All internationally recognized standards for human rights are violated. The laws themselves constitute a continued and systematic violation of all human rights standards.
HUMAN RIGHTS PROBLEMS IN PANAMA
The Panamanian Committee for Human Rights documented human rights violations in volumes I and II, published in September and November 1976, and the committee presented testimony March 30 of this year before the Foreign Operations and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations of the House of Representatives. The testimony was presented with more than 100 pages of documentation—not of experience of people from Panama who may have been prejudiced having suffered. Îhis was documentation from our American press.
Yet, the State Department, with an unbelievable lack of information or selective standards of ethics that give little honor to the moral commitments of President Carter's administration, has denied that human rights in Panama are an area of concern. The International League for Human Rights has criticized the State Department reports.
I would like to call your attention at this time to today's column by Jack Anderson. It discussed points in which very high officials of our Government said that there are problems of human rights in Panama but they should not be discussed because they might affect the delicate negotiation of a treaty.
PANAMANIAN NATIONAL PLEBISCITE
Your committee has called these hearings to study the Panama Canal Treaties and this is an appropriate time to explore the parallel process of the other signatory.
The Panama Constitution provides that any canal treaty must be submitted to a national plebiscite. However, there is some confusion. The plebiscite does not have a binding effect because the power to approve a treaty lies with the Assembly of District Representatives. The plebiscite is, in truth, an expedient to give the treaty the appearance of a popular approval.
However, what kind of plebiscite can be held without a free press? Without freedom of assembly? Without freedom of thought and expression? What is the value of a plebiscite under the constant manipulation of information by the government-controlled press, radio, and television? And, though there is a cosmetic relaxation at this time, what will happen to the people who are speaking out at this time?
As an example, in 1975, 100 Panamanians signed a document stating that without freedom of speech and assembly to discuss a future canal treaty, a plebiscite on the pact "will be neither legitimate nor authentic." Since then, 15 of those persons have been expatriated, others incarcerated, and all of them slandered consistently by the press and harrassed by the government.
The government is rushing the plebiscite in order to limit discussion. The plebiscite will be held on October 23, despite the protests of many groups that demand more time for study.
The farce of this plebiscite is so evident that today, less than 2 weeks from the plebiscite time, the government has not approved the law that is supposed to establish the voting procedures. And still the negotiators of both countries have contradictory views of major points of the treaties.
Many Panamanians, because they do have a sense of humor, even today, define the plebiscite as a procedure that gives the people a certain freedom-freedom to choose between voting yes or being expatriated.
But even under the assumption that a plebiscite would be held with all the necessary rights and freedoms guaranteed, it is impossible to think seriously that a dictator who obtained and maintains his power by sheer force against the will of the people is going to respect their vote in an essential matter for the survival of the dictatorship. It is simply a matter for the Panamanian Government to count the votes as it sees fit.
The State Department knows this very well. But will you accept the validity of such a plebiscite! It is not an easy question.
U.S. SUPPORT FOR PANAMANIAN DICTATORSHIP
Many Americans express concern about a military dictatorship in Panama, but they argue that it is a fact in being and that the United States must deal with
the reality. This argument neglects some important points.
The dictatorship remains in power because it is continually armed, it is generously financed, it is politically supported, and it is morally approved by the United States.
The officers of the National Guard, including Torrijos, were trained by the United States.
Since the inception of the dictatorship, Panama has been No. 1 in terms of per capita aid. This dictatorship has received more economic aid than all previous governments of Panama together.
In fact, this very month, AID transmitted a notice to the Congress of an increase in the funding level of the proposed fiscal year 1977 program in Panama.
This, of course, explains how a corrupt government can still appear to be populist—using American money for popular public works.
It was surprising to hear that President Carter acknowledged that Torrijos is a dictator, though Ambassador Bunker has said to Congress he is not. But President Carter went on to praise him as an “enlightened” man who works for the good of his people—for the quiet ones, I am sure.
The Untied States is alienating Panamanians who cannot understand why the champions of democracy in their own land advocate, defend, and justify à dictatorship in small Panama.
The argument that the United States has to deal with the reality is not a valid one, when that reality is a direct consequence of our own foreign policy oriented to support this dictatorship under the rather short-sighted premise that a strong military rule is easier to deal with, and for that reason more convenient for our negotiations.
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Latinists know that U.S. support of dictatorships strengthen antiAmerican sentiment. History shows that the result of that support is not good. For example, in the Dominican Republic, after many years of support of the regime, the United States found it necessary to intervene militarily. In Cuba, the opening was made for Fidel Castro's revolution.
Panamanians are not radical. But the U.S. policy of unconditional support of the dictatorship is pushing them in that direction.
PANAMANIANS' DESIRE FOR NEW TREATY
There is no doubt that since 1903 all Panamanians have wanted a new treaty to replace the one that was signed by a foreigner on behalf of Panama and imposed on Panama in reality under the threat of losing the independence of the new born republic.
But Panamanians do not want to replace a bad treaty with one that is going to be imposed with Torrijos playing the same role that Bunreau-Varilla played in 1903. They don't want a treaty and to have to give up their freedom permanently for it.
The new treaty, for us, however, does not solve the causes of conflict between the two countries. On the contrary, it adds a few, as I am sure many of you understand. Among other things, this condemnation of future generations of Panamanians to live under a dictatorship is almost the same kind of permanence that Panamanians see in the new interventionist role that the U.S. negotiators state that the new treaties give to the United States.
Let us remember that in this changing world “permanent” does not mean "eternal.” Sooner or later the dictator will fall. Then the treaty is going to be rejected by Panamanians and their governments. For all the resentment against the dictatorship will be reflected in the future relations between Panama and the United States.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
PREPARED STATEMENT OF RICHARD EISENMANN, ACCOMPANIED BY WINSTON
ROBLES, LL.D., BEFORE EXILE IN 1976, PROFESSOR OF LAW, UNIVERSITY OF PANAMA
Today, my testimony is confined to two points: There is, for the first time, in the Republic of Panama an absolute dictatorship. Second, I raise the question whether the plebiscite in Panama required by their Constitution, will reflect any. thing other than the will of the dictator.
THE MILITARY RULE In 1968, through a miiltary coup, for the first time in their history, Panamanians found themselves under the brutal rule of one of the most corrupt and arbitrary dictatorships in Latin America.
Since then, prison, torture, expatriation and murder have become the common procedure used by the government to deal with dissident opinion.
Following the coup, the University of Panama was closed for a year. All political parties were banned. Newspapers and radio stations were seized and all the independent media controlled. Many Panamanians were tortured, incarcerated, murdered or simply disappeared, many were forcibly expatriated.
Today Panamanians live in constant fear. Telephones are tapped, mail intercepted, houses searched in the dark of night, people arbitrarily arrested, and the population intimidated by an organization of paid informers.
Arrests are made on the grounds of "insults to the General" or "disrespect of the authorities” because of private conversations in which there was criticism of the government or its officers.
From time to time the government-controlled press publishes special government telephone numbers to which "citizens should call to denounce counterrevolutionary practices.”
The government, using every imaginable resource-intimidation, blackmail, bribery (to name a few)-maintains strict control over labor unions, professional associations, farmers organizations, and other organized groups.
The very few organizations that at one time or another have expressed criticism of government policies or practices have been subjected to harassment, threats and reprisals. The instinct for self preservation forces conformity.
The government, its officers and its friends are involved in all kinds of legal and illegal businesses. The involvement of high ranking officers in drug traffic is well known.
Before the coup, Panama maintained for many years the highest sustained rate of economic growth in Latin America and one of the highest in the world. Today, the military are the social, political and economic aristocracy of a country in bankruptcy. There was a negative, minus 1 percent growth in 1976, and unemployment was the highest in the history of the country.
All governments that come to power by force try to give legitimacy to their origins and legality to their malpractices. In 1972 Torrijos dictatorship called elections for a “Constituional Assembly". With all political parties and activi. ties proscribed, except the government party “Movimiento Neuvo Panama” and the “Partido Del Pueblo" (Moscow oriented communist party), and absolute control of newspapers, television and radio stations, it was not surprising that the government won 504 of the 505 carefully screened "representatives”.
This selected, rather than elected, assembly held its first meeting October 1, 1972. A week later the “new constitution" was approved without discussion and the "constitutional assembly, even to the surprise of its members, found itself transformed into a “Legislative Assembly"-but one without power to legislate.
The new constitution subordinates the legislative, executive and judicial power to the National Guard. It eliminates the separation of powers and places the legislative power in a “Legislative Council" composed of the Cabinet Ministers and any number of members appointed by Torrijos. It also states that Torrijos is the “Maximum Leader". His constitutional powers are illustrated by a literal translation of Article 277 :
Article 277: "General Omar Torrijos Herrera, Commander-in-Chief of the National Guard is hereby recognized as the Maximum Leader of the Panamanian Revolution. As a consequence and to guarantee the fulfillment of the objectives of the revolutionary process, General Torrijos is hereby granted, for a term of 6 years, the following powers: To coordinate all the work of the Public Administration ; appoint and remove freely all Cabinet Ministers, member of the Legislative Commission, the Comptroller General, and the Sub-Comptroller General of the Republic, the general Directors of all Autonomous and Semi-Autonomous Institutions and the Magistrates of the Electoral Court to be named by the Executive Branch according to this Constitution and the law; to appoint the Commanders and officers of the Armed Forces, according to this Constitution, the law, and the military hierarols;; to appoint, with the approval of the Cabinet, all the Justices of Supreme Court, the Attorney General, Attorney of the Administration and their respective alternates; to approve government contracts, negotiation of government loans and conduct the foreign relations.
"General Omar Torrijos will have, in addition, power to participate with the right to be heard and to vote in all the meetings of the Cabinet, the Legislative Commission, the National Assembly of Representatives, the Provincial Councils of Coordination, and the Communal Committees.”
The new constitution subordinates everything to Torrijos as the "Maximum Leader”, and subjecting all powers to him except for those exercised by people he may, at will, appoint and remove.