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Despite the dictatorial nature of the constitution, it grants the individual greater human and civil rights than even the United Nations Human Rights Declaration and The American Convention on Human Rights. However the unlimited powers of the dictator effectively denies these rights in practice.
This concentration of dictatorial powers, without parallel in the constitutions of any other Latin American country, do not give, however, a complete idea of the real power that the dictator and the National Guard exercise.
Despite the dictatorial nature of the 1972 Constitution, the individual and civil rights are broader than even the United Nations Human Right Declaration and the "American Convention on Human Rights.” However, the Constitution does not limit the powers of the dictatorship and the freedoms and rights recognized in theory, are constantly denied in daily practices.
Thus the Constitution exists only for "cosmetic" reasons and does not impose in practice any limits to the use and abuse of the governmental powers. For er. ample, the Article 29 of the Constitution prohibits expatriation, but several hun. dred Panamanians live in exile and are not allowed to return to their country.
THE DECREES ABOVE THE CONSTITUTION In 1969 the government promulgated the Cabinet Decrees 341, 342, and 313. Under these decrees, the exercise of the right of eaceful assembly is a crime against the state, dissident opinions are subversive, and all political activities are counterrrevolutionary.
Decree 341, “guarantees the right of peaceful assembly, but prohibits public meetings in the cities of Panama and Colon, where more than half of the Panamanians live.
Decree 342 authorizes administrative authorities to impose up to 15 years of prison terms without the right to a hearing, without due process of law, without defense, without appeal, and without intervention of the courts. The decree is so vaguely written that it could be and has been applied to punish all kind of activities "against the security of the state", including such criminal" act as written or verbal criticism against the government.
A recent case illustrates the procedures under Decree 342: On November 1976 a bomb exploded in a car driven by Jorge Rodriguez, a well known opponent of the government. Rodriguez was slightly injured and his wife was badly hurt. The third passenger, Dolores Montoto, was unharmed. The G-2 men arrested the three persons, but due to the delicate condition of Gilma Rodriguez, she was hospitalized. Four weeks later the controlled press published an administrative Resolution condemning to prison Rodriguez, his wife (at that time still in critical condition in the hospital), and Dolores Montoto to 15, 7, and 5 years respectively. None of them had legal counsel and they never had an opportunity to answer the charges against them. Since then, nobody knows where Mr. Rodriguez is imprisoned. On January 1977, the Panamanian Committee for Human Rights sent a letter to Amnesty International requesting their intervention in this case.
Decree 343 is used to control newspapers, radio, and television, by imposing a rigid self-censorship-seldom violated.
On January 1974 the government prohibited the publication of the newspaper "Quibo” (What's Happening) even before the first edition came out, confiscating the equipment and arresting the editors. The same thing happened in March 1975 when the government prohibited the publication of “La Opinion Publica" (The Public Opinion).
The same decree was used in 1976 to close “Radio Impacto", a radio station that expressed independent opinions. The equipment of the station was confiscated and its owner, forcibly expatriated.
According to the decree, all radio and television stations are forced to tape their programs and deliver them to the Ministry of Government and Justice.
Obviously the decrees contradict the Constitution and violate the l'nited Na. tions Declaration on Human Rights but, nevertheless, they are systematically enforced by the dictatorship.
As far as we know, no other Latin American dictatorships have a legislation more repressive and which violates all internationally recognized standards on human rights. Human rights violations are documented in Volume I and II published by the Panamanian Committee for Human Rights, and in the testimony presented March 30 this year (5) before the Foreign Operations and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations of the House of Representatives.
Since 1968 Panama is listed by the Interamerican Press Association (6) as a country in which "freedom of the press does not exist." Amnesty International has made reports on human right violations during the early years of the regime. Freedom House lists Panama in 1976 as a (7) “not free country”. By contrast, Brazil is listed as a “partially free” country.
Yet, the U.S. 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, and the International League for Human Rights has criticized the State Department Reports.
THE MILITARY ABOVE THE RULE OF LAW In Panama the rule of law does not exist. Since the inception of the dictatorship, judiciary members can be removed freely and no Justice or Judge has dared to resolve a case against the military wishes. The dictatorship often violates its own laws. On several occasions the then Minister of Government and Justice, Materno Vasquez, declared to the Press that “the interest of the state is above the law.” This man is now Chief Justice of Panama's Supreme Court and recently signed on behalf of Panama "The American Convention of Human Rights."
Frequently the courts' decisions as well as the orders of civil authorities are ignored by the military.
The writ of "habeas corpus" is useless in political cases and severely limitated in cases of common arbitrary detentions, because the courts do not have the authority to enforce their decisions. In all cases, a National Guard officer exercises an overriding decision on the decisions of the courts.
On the other hand, the members of the National Guard are personally above the rule of law and the citizens do not dare to initiate criminal or civil procedures against them.
Since 1968 hundreds of Panamanians have been murdered and not even one single case of political assassination has been successfully solved. In many cases the National Guard refuses to deliver the body to the family or to allow the identification of the victims.
National Guard members have earned the reputation of "shoot first and ask questions later."
The security of the person does not exist. People are arrested without formalities of any kind. Often people are detained and the National Guard refuses to acknowledge their detention.
Under these conditions the courts cannot offer effective remedy against the frequent abuses of the authorities.
THE POLITICAL FREEDOM
Political freedom can be defined as the right to participate in, modify, or change a government.
None of those possibilities are within the reach of the Panamanian people. The only elected representatives are the members of the Assembly of District Representatives, a powerless body without any significant role in the government.
Although the right to organize political parties is recognized in the Constitution, the political parties were extinguished by decree in 1968 and, since then, the dictatorship systematically has denied the right to carry on political activi. ties of any kind.
The only exception to this rule is the "Partido del Pueblo" (People's Party), a communist Moscow oriented party, which has complete freedom since 1969, when the party decided to support the dictatorship.
In 1970 the government tried to organize a one party political system the “Movimiento Neuvo Panama”. After two years of great effort and propaganda, using all the resources of the government, public opinion would not accept it. The whole idea was abandoned after one use. Thus, today the only officially allowed party is that of the Moscow/Castro Communists.
The most prominent Panamanian politician, Dr. Arnulfo Arias, who was overthrown 11 (eleven) days after his inauguration as President, elected by the overwhelming majority of votes, lives in exile and is not allowed to return to Panama. Hundreds of other Panamanians also live in exile because of their political beliefs.
THE PLEBISCITE Your committee has called these hearings to study the Panama Canal treaties—it is appropriate 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 a confusion. The plebiscite does not have any binding effect because the power to approve a treaty belongs to the Assembly of District Rep resentatives (Article 141 of the Constitution).
The plebiscite is an expedient to give the treaty the appearance of a popular approval. However what kind of a plebiscite can be held without a free press, without freedom of assembly, and 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?
In 1975, one hundred Panamanians signed a document stating that without freedom of speech and assembly to discuss the Canal Treaty, a plebiscite on the pact “will be neither legitimate nor authentic." Since then, 15 of the persons who signed the statement have been expatriated, others incarcerated, and all of them slandered by the press and harrassed by the government.
The lack of freedom has been so criticized that, after the signing of the treaty, the dictatorship has deemed it necessary to allow a carefully controlled degree of freedom to discuss the new treaty. However, the government is rushing the plebiscite in order to limit discussion. The plebiscite will be held on October 23. despite the protest of many groups that demand more time to study and discuss the Canal pacts.
The farce of the plebiscite is so evident, that today, less than 2 weeks from the plebiscite, the government has still not approved the law that is supposed to establish the voting procedures. The negotiators of both countries have contradictory views of major points of the treaties.
With some precedent, many Panamanians define the plebiscite as a procedure that gives the people the freedom to choose between voting "yes" or being expatriated.
Even under the assumption that a plebiscite would be held with all the neces. sary rights and freedoms guaranteed, it is impossible to think seriously that a dictator who obtained and maintained 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. The plebiscite is a simple problem for the Panamanian government. It does not matter how many vote aye or nay. What matters is who is going to count the votes.
The State Department knows very well that the plebiscite is a farce.
Mr. John L. Jackley prepared “A Study of the Impact of a New Canal Treats" for the United States Embassy in Panama and, among other things he wrote “A lot of good press would be essential for success: in this situation we could make good use of the controlled press situation of the isthmus. If it doesn't work, no propaganda would sell it. But it can be given at least an initial breath of promise through skillful manipulation of the available media.”
UNITED STATES RESPONSIBILITIES Many Americans express concern about a military dictatorship in Panama that consistently violates the most elemental human and political rights of its citizens, but—they argue that is a fact and the United States must deal with reality.
The argument neglects the most important side of the problem : the dictatorship remains in power because it is continually armed, generously financed, politically supported, and morally approved by the United States.
The officers of the National Guard (including Torrijos) were trained by the United States under the Military Assistance Program.
Since the inception of the dictatorship, Panama “has been no. 1 in terms per capita aid" (8) and has received more economical aid than all previous gorernments of Panama together. In fact this very month A.I.D. transmitted a notice to the Congress of an increase in the funding level of the proposed FY 77 program in Panama.
Recently Ambassador Bunker told a congressional committee that Panama does not have a dictatorship, but an "authoritarian regime." However, the negotiators
of the Canal Treaty do not seem to be so sure of the Panamanian government's respect for human rights, because the treaty contains elaborate provisions to protect American citizens rights when those citizens are arrested by Panamanian authorities, Ironically, the Panamanians in their own land are going to have less rights than Americans.
A few days ago President Carter acknowledged that Torrijos is a dictator, but praises him as an “enlightened" man who works for the good of his people.
Constantly the State Department denies that human rights are violated in Panama despite the fact that the Department's intervention is often requested by American citizens that have been beatened, tortured, and arbitrarily jailed by Panamanian authorities.
The United States is alienating Panamanians who cannot understand why the champions of democracy in their own land advocate, defend, and justify a dictatorship in Panama.
To the Panamanian it is clear that the dictatorship, without United States support, would have fallen many years ago by the weight of its errors and the democratic efforts of the people.
Thus, the argument that the United States has to deal with reality is not a valid one, when that really is a direct consequence of a foreign policy oriented to support a dictatorship under the short-sighted premise that a strong military rule is easier to deal with, and, for that reason, more convenient for United States interests.
Latin American intellectuals observe that United States support of dictatorships strengthen anti-American sentiment in the area. History shows the result of that support. For example Dominican Republic 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 United States policy of unconditional support to the dictatorship is pushing them in that direction.
Panamanians do not want United States intervention in their country. Panamanians want their freedom first then to choose fulfillment of their national aspirations, without any foreign power-not the United States, nor Cuba, nor Rus an imposing a corrupt, dishonest, and brutal dictatorship, which is a tragedy for their country and shames any civilized political standard.
Since 1903 all Panamanians have wanted new treaty to replace the one that was signed by a foreigner on behalf of Panama and imposed under the treaty 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 Buneau-Varilla played in 1903.
The new treaty does not solve “the causes of conflict" between the two countries. On the contrary, it adds a few new ones, as, I am sure, many members of Congress are aware. Ainong other things, it is going to condemn future generations of Panamanians to live under a dictatorship as permanent as the interven. tionist role that the U.S. negotiators state the new treaties give the U.S.
However in this ever 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 and all the resentment against the dictatorship will be reflected in the future relations between Panama and the United States.
APPENDIXES TO TESTIMONY OF RICHARD EISENMANN (1) National Security Council letter to Mr. and Mrs. Richard Eisenmann, March 15, 1977.
(2) Charles W. Whalen, Jr., M.C. letter to Richard Eisenmann, November 21, 1975.
(3) Senator Gale McGee letter to Richard Eisenmann, November 11, 1975.
(4) Program of a Meeting organizing a Business and Professional Committee for a New Panama Treaty at State Department, October 30, 1975-Chaired by Richard Eisenmann.
(5) Hearings before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations, House of Representatives, Part 3, 1977, Pages 165–200.
(6) Miami Herald-April 1, 1977-Report on 10 Latin Countries llave Censored Press.
(7) Freedom House Map of Freedom and Table of Nations-Comparative Survey of Freedom.
(8) Hearings before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations, House of Representatives 1976.
NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL,
Washington, D.C., March 15, 1977. Mr. and Mrs. RICHARD EISENMANN, 607 G Street SW., Washington, D.C.
DEAR ADELAIDE AND RICHARD : Dr. Brzezinski has asked me to respond to your letter of February 18 about human rights in Panama and to thank you for the information you provided.
As you know, most of the allegations about the human rights situation in Panama seem to be distributed by opponents of the Panama Canal treaty negotiations. I welcome your comments as I know that both of you have been strong supporters of the need for a new treaty relationship. Clearly, any new treaty will seek to provide a basis for our relations with the Panamanian people and with future governments as well as the present one. Because of our broader, long-term interest in eliminating a potential source of friction with Panama and the rest of the hemisphere, I certainly agree with your view that we should not link the negotiations—which reflect a mutual concern of both governmentswith the human rights question.
As you know, this Administration is interested in the human rights situation in Panama as well as in other countries. Administration officals have stated in other context that we are neither going to link our concerns over the importance of human rights to the solution of other important problems of mutual concern nor will we forbear to speak out on the human rights question just because doing so might annoy or anger governments with which we are negotiating other matters.
The Department of State is familiar with the reports of the Panamanian Committee for Human Rights and would be very interested in meeting with members of the Committee to discuss the current situation. Edward J. Nadeau in the Office of Panamanian Affairs (Room 4258, Department of State, Washington, D.C. 20520, phone: 202/632–9290) would be glad to arrange appropriate appointments. Sincerely,
ROBERT A, PASTOR.
CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES,
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
Washington, D.C., November 21, 1975. Mr. RICHARD EISENMANN, 607 G Street SW., Washington, D.C.
DEAR MR. EISENMANN: Thank you for sending me the materials to bring me up to date on the activities of the Business and Professional Committee for a New Panama Canal Treaty. I regret that the scheduling conflict on October 30 prevented me from attending.
I was most pleased to learn of your efforts to involve the business community in this issue. The group you were able to bring together was most impressive. You certainly deserve to be commended for your endeavors in this regard. Keep up the good work!
Marty has advised me of developments concerning the Committee since the October 30 meeting. He also has informed me of the work Mrs. Eisenmann is doing in conjunction with the upcoming seminar on January 8 for Congressional aides.
Incidentally, you may be interested to know that I will be leading a discussion on Panama at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on Dcember 2. Also, I have accepted an invitation to address the annual conference on Latin America sponsored by SAIS, the Council of the Americas, and the International Man. agement and Development Institute. The topic of my speech will be “U. S. Foreign Policy Toward Latin America : Focus on Panama and Cuba."