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On January 10, 1976, it was dictator Torrijos himself, accompanied by scores of newsmen, diplomats, policemen, and military, who visited Castro. He went from Havana to Santiago de Cuba for a spectacular gathering, followed by a special tour of Cuban military installations around the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay. The idea was to link the Panama Canal and Guantánamo as "terr irredenta” to be rescued from the United States.
LATIN AMERICAN COMMITMENT TO PANAMANIAN CONTROL OF CANAL
In April 1976, Torrijos visited Jamaica, and Prime Minister Michael Manley, already at work to impose a socialist dictatorship there, urged that the negotiations for a new Panama Canal Treaty be intensified so that Panama “should have absolute control over that interoceanic waterway."
Torrijos, meantime, continued his travels to all Latin American countries, trying to get direct, personal commitments from all the other rulers.
The United States, outmaneuvered on all sides, soon resigned itself to tolerate attacks, insults, threats, slanders, and protests until it finally approved the drafts of two new Panama Canal treaties.
The ceremonial signing in Washington brought most heads of gov. ernments in this hemisphere, including those accused by the United States or dictatorial excesses. By all appearances, most came not to honor the United States for its concessions, but to celebrate its humiliation.
The administration failed to recognize that it was helping dictator Torrijos consolidate the hold of his oppressive regime over the Panamanian people, now in its ninth year. Torrijos now emerged as a hero, statement, redeemer, even a "reformer.”
Panamanian exiles in the United States, and throughout the hemisphere, considered themselves betrayed. The Christian-Democratic Party of Panama, at considerable risk, issued a protest against the help being given to the Torrijos dictatorship by the United States.
But, Panama's leftists are not yet satisfied. They want the United States out of Panama now, without waiting for a new date, and they are saying it.
Already, there are ill omens for the United States. Cuba now serves as a powerful Soviet military base, less than 800 miles from the canal. Cuba itself has demonstrated a military capability to transport to Angola across the Atlantic 20,000 soldiers with military equipment supplied by the Soviet Union.
SOVIET PANAMA TREATY OF TRADE AND FRIENDSHIP
Last July 22, the Republic of Panama and the Soviet Union signed a treaty of trade and friendship that has had little publicity in the United States. Under the records, Moscow would have its own stores in the Free Trade Zone at Colón Harbor, in Panama, and a branch of the national Soviet bank will be established in Panama City. The Russians also are interested in developing the harbor of Vacamonte, on the Pacific Coast, a few miles from the U.S. Howard Air Force Base, and are reported ready to build a hydroelectric plant at Bocas del Toro, on the Caribbean Coast of Panama.
When the new round of pressure comes, the Soviet Union already will be established in Panama.
Let us look at the record of Torrijos himself. By seizing power, setting up a military dictatorship, and then veering to the left, Torrijos has shown time and again that he is a political opportunist not to be trusted. What he promises today he will renege on tomorrow.
Why should he respect the new canal treaties any more than he has respected the previous ones, or abide by the Constitution of his country, for that matter?
The Panamanian Committee on Human Rights, in September 1976, issued its first report on the violation of human rights by the Torrijos regime.
It begins with a list of 28 citizens who have been murdered during the political persecutions there. Three of them, Encarnacion Gonzalez, Dorita Moreno, and Marlene Mendizabal, were women. The list included the name of Father Hector Gallegos, a Catholic priest, who was arrested by the Torrijos police in Santa Fe, Veraguas Province, and has not been heard from ever since.
There is a partial list of Panamanian political exiles compiled by the Committee on Human Rights, and it comprises the names of 94 people.
In January 1976, while Torrijos was visiting Communist Cuba, a group of businessmen met and drafted an appeal for guarantees. They were immediately rounded up and expelled, some as far away as Ecuador.
The “G-2” or political police of Panama, copied even to the name from the Cuban "G-2,” terrorizes the people of Panama.
Half a dozen broadcasting stations in Panama City and elsewhere have been taken over by the Torrijos dictatorship. All others are very much controlled, as is the case with periodicals and wire services, with the exception of "Prensa Latina," operated by Castro.
The game played with the university and high school students is very clever. Their control is in the hands of Communist leaders among the professors and
student body. Economically, Panama is very heavily indebted. The money spent by Torrijos and his friends in propagandizing the Panama Canal issue runs into many millions. The foreign debt is staggering and few know where the money goes or what is done with it.
Nepotism is rampant. One of the Torrijos brothers, Moises, who became wealthy as a trader and a trafficker, is Ambassador to Spain. Several nephews, after undergoing training in subversion and guerrilla warfare in Castro's schools for the foreign youngsters, now have important positions in the Torrijos dictatorship, and they are known to work with the Communists.
Torrijo's brother-in-law, Marcelino Jaen, handles foreign relations and was the Panamanian officer who signed the recent trade and friendship agreement with the Soviet Union, whose importance is very great.
Panama will be the next Cuba under Soviet domination. This is the sad conclusion of those who know what is going on in Panama and the role that Communist Cuba plays in all of this and in the service of Soviet imperialism.
But it is well known that Torrijos admired Castro and the changes for a Communist dictatorship that Castro made in Cuba. He himself said so in an interview for channel 1 of French television on September 2. We will quote his very words: "I greatly admire Fidel Castro because he changed his country's socialist structure, despite the risk this entailed."
Does Torrijos want to change the socialist structure of Panama to a Communist one? What wilĩ happen then to the treaties recently signed?
When Torrijos was flying back to Panama City from Washington on September 9, after the ceremonial signing in Washington, he sent the following message to Castro: "As I fly across Cuba's sky on my return to my fatherland, I greet you with friendship, as always. It is my wish that the Cuban people, under your skillful leadership, may continue on their march toward Latin American problems. In Latin America your name is associated with feelings of dignity. linked to the elimination of all remnants of shameful colonialism."
That was the real Torrijos, a leftist dictator, telling Castro what he is planning to do.
Thank you very much.
STATEMENT FOR SUBMISSION TO THE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE OF THE UNITED STATES SENATE ON THE SUBJECT OF PANAMA AND THE PROPOSED PANAMA CANAL TREATIES, BY
DR. HERMINIO PORTELL-VILA, LATIN AMERICAN EDITOR, AMERICAN SECURITY COUNCIL,
Honorable Chairman, Distinguished Members of the Committee on Foreign Relations, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Much has been said in recent days about the manner in which the United States established its presence in the Panama Canal Zone. It is alleged that the U.S. "stole" the territory in order to build the Canal.'
As a one time Cuban Ambassador, and as a former professor of history at the University of Havana and at a number of institutions of higher learning in the United States, I have had occasion to study the historical origins of the Panama Canal. And I must submit that the facts do not correspond to many of the popular conceptions now advanced in many quarters.
Let us begin at the beginning, for to understand the present, we must know the past.
The Republic of Panama (28,783 square miles and 1,670,000 inhabitants), came into being in 1903 as a result of the plans of President Theodore Roosevelt for the United States to build an inter-oceanic canal across the Isthmus of Panama after the French had tried and failed. The French rights were bought by the United States. Panama had up to then been an integral part of Colombia, although there had been some unsuccessful secessionist attempts. The first American dealings with the Republic of Colombia for an agreement regarding the canal ended in a deadlock, and not much foreign prodding was needed for a revolutionary movement leading to the proclamation of independence, as the separatist feeling was there and Colombian rule was ineffective.
The Panama Canal has been in operation since August 13, 1914, open to peaceful international traffic and with a continuous increase in the number of the ships using it and their total tonnage. For more than sixty years, it has functioned efficiently and peacefully, rendering most important services to world shipping, helping the economic life of the Republic of Panama, and being very useful to the security, the trade and the economy of the United States as well.
There can be no question that the security of the Panama Canal is vitally important to the United States. Neither can there be doubt that the Canal is in more danger now than at any time before because of Soviet bases and garrisons in Cuba and Soviet domination of the Castro regime. The Castro regime itself is an avowed enemy of the United States; the regime in Panama is only slightly less hostile.
Arnulfo Arias, the last constitutionally elected president of Panama, was inaugurated on Oct. 1, 1968, and ten days later had been deposed by an uprising of the Panamanian National Guard, led by its top officers. They in turn were deposed almost immediately by another officer, Colonel (now General) Omar TorrijosHerrera. He has been the leftist dictator of Panama for the past 9 years, behind a caricature of constitutional government in which the nominal chief of state is "President" Demetrio B. Lakas.
Torrijos was barely 39 years old when he seized power. The son of school teachers, he climbed through the ranks by regular promotion, a stern but skillful military officer who had not opposed repressive measures against the Panamanian rioters in 1964.
In the first months of his dictatorship, Torrijos was considered something of a "playboy." However, in 1969, while visiting New York City, Torrijos told a reporter for the local periodical "Tiempo" that he would like to return to Castro "the visit" that an invading Cuban "guerrilla" had made to Panama in April, 1959. He added that in fact the "first revolution exported by Castro had gone to Panama and that in just reciprocity he ought to return that blow." In the remarks, Torrijos indicated he favored granting the anti-Castro Cubans a base in Panama for their attacks against Communist Cuba, even if his Foreign Minister did not like the idea.
The Castro-controlled press in Havana exploded against Torrijos, and the official newspaper "Granma" said that "The abominable canal man, the gorilla Torrijos, who promoted himself to general and has his chest covered with embroidery and medals, did not surprise anybody with his effrontery." From then on, "Radio Havana," "Prensa Latina" and "Granma," called Torrijos a "gorilla."
All this changed when the Panamanian leftist lawyer Romulo EscobarBetancourt (no relative of Venezuelan's ex-President, Romulo Betancourt), gained influence over Torrijos because of his close contacts with university students, workers and some demagogic elements surrounding Torrijos. Soon, the Torrijos regime helped organize excursions to communist Cuba so that Panamanians might observe a communist dictatorship in action. As Torrijos began leaning more to the left, the Castroite press stopped calling him a "gorilla." The Panamanian political police, under the command of Col. Manuel Noriega, now lists antiCommunist Cuban exiles among the people to be watched and persecuted.
In 1972, Castro sent delegates, posing as students, to attend the VIII Congress of the Federation of Panamanian Students. Actually, they were specialists in propaganda, political repression and socialist "reform." That was the year in which Panama voted in favor of diplomatic relations with Communist Cuba at a meeting of the Organization of American States. But it also was the year