« PreviousContinue »
tolls. Ever since the Panama Canal was first opened, the United States has allowed all nations to use the facility. Tolls are applied without discrimination and have only slightly increased since the Canal was first opened. One need only to consider the state of the Panamanian economy to understand that if full control over the administration of the Canal is given to the present government, the tolls could be increased tremendously without any recourse by the using nations, including the United States.
I have serious doubts that the United States can fully trust General Omar Torrijos. General Torrijos is a dictator who obviously has strong leanings toward communism. Witness his close friendship with Castro for example. The Torrijos Administration is corrupt. It has mismanaged the economy of Panama since it first came to power. In 1972 when Torrijos became the head of the Panamanian government, their national debt was $167 million. Today, that debt is $1.5 billion. It now requires 39 percent of the Panamanian national budget to pay interest on this debt. All this, in spite of the considerable revenue raised from the Canal and annual payment given Panama by the United States. In 1975, Panama received $254.2 million from all sources of income related to the Canal. In 1976 this figure was $243.1 million. It is obvious that Torrijos has completely mismanaged this money. It is further obvious that a great number of Panamanians are not benefiting from this income. It should be noted that there are only 2 million Panamanians, yet a high percentage remain in slums with little hope of ever getting out.
General Torrijos is completely intolerant to any dissent. The General allows only the People's Party to operate in Panama. This party has strong ties with the leftist and communist powers in Central America. If the United States ratifies the proposed treaties, Torrijos will gain a great deal more stature and increase his controls over the people of Panama. He will undoubtedly be in office a long time should the United States give him the Canal and the Canal Zone. The increase in money which he will receive from the United States and the operation of the Canal will help keep the people of Panama subjected to his rule and dictatorship.
Although the proposed treaties ensure that the United States would continue to retain the right to intervene in the Canal if it is ever threatened, it is doubtful that Torrijos would allow the U.S. to defend its interest there. In fact, there is a good possibility that Torrijos would demand that the United States completely withdraw from Panama long before the year 2000, as is stipulated in the proposed treaties.
Proponents of the proposed treaties state that the 1903 treaty is no longer applicable to today's world—that it is outdated. What is to ensure that the proposed treaties, if ratified, will not be attacked by using the same rationale in 1982 or 1985? General Torrijos could insist that the United States should no longer retain any military presence in Panama well before 2000 and demand that we leave. It is doubtful at this time that the United States would be willing to engage in a major military action against Panama if Torrijos were to make this demand, as I believe he would.
The present Panamanian government is weak and very unpredictable. To give Torrijos the Canal will only ensure that his power will increase. With this, the influence of the Soviet Union may increase to such a degree that the United States ships and shipping would no longer be assured passage through the Canal.
I mentioned earlier that there were two issues surrounding the controversy over the Panama Canal. I have just finished discussing the first, the fact that the proposed treaties do not protect the basic interest of the United States. The second issue is no as easily definable, or as well understood.
The proposed Panama Canal Treaties which this Committee is considering illustrate one of the basic weaknesses of President Carter in his failure to comprehend not only the importance of the Canal to the United States, but the importance of the Canal as a world issue affecting our allies and all nations whose ships travel the Canal.
The foundation of the President's arguments in favor of ratifying the Canal Treaties is that we only have two choices; we either negotiate a new treaty or face major confrontations and protest by the Panamanian people, endangering the Canal. Why the Panamanians would want to destroy this major source of income is puzzling to me. However, the President is evidently so preoccupied and worried about this threatened sabotage that he willingly supports two
treaties which do not protect our best interest. The United States has apparently negotiated out of weakness and panic-not from a position of strength. This is the second issue which needs to be discussed.
Instead of trying to reach a compromise with the Panamanians within the context of the 1903 treaty, the President has decided to just give up the Panama Canal. This position of weakness on the part of the President can only encourage the Soviet Union to increase their influence in Panama and indeed throughout the entire world.
Panama is not the only place where President Carter has decided to withdraw instead of remaining strong and protecting the interest of the United States. South Korea is an excellent example where President Carter, acting against the best advice of the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff, is giving in to pressure from somewhere to withdraw American troops. Further, evidence of the growing American weakness in world affairs is the present plan to reduce U.S. Military influence in Europe. Another example is the recent admittance of the Republic of Vietnam into the United Nations with the concurrence of the U.S. Additionally, the President is attempting to improve relations with Cuba which is continuing to undermine American influence in South and Central America. There is a growing pattern of American weakness throughout the world. Opponents of the proposed Panama Canal Treaties feel that this pattern must be reversed. The place to start is in Panama, and the time to do it is now.
For those who might not agree with my position that the United States negotiated the proposed treaties from a position of weakness, I give the example of Article XII, paragraph (2), subparagraph (B) of the proposed treaty concerning the permanent neutrality and operation of the Panama Canal. That subparagraph stipulates that the United States will not negotiate without the concurrence of the Panamanian government. I cannot begin to comprehend why the United States must obtain the approval of he Panamanian government if it desires to construct another canal. If we had gone into the negotiations from a position of strength, or even good business sense, we would have never agreed to such a condition. President Carter is evidently in such a hurry to ratify a treaty to demonstrate foreign policy action, that he was willing to help a dictator like General Torrijos. After all the discussion and importance that the President has placed on the issue of human rights, he is willing to deal with a man who refuses to allow dissent. In an effort to explain why the President is willing to deal with a man like Torrijos, the State Department used the argument that General Torrijos, while having a poor human rights record, is not as bad as other leaders in South or Central America. That is an incredibly weak argument for an action of this magnitude (giving away the Canal).
The President will argue that the United States will lose world influence by continuing to force the Panamanians to live under the terms of the 1903 treaty. That just is not true and, in fact, just the opposite is true. The world has witnessed a continuing pattern of American weakness and withdrawal from world problems as I described earlier. If the United States gives in to a mere threat of sabotage and gives Torrijos one of the most important pieces of property owned by the United States-the stature of the U.S. as a world influence will decline even further.
It is easy just to criticize President Carter for his inability to understand the importance of the Canal, or the importance of remaining a world power. However, there are several alternatives to ratifying the treaties which still remain available to the President. The United States should make every effort to reduce the antiAmerican attitude which has spread throughout Panama. This can be done by increasing the annual payment to Panama to a more realistic figure. Further, the United States should do whatever is necessary to help improve the general standard of living for Panamanians. These efforts should include hiring more Panamanians to work on the Canal and giving them more control over the management and administration of the Canal and the Canal Zone.
In conclusion, I would like to stress that there are very strong, and active. efforts to undermine the power and influence of the United States which are pushing for ratification of the Panama Canal Treaties. The United States must not allow itself to be pushed out of Panama simply because there is a threat that someone might sabotage the Canal. The United States must remain a strong world influence and vigorously support all efforts to maintain the sea lanes for all countries. Efforts to improve relations with the Panamanians should be made, but within the context of the 1903 treaty.
If the President believes he can appease or accommodate the anti-American sentiment in Central or South America, he is failing to understand the history of ideological conflicts. Let there be no misunderstanding that that is precisely what the situation is in Panama. More is at stake than just the Canal. The President and other proponents of the proposed treaties must be made to understand this fact.