Lingering U.S. Foothold in Panama

By Lindsay-Poland, John | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), January 4, 1995 | Go to article overview

Lingering U.S. Foothold in Panama


Lindsay-Poland, John, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


On the night of Dec. 19, 1989, 24,000 U.S. troops invaded Panama, using the most sophisticated military technology in existence. While the invasion is now history, the underlying motives for that invasion still drive U.S. policy in the region, and Panamanians and others still pay the price.

The internment of 8,500 Cubans by the U.S. military in Panama represents one of the Pentagon's new "humanitarian" missions in Latin America in the post-Cold War. But the old passion for controlling the movements of our southern neighbors is still evident here. The intervention in Haiti and confinement of Cubans are sisters to California's Proposition 187 in that respect.

Further, the recent rebellion by Cuban boat people on U.S. bases in Panama shows an irrepressible human desire for freedom in conflict with an equally strong human impulse for control. It also illustrates the consequences of Americans' phobia of Latin immigrants in a time of heightened racial tensions and continuing economic anxieties.

It isn't that the Cubans who drove commandeered trucks through a fence wanted to live in Panama; on the contrary, they still hope to get to the United States. But living on firing ranges behind barbed wire and armed guards does not represent asylum, or even "safe haven" except by a narrow legal definition.

The U.S. bases in Panama were originally established not to house refugees of any political stripe but to protect U.S. economic and political projects throughout Central and South America, from the Panama Canal to private investments in Nicaragua to nominally elected governments in El Salvador in the 1980s.

In times of friendly relations with Panamanian dictators like Manuel Noriega, the bases were used to support wars in the region. When Noriega got out of hand, the bases were a platform for consigning his sins to the soldiers under his command and to Panamanian civilians alike. In military terms they are "forward projection" bases. Now Panama has no military except our own, which under the provisions of the Panama Canal Treaty must depart by the year 2000. …

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