With all the bluster of Teddy Roosevelt, Sen. Richard S. Schweiker (R-Pa.) announced yesterday he would teach the Panamanians a thing or two about international responsibility and morality.
Schweiker said he would attempt to prevent Panama from getting $1.4 million in military assistance next year until it compensates Dr. Halla Brown, a Washington physician paralyzed three years ago in an auto accident involving the Panamanian cultural attache.
But wait. Schweiker never consulted Brown before charging to her rescue. Giving Schweiker a polite "thanks but no thanks," she said yesterday "I wouldn't like a stupid accident put in the same class as international relations."
Schweiker was not deterred, however, and his office announced, after the senator phoned Brown that "he feels very strongly about this and will stick by his plans irregardless."
An aide to Schweiker said the senator would accomplish his purpose by attempting to "strike $1.4 million in aid to Panama, military assistance, international military education and training and foreign military credit sales, from the foreign assistance and related appropriations bill" when it comes up before the Senate's Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee this month.
Brown has had three years to become reconciled, if one can ever become reconciled, to total paralysis which robbed her of all movement below the neck.
She is still a strikingly handsome woman, with such bright, intense eyes and short white, thick hair that one almost forgets the thin withered arms and quadrapalegic's paraphernalia that surround her.
Ever since an article last year in The Washington Post's Potomac Magazine and another article this week in the Washington Star, Brown has become a symbol of the problems associated with diplomatic immunity.
The Panamanian Embassy said yesterday that it is as upset as Brown that she has become a cause celebre.
"We regret that some people are sensationalizing the incident and portraying the Embassy of Panama as being callous and indifferent," said political attache George Fisher.
"The facts are to the contrary. The ambassador of Panama at that time [Nicolas Gonzalez Revilla] did everything humanly possible to express and explain the sympathy and sorrow that everyone at the embassy felt for Dr. Brown. The ambassador did his best to arrange some sort of compensation for the lady."
But international politics, explained Fisher, are international politics. And, according to Fisher, there "are hundreds of cases pending in Panama where the U.S. has not yet compensated people injured by live ammunition left in the field or on beaches by the U.S. Army in maneuvers."
Asked about Fisher's charge, the U.S. Department of State's Panama Desk said it was an Army matter and the Army said it was "too late in the day" to provide an answer.
But that still leaves Halla Brown uncompensated and paralyzed.
Thus far, insurance has covered the bulk of Brown's $250,000 to $300,00 in medical bills - bills for the stays at George Washington University Hospital, bills for the year's stay at Rusk Institute in New York City where she received rehabilitative therapy, bills for supplies needed to maintain a wheelchair and bedbound patient, bills of $126 a day for round-the-clock nursing care.
But a year from now the insurance runs out. And Dr. Arthur Rosenbaum, Brown's husband, will have to pay $60,000 to $70,000 a year for the rest of his wife's life.
"I never dreamt of retiring at 65," Brown said yesterday as she sat in her wheelchair, her legs propped in a horizontal position as they must be to keep blood pressure from dropping fatally low.
Now "I can turn pages with a mouth stick, that's about it," said the woman who was one of the nation's leading researchers and authorities on insect venoms and their effect on humans.
Panama, said Rosenbaum, has a "moral obligation to attempt some restitution" for the injury done his wife. "I'm certainly grateful for any help," he said of Schweiker's move, but "I don't want our personal tragedy, however, to become a political issue. I certainly don't want us to become a political football."
The accident occurred April 20, 1974, about 7:30 a.m., and none of the participants remember it. All Rosenbaum and Brown know is that they were heading through the intersection of 34th and Garfield Streets NW when their auto was struck.
According to witnesses, they were plowed into by a Toyota driven by Alberto Watson-Fabrega, who ran a red light in perfect weather. He was never charged because of diplomatic immunity, and was only slightly injured, as was Rosenbaum.
In addition to Schweiker's intended aid cutoff, there is legislation moving through both houses of Congress to require foreign governments to provide some form of compensation to Americans injured by persons accorded diplomatic immunity.
What might help, said Brown, "is some sort of fund whereby anybody whose life is virtually destroyed gets some help."