Events during the past few weeks have catapulted Panama into the world's headlines. Unfortunately, the focus has been on disturbances and the demands of the opposition, while the genesis of these events, in my view, has not been sufficiently analyzed.
What triggered everything were the June 6 post-retirement accusations by former defense forces chief of staff Col. Roberto Diaz Herrera. He confessed to having been a party to alleged 1984 electoral fraud that took place in his house. He claimed that the government is corrupt and that the legislature is a fraud because he himself helped a dozen or so legislators get elected.
He admitted having "stolen" his house through the sale of visas to Cubans wishing to get to the United States via Panama. He claimed that Gen. Omar Torrijos died in 1981 as a victim of a conspiracy by President Reagan, Vice President Bush, former Southern Command Chief Gen. Wallace Nutting, the CIA, Dr. Ricardo Arias Calderon and, of course, Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega. He claimed that the shah of Iran paid $12 million to Panamanian authorities, although members of Gen. Torrijos' family maintain they had never heard of such a thing until Diaz made his charges. Finally, he stated that Gen. Noriega and other senior officers plotted the assassination of Hugo Spadafora, a one-time government official.
Now, from a purely legalistic point of view, most of what Diaz affirms is strictly hearsay and would not stand up in court. He has yet to present any proof. In fact, on July 5 President Delvalle announced an investigation of all the charges, and Diaz was summoned to testify the following day. Diaz said he would only go accompanied by religious leaders and his family, but he later recanted and now says he will not testify.
From another point of view, one must question Diaz's basic judgment. An admission that one has acquired a house by exploiting unfortunate Cubans raises questions about one's morality and state of mind. Worse yet, it is demonstrably false to say that President Reagan and others plotted to eliminate Torrijos: three independent investigations proved that his death was accidental. Frankly, I am amazed that the international media have not focused more on Diaz's inexplicable emotional behavior.
Whatever his behavior, the political opposition seized upon the charges to create a second explosion in Panama. The street disturbances were accompanied by the treacherous lobbying of bad Panamanians who came to Washington to beg for U.S. pressure to change things in Panama. Well, Gabriel Lewis Galindo, Roberto Eisenmann and others helped to promote a Senate resolution that, besides constituting meddling in Panama's internal affairs, was a gravely offensive act.
That resolution of June 26, on top of Congress' rejection last March of the administration's certification that Panama is cooperating fully in combating international narcotics trafficking, deeply wounded our national pride and our sovereignty. Rejection of the certification was denigrating, for it presented Panama to the world as a den of drug lords when all official reports show that cooperation between our two countries in this area has been exemplary. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, reporting on an April visit, said the American Embassy had no proof of involvement of Panamanian authorities in drug trafficking.
Our nations have been linked by bonds of friendship since 1903. While we have seen strains in the relationship, a new phase began with the 1977 canal treaties. They require Panama to defend and to ensure the efficient operation of the waterway until the year 2000. However, by coddling an opposition that seeks power more than it seeks democracy, and by taking actions that offend Panama's dignity, the U.S. Senate is encouraging rebellion and violence and endangering the capacity of Panama, now and in the future, to carry out its role with regard to the canal. It is in both nations' interest to ensure a smooth transition now until Panama takes over completely the defense and operation of the waterway in the year 2000.
Panama must have close relations with the United States. But Congress' actions have spewed a cloud of acid rain over Panama and over our relationship. That acid rain risks corroding the traditionally strong and friendly ties between our peoples and our governments. Such resolutions are not consistent with the proper behavior of two friends, two partners.
Panamanians want democracy. Elections are scheduled for 1989, and political parties are preparing for them. We will resolve our political differences and deal with our problems in accordance with our values, principles and institutions, and not in response to prescriptions from abroad.
The writer is Panama's ambassador-at-large.