Robert Pastor's comments regarding U.S. military environmental stewardship of our military bases and firing ranges in Panama were off the mark [op-ed, Oct. 12]. The Department of Defense has met all requirements of the 1977 Panama Canal Treaty and cares for installations overseas using the same management tools, diligence and seriousness used for installations at home.

As part of an assessment of all the ranges in Panama that was initiated in 1996, the United States put together a transfer plan and provided equipment and training to Panama to help it manage the ranges. As a result, more than 6,600 items of unexploded ordnance and 2 million pounds of scrap material were removed.

By the end of this year, we will have completed the transfer of the remaining Defense Department areas in the former Canal Zone. Close to 98 percent of the land then will be available for unrestricted use. Also, 14 installations and 4,827 buildings will have been turned over to Panama before the treaty's expiration.

About 2 percent of the former Canal Zone -- generally steep, inaccessible, forested areas -- will be left in its natural state for possible use as a nature preserve. Operations to clear military material from these areas would damage the environment and could endanger clearance personnel.

The United States leaves Panama with a proud legacy of environmental stewardship and fulfillment of our treaty commitments.


Director, Panama Canal Treaty

Implementation and Planning Agency

Department of Defense


Joseph Turocy may be right that the Panama Canal under Panamanian control isn't operated with the same efficiency as it was under U.S. control [letter, Oct. 22], but I disagree with a couple of his other points.

For many Panamanians, the issue is sovereignty. Mr. Turocy cites "pervasive corruption, social disorder and political instability" as obstacles in Panama's path, but many Panamanians believe these problems are due to U.S. intervention in the Canal Zone since Teddy Roosevelt's days.

In the past 20 years, especially, the United States has contributed to Panama's political instability. Examples: the death in a plane crash of President Torrijos, with rumored CIA involvement; the placement in office of Manuel Noriega, a man linked to the contras in Nicaragua, drug cartels in Colombia and with paychecks arriving from the CIA to thank him for his support of U.S. possession of the Canal Zone; and the U.S. invasion of parts of Panama in 1989. "Operation Just Cause" was meant to apprehend Gen. Noriega on narcotics trafficking charges, but this has never seemed an adequate explanation for Panamanian civilians who were killed and the damages that resulted from shelling and torching of buildings.

No Panamanian ever signed the treaty granting possession of the Canal Zone to the United States. Years of injustice, interference and cat-and-mouse games ought to end on Dec. 31, just as Jimmy Carter intended. Panama cannot be stable unless it is sovereign, and the United States needs to do the just thing and get out.


Silver Spring