I was surprised by John F. McManus's Dec. 30 letter claiming the invalidity of the Torrijos-Carter treaty. Perhaps he is unacquainted with the history of Panama. He also fears unnecessarily a Chinese takeover of the Panama Canal.

Some facts about Panama: First, its currency transactions are in U.S. dollars. A British consortium -- Cable and Wireless -- owns 50 percent of the telephone system of Panama; Bell Atlantic has invested millions in cellular technology there. An American company is rebuilding the only trans-isthmus railroad. The only oil refinery in the country is owned by Texaco. Is this not more clearly a Western presence than an Asian one?

The rights of Panamanian citizens are not being discussed. Mr. McManus says that the DeConcini clause is subject to interpretation. Is this clause the same authority that allowed the United States to invade Panama in 1989, sending 25,000 troops to get just one man -- Manuel Antonio Noriega? Mr. McManus does not mention the destruction of property, death and suffering of that time. Nor does he mention the Hay-Bunau-Varilla treaty (1903) -- which no Panamanian signed -- that gave the canal to the United States in perpetuity. What about the contaminated U.S. military bases left behind, acknowledged by both parties? Mr. McManus seems to want to set back the new relationship that the United States hopes to foster with Panama and Latin America.

JAIME VELEZ

Alexandria