Guatemala broke off relations with Panama yesterday to protest Panamanian support for the independence of the British colony Belize, which Guatemala has long claimed.
Special correspondent Marlise Simons reported that Guatemala's military government accused Panama of disloyalty and of "treason against the just cause of another Central American republic."
Guatemala's sharp reaction reflects its growing nervousness at the erosin of Latin American support for its claim to Belize. In the last year both Mexico and Venezuela have come down strongly in favor of independence for the British colony and criticized Guatemala's threats to invade its eastern neighbor.
The incident also involves Panamanian strongman Brig. General Omar Torrijos in a second serious controversy this week both of them steemming from his characteristic candor.
Last weekend Gen. Torrijos received a group of Mexican-based journalists, including Simons, and gave them the surprising news that the United States could pay a role in protecting the Panama Canal after Panama had taken it over. This public reversal of the Panamanian negotiating position in the current canal treaty was talks clearly considered a strategic error. Torrijos quickly denied it.
Guatemala's diplomatic break with Panama stems from other comments Torrijos made to the reporters. In response to a question about his role in Belize's fight for independence, Torrijos told these reporters:
"Yes, I have may hands in Belize. Someone has to help those people to free themselves. I know that [Guatemalan President] Laugerud is mad at me since he knows about this. But colonialism knows no frontiers. It is the same in Belize as it is in Panama."