The 1977 agreements calling for full Panamanian sovereignty over the Panama Canal were misidentified in yesterday's editions. The correct title is the Carter-Torrijos Agreements. (Published 8/1/87)
Eight prominent senators have asked the Reagan administration to continue indefinitely its freeze on economic and military aid to Panama to protest military control of the government there.
Meanwhile, State Department spokesman Charles E. Redman said Panama has paid $106,000 to the United States as compensation for damage done to the U.S. Embassy in Panama City during a demonstration June 30. The freeze on aid was imposed after the attack, and Redman said the question of restoring aid remains "under review."
The senators, led by Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Western Hemisphere affairs, asked Secretary of State George P. Shultz to consider new U.S. measures in addition to the aid suspension "to evidence our firm opposition to the control of the government of Panama by its military forces."
Other signers of the letter included the subcommittee's ranking Republican, Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.), Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations and of the Iran-contra investigating committee.
U.S. policy toward Panama, especially toward embattled military strongman Gen. Manuel Noriega, is being considered in a series of high-level meetings that began several weeks ago. The process is expected to culminate next week in a meeting on Panama of the National Security Planning Group, a top-level committee involving President Reagan and his most senior advisers.
A senior administration official involved in the discussions said earlier this week that "time is not on the side of Noriega" in his battle to retain his position. The official said that "the winds of democracy are blowing in Panama," but that the opposition to Noriega still does not appear to be united.
Another senior official working on the problem said he was impressed with the widespread effectiveness of the general strike in Panama Monday and Tuesday and with Noriega's show of force in arresting a prominent critic, Col. Roberto Diaz Herrera, in an early morning shootout at his house.
The two most important questions now, the official said, are whether opposition forces can continue to mobilize large numbers of people despite heavy censorship and the closing of major newspapers, and what direction the Panamanian economy will take.
The freeze on new payments and shipments from the U.S. aid program, which totals $6 million in military aid and $20 million in economic aid, reportedly has had little impact on the Panamanian economy, but the political signal it sends is considered more important. That makes the question of what to do about the suspended aid a major issue in the current policy review, now that Panama has compensated the United States for embassy damage.
The senators' letter to Shultz said continuing the freeze would "make it clear to the people of Panama that we stand with them in their quest for the establishment and growth of democratic institutions."
Addressing another politically sensitive subject, the senators added, "We must make it no less clear that we fully support the implementation of the 1977 Carter-Noriega Agreements on the Panama Canal" calling for full Panamanian sovereignty over the canal by the end of the century.