The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 19 to 0 yesterday to stop U.S. aid to Panama unless the military government begins sweeping reforms and restores civilian rule.
"This is a clear message of support to the Panamanian people," committee member Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) said. "This should be a clear signal to the venal, corrupt Panamanian defense forces against the abuse of the Panamanian people."
Cranston said the vote will do nothing to obstruct turning control of the Panama Canal over to Panama in the year 2000.
The legislation would bar U.S. aid to Panama unless President Reagan certifies that Panama has made a substantial effort to assure civilian control of the armed forces and that the Panamanian leader, Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, and his commanders have been removed from nonmilitary posts.
Other conditions include initiation of an investigation of alleged abuses by members of the military, a nonmilitary transitional government and restoration of freedom of the press and constitutional freedoms.
Spurred by riots outside the U.S. Embassy in Panama City last June, the Reagan administration suspended the $26 million U.S. aid program and instructed U.S. diplomats to shun Noriega whenever possible.
Noriega took control of the Panamanian defense forces in August 1983. Published reports earlier this year quoted U.S. officials as saying Noriega was involved in payoffs and other corruption.
Meanwhile, the House voted yesterday to require most foreign recipients of cash aid from the United States to buy an equal amount of American products and to ship those purchases on U.S. vessels.
By 350 to 66, it approved the requirement as an amendment to the pending foreign aid program authorization bill. The amendment exempts Israel, the largest recipient of U.S. aid, and countries receiving less than $10 million in annual aid.
The amendment also exempts purchases of agricultural produce from shipment on U.S. vessels.