Panama Canal: Behind the Treaty

September 25, 2007

The Panama Canal Treaty has become one of the most important political issues this year. In the U.S. its bipartisan supporters, representing the most advanced sectors of U.S. monopoly capital, urge its ratification because it will further U.S. interests in Panama and Latin America. At the same time, conservatives have capitalized on opposition to the Treaty in order to increase their political leverage. Surpassing its original importance, the Treaty has become the focus of a fierce contest for the redivision of political power between the dominant groups. Although it is indisputably in the interest of U.S. imperialism, its ratification is not assured: the internal contradictions among U.S. ruling groups may yet prevail. THE ISSUES Proponents of the Treaty, which include Kissinger and Brzezinski, represent the interests of the international banks and transnational corporations entrenched in Panama and throughout Latin America. Their support of the Treaty is based on a shrewd appraisal of the growing importance of new investment activities conducted out of Panama for all of Central America and the Caribbean, and of the declining economic and strategic value of the canal itself. It is also based on the need to resolve conflicts that have developed between U.S. finance capital and Panama's bourgeoisie, which aspires to a greater role in the region's exploitation. The continuation of the colonial enclave in the face of mounting nationalism in Panama would obstruct the implementation of these new designs for the region. U.S. policymakers hope that a peaceful, gradual transformation of the Canal Zone to a neocolonial status will diffuse the potential for political upsurges in Theodore Roosevelt in Panama City Panama itself. For similar reasons, the Treaty will be used as a model for U.S. relations with small, underdeveloped countries and to generally improve U.S. rights of intervention be amplified, while a majority of others insist that the old Treaty be retained. In part, this opposition is merely a ruse to expand their political influence but it also represents an obstinate determination to maintain the old colonial forms of domination. The Treaty has stirred an equally furious debate in Panama. The October 23 Plebiscite approved the Treaty by a margin of 2 to 1, a ratio which suggests resounding approval. However, upon closer examination, the ratio indicates that opposition to the Treaty is much stronger than expected. Torrijos' government, which has steadily shifted to the Right in recent years, decided to rush the Plebiscite through in order to avoid serious debate. Adequate time for publicizing and discussing the issues involved was not provided as Panamanian critics had demanded. Since the Treaty's approval was also necessary in order to influence the vote in the U.S. Senate, the government could wait no longer. However, the Plebiscite has not ended the controversy. Predictably, as more people are coming to understand the Treaty's implications, dissatisfaction is growing. In general, the appearance of "national unity" against U.S. colonialism has obscured the underlying class conflict in Panama. The battle over the Treaty has decisively revealed the fact that the internal benefits to be derived from the Treaty will be distributed unequally. Benefits there will be for the national bourgeoisie, the only group unreservedly pleased with the Treaty. In alliance with foreign finance capital, it wants to convert the Zone into a capital export center. It also plans to channel the economic benefits accruing from the Treaty (i.e. U.S. rent and compensation payments, the expected millions of dollars in credits from U.S. Eximbank, AID, etc.) into various NACLA Report 46update * update . update . update industrial and commercial projects from which they will profit. Among the masses, reactions to the Treaty range from critical support to vehement opposition. The Treaty does not satisfy Panama's historic claims for immediate and complete control over all of its territory, and even the limited sovereignty that has been granted is postponed until the year 2000. Critics object to the privileged status the U.S. will retain, and to the first legalization and continued presence of U.S. military bases. They also oppose the plans for "joint defense," designed to put Panama's National Guard at the service of the U.S. military. In reaction to these concessions, popular sectors are instead calling for public ownership of the Canal Zone so that it will benefit the Panamanian workers and peasants rather than private interests. Until this point, the struggle for Panamanian sovereignty over the canal and Canal Zone has been propelled bji popular pressure under the direction of the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie, which clearly stands to benefit from the Treaty, has shown that it is incapable of leading a struggle for true sovereignty. In fact, the bourgeoisie relies on U.S. military support for its surviv- al. For the Panamanian people, continued U.S. control over the canal means that the separation of Panamanian workers in the Zone from those in the rest of the country will remain, hindering the advancement of their class interests. For these reasons, the struggle for full sovereignty continues. SOLIDARITY TASKS Whether the Treaty is ratified or rejected, the Panamanian people's anti-imperialist struggle will acquire new forms and in- tensity. Those who support this struggle in solidarity should raise the demands for: "* Immediate transfer to Panama of all jurisdiction and control over the Panama Canal and Canal Zone "* Prompt removal of all U.S. military bases and troops from Panama "* Denial of any "special rights of intervention" to the U.S. and all interference in Panamanian internal affairs * Respect for Panama's sovereignty and right to self- determination For further information write to Union Nacional de Panametios or U.S. Committee for Panamanian Sovereignty, P.O. Box 252, St. John's Station, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11213.

Tags: Panama, Canal Zone, Panama Canal Treaty

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