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Volume 15, Number 16
September 29, 2009

opinion

Also in this section:
Editorials: Bosco the Clown; and Getting out of Afghanistan
Edmonston, Guillermo Endara
Sirias, Outsiders among the Wounaan
Jackson, US bases --- again?
Gandásegui, The end of neoliberalism and the economic crisis
Committee to Protect Journalists, Pro-Zelaya broadcasters shut down
Amnesty International, Several deaths in Honduran political violence
Human Rights Watch, OAS should press for end of Honduran rights abuses
Council on Hemispheric Affairs, Was Honduras at the PANAMAX 2009 war games?
Reporters Without Borders, Cuban editor released after two weeks in custody
CARICOM, The loss of three major Caribbean literary figures
Sanchez, US military presence in the Greater Caribbean Basin
Castaneda, US military presence in Colombia
Weisbrot, What reforms will the United States have as a result of this recession?
Sanders, The public option for US health care
Lerner, Building on the hopeful aspects of Obama's health care speech
Gutman, That devil tobacco
Avnery, The Goldstone Report
Nasser, Obama stuck between wars
Thurston, Escaping from freedom
Bernal, The tall tales of lowlifes in high places
Letters to the editor

The bases issue again
by Eric Jackson

As a dual US and Panamanian citizen, I'm not sure which of my governments I should find more annoying when I hear the various versions of new US naval bases --- or Panamanian bases that US naval forces can use --- at Piñas Bay in Darien and on the south coast of Veraguas. At first glance, it just looks like two presidents who know better going through the motions for reasons other than stated --- Obama continuing a hopeless "War on Drugs" because he doesn't need a fight with the Republicans over that issue at the moment and can't afford to look like a military weakling; Martinelli also knowing that this "war" is a lost cause but figuring that with the economy harder than almost anyone cares to admit, his government needs the Merida Initiative funding and might even be able to save money in patrols against Colombian incursions if our combative neighbors know the Americans are based nearby. Maybe. I can't read minds, but I can usually recognize nonsense and when I hear it from governments and politicians the default position is to think that intelligent people are saying things that they really don't believe.

So far we have had neither Obama nor Martinelli directly weighing in. After a meeting among Hillary Clinton, Government and Justice Minister José Raúl Mulino, Vice President and Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Varela and others, Mulino announced that there would be two new US naval bases in Panama, but then Varela said that they wouldn't be US bases but Panamanian bases that US forces could use. Varela, of course, has a bigger contingent of nationalists in his Panameñista Party than Mulino has in his Union Patriotica. It's a lot like the semantic games that were played around the proposed MAD Center (Multilateral Anti-Drug Center, later referred to by the Spanish acronym CMA by Pentagon and State Department types who only belatedly saw the rhetorical gaffe).

Will we hear voices from the remnant of a union that once represented Panamanians working at the old military bases talking about jobs? I have already heard an American military veteran or two talking about PX privileges. But of course, that's not the way that US forces operate overseas these days. They rent rights to use facilities as "forward operating locations" and station "civilian contractors" to do the stuff that uniformed US Armed Forces personnel and civilian Department of Defense employees used to do in the old days. The United States has largely privatized warfare, as much to avoid accountability as to cut costs. There would be precious few Panamanian jobs or economic benefits to the American community in Panama flowing from the proposed naval bases.

Meanwhile, Martinelli is leading the country into a time warp in which US military bases become a political issue again. The Obama administration seems to be acting as if it got its information about Latin America from reading International Living.

Does Panama have a problem controlling illegal activities along its long coastline? Yes, we do, and although drug shipments annoy the United States the most, those are only one of our maritime law enforcement problems. We have illegal fishing, illegal immigration, illegal ocean dumping, even a bit of classic piracy, and every now and then the cops are the robbers. So far all that's being talked about is drugs, and if that's what it is then it's a matter of Panama ceding some sovereignty to deal with US problems and getting little or no help with our problems.

And is the base at Piñas Bay "counter-terrorist?" That, of course, would mean against the drug-financed leftist FARC guerrillas and in favor of the drug-financed right-wing paramilitaries and the drug-corrupted politicians in Bogota. It would mean Panama taking an unprecedented step away from its traditional neutrality in Colombia's never-ending civil conflicts, maybe to the point that this country will become a target of the hostilities like never before.

But hey, the Panamanian ruling coalition's mayor of Panama City put a convicted Cali Cartel drug trafficker in charge of the municipal police. Maybe all bets, all rules and all common sense ARE off while Panama relives an old debate about US military presence in this country.

It's not that the drug cartels, primarily Mexican-dominated at the moment, are nice guys. It's not that Panama doesn't need help patrolling its coasts. We have serious problems, including substantial gangland infiltration of our economy, our police, our political class and our courts. Something needs to be done. However, the answers we get from Washington, and which Panama's politicians too readily accept, are forever simplistic, divisive and unlikely to resolve anything. Both Obama and Martinelli were elected on promises to change things, but there's nothing very new or very smart being proposed here.


Also in this section:
Editorials: Bosco the Clown; and Getting out of Afghanistan
Edmonston, Guillermo Endara
Sirias, Outsiders among the Wounaan
Jackson, US bases --- again?
Gandásegui, The end of neoliberalism and the economic crisis
Committee to Protect Journalists, Pro-Zelaya broadcasters shut down
Amnesty International, Several deaths in Honduran political violence
Human Rights Watch, OAS should press for end of Honduran rights abuses
Council on Hemispheric Affairs, Was Honduras at the PANAMAX 2009 war games?
Reporters Without Borders, Cuban editor released after two weeks in custody
CARICOM, The loss of three major Caribbean literary figures
Sanchez, US military presence in the Greater Caribbean Basin
Castaneda, US military presence in Colombia
Weisbrot, What reforms will the United States have as a result of this recession?
Sanders, The public option for US health care
Lerner, Building on the hopeful aspects of Obama's health care speech
Gutman, That devil tobacco
Avnery, The Goldstone Report
Nasser, Obama stuck between wars
Thurston, Escaping from freedom
Bernal, The tall tales of lowlifes in high places
Letters to the editor

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