The United States Senate Commands and Panama Obeys

By Julio Yao on July 28, 2020

1989 US invasion of Panama

At the beginning of the 1980s, a delegation from Okinawa, Japan, arrived in Panama to investigate how we Panamanians had overcome the U.S. without firing a single shot.  The people of Okinawa live surrounded by military bases and their ongoing protests have been futile in trying to remove them.

Among many other reasons, as we explained to our visitors, there is a course offered in our schools and universities called “History of US-Panama Relations” which has been very useful for explaining to society how and why we had to negotiate a new Canal treaty.

The delegates from Okinawa considered it impossible to do something similar regarding teaching relations between Japan and the U.S. Japan, in spite of its economic development that almost supplanted that of the U.S. in the ‘80s, has been an occupied country since its surrender after World War II and is caught in the national security of Washington.

Shigeo Nagano, the representative of Japan, was not able to sign an agreement with Panama to construct a new canal because this was prevented by the George Bush invasion on December 20, 1989, in order to kidnap General Manuel Noriega and wipe him off the map, along with re-installing the Monroe Doctrine.

The course of studies “Panama and the U.S.” was made a required course by the National Assembly in the 1960s at the urging of some legislators and some professors in the School of Diplomatic Service at the University of Panama (where I was president) and gained force after the U.S, aggression against our people in 1964 that left 21 dead and 500 wounded – all innocent civilians.  After the rejection by our people of the proposed Robles-Johnson treaties of 1967 and after the military coup that brought Omar Torrijos to power, two university conferences were held regarding “Relations between the U.S. and Panama.”  Based on these conferences, the Minister of Education and the Minister of Foreign Relations, under Juan Antonio Tack, agreed to appoint your author to draft a plan or program for the subject matter of this course. I did so, and as such it continued in the curriculum until the Minister of Education, Lucy Molinar, under the government of Ricardo Martinelli, ordered this course removed from the schools.

Where did the order to eliminate this course of studies come from? The U.S Senate because they became worried in 1997-1999 because every time Washington proposed to sign a treaty with Panama, the people, led by a minority of activists and rebels, refused.

The chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations at the time, Jesse Helms, Public Enemy Number One of Panamanian people,  (replacing Daniel Flood, the first Enemy #1 of Panama) ordered a Senate investigation that blamed the Relations Between the U.S. and Panama on the course for causing anti-U.S. sentiment in the country of the Canal, thus causing it to be canceled.

Now, the Supreme Judicial Court of Panama has just issued a ruling declaring Article 6 of Law 37 of May 12, 2015, unconstitutional, supposedly on the basis of autonomy; it is this law that restored the course to the universities of Panama and made it a mandatory requirement. They ignore the fact that the original law, passed 60 years ago, as well as Law 37 of 2015, obeys an inescapable historical imperative that should be respected by the National Assembly and by the country as a whole.

In effect, the history of our relations testifies to the absolute dominance of the Republic of Panama by the U.S., to such a degree that, were it not for this course, we would know neither our origins nor the rough path we have traveled; indeed, history is not simply the account of what has occurred, but, above all, the knowledge and awareness of what may occur in the future.

To acknowledge, as the Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling does, that university autonomy is superior to and takes precedence over, the mandates of history seem to us to be an inexcusable pretext for covertly paying tribute to imperialism and to the forces of the oligarchy which have always preferred that the people remain ignorant of where we came from, what we ought to do, and where we are trying to reach.

In that sense, what we wrote four years ago about the University of Panama turns out to be painful at the same time at prophetic, especially since it was precisely this institution that brought suit to make our history unconstitutional.  “The University of Panama has played an important role in the drive toward greater national independence, but in the past few decades, it has been indirectly held back by the forces of the invaders that have, since December 20, 1989, co-opted the rule of political parties, turning the elites into the instruments of national occupation.  Everything that occurred in the history of the relations between Panama and the U.S. since 1935 either originated or had a direct effect on the University of Panama.”  – Julio Yao, Historia Patria y Universidad, (History of our Country and the University) La Estrella de Panamá, June 16, 2016.

The regrettable decision of the Supreme Judicial Court had one dissenting opinion that of Judge Cecilio Cedalise Riquelme, who together with the Attorney General of the Administration, Rigoberto González Montenegro, affirmed that Law 37 of 2015 did not constitute a violation of university autonomy.

To continue to be able to resolve our problems with the U.S. without firing a single shot, it is now requisite for the university administrations in each discipline, school, and department of the University of Panama to impose the historical mandate of the Panamanian nation above or below the rather damaged university autonomy; and above, definitely not below, that of the United States Senate.

Source: America Latina en Movimiento, translation, Resumen Latinoamericano, North America bureau