WASHINGTON — The United States today protested "in the strongest terms" the involvement of the Panamanian government in demonstrations at the U.S. Embassy in Panama City and announced that it is closing the consular section and U.S. Information Service library there.
The protest was a response to demonstrations Tuesday involving an estimated 5,000 people, including high-ranking government officials and leaders of the ruling Democratic Revolutionary Party.
Charles E. Redman, spokesman at the State Department, said, "The United States is protesting in the strongest terms to the government of Panama its unmistakable involvement in demonstrations which resulted in significant damage to U.S. diplomatic property and which put U.S. diplomatic personnel at risk."
Redman said, "The government of Panama clearly and purposely violated its obligation under international law to protect the U.S. mission and its personnel."
The State Department accused the military-run government of lifting the state of emergency decree for the specific purpose of orchestrating the demonstration around the embassy.
Redman said police protection was withdrawn from the embassy a short time before the crowds reached it. "It is clear that a decision was made at the highest levels of the security forces not to protect the embassy," he added.
Stones were thrown at the embassy walls and slogans were painted.
The demonstrations followed a resolution passed by an overwhelming majority of the U.S. Senate, and supported by the State Department, calling for a restoration of civilian democracy in Panama and an investigation of allegations that Panamanian leaders engaged in murders and corruption.
The military-led National Assembly responded Tuesday with a resolution asking Panama's executive branch to declare U.S. Ambassador Arthur Davis persona non grata and expel him from the country.
Redman continued, "In light of yesterday's incident, we have decided to close the U.S. consular section and U.S. Information Service library in Panama until the government of Panama offers guarantees of appropriate protection."
Elliott Abrams, assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, said in a speech Tuesday night that the events in Panama are a "major setback" to democracy in Panama.
Abrams called for a "political dialogue" in Panama leading to free and fair elections and ending the involvement of military leaders in politics and "any appearance of corruption."
Until anti-government riots erupted in Panama three weeks ago, U.S. officials had remained largely silent about the dominant role played by Panama's defense forces in the country's political life and about their suspected involvement in drug smuggling activities.