Last month, the people of Panama took their destiny into their own hands: Against the most difficult odds, they overwhelmingly chose democracy, clearly rejecting the narco-militarism represented by Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega. They elected a legislature and a president, Guillermo Endara, a first vice president, Ricardo Arias Calderon, and a second vice president, Guillermo Ford. According to Panama's constitution, the formal swearing-in ceremony of the newly elected government is to be carried out on Sept. 1.
The illegitimate Noriega regime promptly announced annulment of the election, which had been certified by the independent monitors of the Catholic Church's Conference of Bishops as a 75% vote for the opposition.
A delegation representing the Organization of American States has been in Panama, seeing for itself that the Americas have produced a new type of dictatorship, one with active membership in a multinational drug Mafia with which no political reasoning is possible. One hopes that the OAS mission will result ultimately in unifying the democracies of the continent against narco-militarism.
No doubt the people of Panama will choose to ignore Noriega's annulment of the elections and insist on respect of their will, which was clearly expressed before the eyes of the world. Endara, Arias Calderon and Ford should start preparations for the Sept. 1 swearing-in of the legitimate government of the Republic of Panama, in compliance with the May OAS resolution that mandates a "transfer of power" in Panama.
I can envision the foreign delegations to the swearing-in ceremonies to include former U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford; Presidents Carlos Andres Perez of Venezuela, Alan Garcia of Peru, Raul Alfonsin of Argentina, Jose Maria Sanguinetti of Uruguay, and Oscar Arias Sanchez of of Costa Rica; Spain's Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez and Britain's Margaret Thatcher and many other democratically elected leaders of the world.
The impressive Administration Building of the Panama Canal might be designated as the seat of the new government. Such a gesture of nationalism would be applauded by the Panamanian people and be symbolic to the democratic world. Panama is not only the canal; it is a nation that owns the canal. The canal is obviously part of the problem (remember, U.S. support of the military regime has lasted for 18 years), and it will have to be part of the solution.
I can see as a first order of business instructing the United States to transfer to the legitimate government of the people of Panama all funds that have been frozen, including the canal payments.
I also can see the new legislature passing a law ordering the dissolution of the Panama Defense Forces for having violated the citizenship rights of the Panamanian people for 20 years and because of their involvement in the multinational drug enterprise. Panama would then declare itself a demilitarized state like Costa Rica. To replace the military, a new civilian police force might be created, headed by a civilian, along with a civilian rehabilitative institution to manage the prisons.
The new democratic and demilitarized Panama would then call for the formation of an international military institution for defense of the canal. It would have clear and defined functions and be under the command of the president of Panama. This international, professional force would become the counterpart of the U.S. armed forces in the joint defense operations of the canal, as indicated by the Panama Canal treaties.
A next act of the new government would be the designation of the most qualified Panamanian--one with no connection to the regime--as administrator of the canal, also in compliance with the Panama Canal treaties as supported by all countries of the Americas in 1977.
In this way, the will and self-determination of the Panamanian people will have been respected. A free and democratic Panama would join the community of civilized nations. The newly elected government of Panama would assert its nationalism. The dissolution of the narco-militaristic gang called the Panama Defense Forces would be achieved. Panama would be a demilitarized nation. The Panama Canal treaties would be strictly complied with, guaranteeing the security of the canal for the world. A unilateral U.S. military intervention would have been avoided. And, as an indirect benefit, the democracies of Latin America and the world would have created a new multi-national military institution to effectively confront and destroy narco-militarism, the new and most serious multinational threat to the sovereignty of all free nations.
Fantasy or realism? We shall soon see.
What is clear is that the election of May 7 changed the equation in Panama. The opposition, elected by the people to govern, has many positive and constructive options. Noriega has only two equally terrible options: to continue his destruction of Panama, only to end up dead a la Mussolini, or to die, also in disgrace, in some other country, at the hands of his brotherhood of narco-Mafiosi or any of the world's many intelligence services that have a need to silence him forever.