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Fifteen years after Bush Sr.'s assault, Panama remembers...
Victims of a U.S. invasion

January 14, 2005 | Page 4

Dear Socialist Worker,
On December 20, hundreds of Panamanians gathered in their nation's capital to observe the 15th anniversary of the U.S. invasion amid growing concerns of a rise of U.S. military activity in the region. Others made their annual pilgrimage to the cemeteries and sites of mass burials where their relatives lay among the many thousands killed during the invasion.

Groups, led by the Alternativa Patriotica Popular coalition, gathered in downtown Panama City at Parque Porras, near El Chorrillo, an impoverished neighborhood that was one of the hardest hit during the bombing campaign that began the invasion of some 26,000 U.S. troops in 1989.

The military strategy--which included a massive bombing campaign that decimated many of the urban regions of the country and was followed by a ground invasion to oust then military dictator and former CIA agent Manuel Noriega from power--was the model for the recent invasion of Iraq, according to Pentagon officials.

Padre Conrado Sanjur, the leading Panamanian liberation theologian and activist with the National Liberation Movement-29, led the ceremony, as hundreds from student groups joined rural laborers from the interior, the Professor's Association and SUNTRACS, the nation's leading construction union.

"In the years after the invasion, we had hundreds of thousands of people at these protests," said Henry Rodriguez, a student leader with Pensamiento Y Accion Transformadora (Action Transforming Thought). "But since [the U.S. troop pullout in 2000] people have begun to forget."

But massive sectors of Panamanian civil society are perturbed at what they see as the buildup of U.S. military presence in the region, and its increasingly aggressive position in attempting to coerce austerity measures on underdeveloped countries like Panama.

In the latter situation, Panamanians have been especially frustrated with the attempts of the government, under the auspices of the IMF, to privatize social security. These actions fomented a strong reaction from Panamanians, bringing hundreds of thousands of people into the streets in late 2003, and leading to two attempted general strikes. A week before the anniversary of the invasion, workers and students were again in pitched street battles with police in defense of Social Security, and the issue was again center stage on December 20.

Meanwhile, many locals have been frustrated with what they see as dangerous U.S. neglect in its constant refusal to fulfill its obligation to clean up all unexploded bombs and chemical weapons of mass destruction in the former Canal Zone and on the island of San Juan. Some two dozen Panamanians have been killed by these leftovers of the 150-year U.S. occupation, and the obligations were part of the 1977 treaties which had forced the U.S. to carry out a full military departure in 2000.

The governments here have been increasingly impatient with the attitudes of U.S. Ambassador Linda Watts and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on this issue, just as U.S. military aid and troops begin to come back to the isthmus.

"After having seen U.S. war in our homeland for so long, and witnessing the ruthless actions in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, we condemn the reintroduction of U.S. military personnel to our shores," said Arturo de Leon, with the Popular University Bloc, another Marxist student group that was well represented at the protests. Polls indicate some 95 percent of Panamanians opposed the invasion of Iraq.

Indeed, the U.S. plans to send 3,000 troops to Panama by next February, as 900 Panamanian police are trained at the School of the Americas. And earlier this year, the U.S. doubled its troop presence to 800 and increased by half its mercenary presence in Colombia. But Panamanians will not allow this without opposition, according to Padre Conrado Sanjur.
Ruben Salazar, from the Internet

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