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Panama Canal Treaty Critics

Critics expressed concern that as a for-profit venture, the Panama Canal Authority [PCA] could raise revenues too high through increased tolls, eliminate certain important services, lay off employees, and lower wages, while allowing Panamanian politics to influence contract and labor negotiations.

LtGen Gordon Sumner was directly involved in Latin American military affairs as chairman of the Inter-American Defense Board from 1975 until the spring of 1978. Sumner resigned from the Army after testifying against the Carter-Torrijos treaties. On 08 December 1999, Retired Army LtGen Gordon Sumner, in testimony before that Subcommittee on Domestic and International Monetary Policy of the House of Representatives Committee on Banking and Financial Services, stated [Page 93]

"I view this as a part of the disarming of America; and not disarming us militarily, but disarming us economically. This is going to have a serious impact on our country. If you want to see the Dow drop 3,000 points, just have the Canal close. Blow the Gatun Dam and lose all this fresh water; and you are going to find 15 percent of everything this country produces goes through the Canal. It is going to be stacked up. for example, we would to have hundreds of millions of tons of grain on the ground.

"Now, the liberals have said from the very beginning, ''Don't worry about the Canal, it is not critical.'' We have had senior military people testify before the Congress on this saying it is not critical, because the ''dry canal'' will pick up the slack. Well, the ''dry canal'' is full. In June, I presented to the Mica subcommitte of the House a videotape produced by Los Alamos National Laboratory, paid for by the Department of Transportation, showing our national transportation system. This showed graphically that the ''dry canal'' is full; it has no more capacity.

"The Department of Transportation is also pursuing this project. And we are talking about efforts requiring millions of dollars. Further, when you produce a model of our international transportation system, you are looking at an enormous amount of data. ...

"Let me talk about threat for just a minute. You look at threat in two dimensions. One is capability. What is the capability of the FARC, the Colombian narco-terrorists, what is their capability? What is the capability of the Chinese Communists, or if you want to put it on a commercial basis, what is the capability of Hutchison Whampoa to close the Canal permanently or temporarily? "I have talked to my Panamanian friends and said, ''Suppose the Chinese Communists or Hutchinson Whampoa just pull a ship into the canal in front of the locks and anchor it?'' They said, ''Well, we would tow it.'' I said, ''Have you ever tried to tow a ship that had ten anchors over the side? It can't be done.'' ''Well, then, we would board it.'' And I said, ''Yeah, you are going to board it with guns? Are you going to start World War III over this?'' Look down the road at the capabilities."

At the same hearing testimony was also given by retire Admiral Thomas H. Moorer. Moorer had served as Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet and Commander in Chief of the Atlantic Fleet, Chief of Naval Operations, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on two occasions. And I guess you are still Honorary Chairman of the Retired Officers Advisory Board of the National Security Center. That is an organization made up of 80 retired officers of our services, 40 of which have flag rank, and Admiral Moorer was elected as their chairman.

"I have testified many times during the ill-advised Carter-Torrijos Treaty, and what I propose to do is simply to give a summary of what I said and then discuss some of the very important issues that both Captain Puckett and that the General discussed. During the Carter treaty hearings, I stated: ''The defense and use of the Panama Canal is wrapped inextricably with the overall global strategy and prosperity of the United States and the security of the Free World. If the United States opts to turn over full responsibility for the maintenance and operation of such an important waterway to a small, resource-poor, and unstable country as Panama by proxy or directly, the vacuum will be quickly filled by the Soviet Union or some other power center.''

"Now, the Chinese have negotiated with the previous Ballederes government, and this is known as Panama Law Number 5. This law was enacted on January 16, 1997, by the legislative assembly of Panama; and it gives very extensive rights to Communist-controlled Hutchison Whampoa, Ltd., who are based in Hong Kong. As you recall, Hong Kong was recently turned over to the Communists by the British government. This company has close ties with a Mr. Li, a multibillionaire, with also close ties to the Chinese Communist army. I call attention of the subcommittee to the fact that the rights granted the Chinese grossly violate the United States rights under the Panama Neutrality Treaty. Panama Law 5 unethically shuts out U.S. bids and gives Panama extensive financial benefits."

Ratification in the United States necessitated the approval of two-thirds of the Senate. The debates, the longest in Senate history, began on February 7, 1978. The Neutrality Treaty was approved on March 16, and the main treaty on April 18, when the debate finally ended. To win the necessary sixty-seven Senate votes, Carter agreed to the inclusion of a number of amendments, conditions, reservations, and understandings that were passed during the Senate debates and subsequently included in the instruments of ratification signed by Carter and Torrijos in June 1978.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:54:50 ZULU