Colonialism in a Poncho: Subordination of Panama to Multinational Force



Once again the U.S. Southern Command promotes the militarization and subordination of Panama

Marco A. Gandásegui Jr
America Latina en Movimiento

English | Spanish

Translated from the Spanish by Dady Chery, Haiti Chery

For the tenth consecutive year the U.S. has twisted and thrashed Panama’s Constitution and all its laws. For one, the U.S. insists on military maneuvers around the Panama Canal with supposed Panamanians “allies” and 15 other Latin American countries. In addition, the U.S. openly assumes territorial control of the country. In its “military games” the U.S. even delegates Panamanian sovereign responsibilities to third countries.

Colombian and U.S. Soldiers set up communications in a building at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, Aug 7, 2012, in preparation for Fuerzas Aliadas Panamax, scheduled to be held Aug 6-17, 2012. Commonly known as PANAMAX, the annual U. S. Southern Command sponsored exercise brings U. S. Army South and 17 other partner nation military air and land sea forces together in a joint and combined operation focused on defending the Panama Canal from attacks by violent extremist organizations. Participants in the multi-national force were: Argentina, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, the United States, Uruguay, in cooperation with the UN and the Conference of Central American Armies.

The Panamanian Constitution explicitly states that the country has no army. It also says that sovereignty is inalienable and nontransferable. From August 6 until Friday, August 17, Panama was virtually occupied by U.S. troops operating under the assumption that the channel is in danger. A statement from the military leadership of that country from the north:

“U.S. Southern Army and the armed and security forces of 17 nations will participate in the annual exercise Panamax, which is sponsored by the Southern Command.”

The statement raises objectives that conflict with each other and lack much sense:

“This exercise brings together multinational naval forces — air and land — in a joint and combined operation to defend the Panama Canal from violent attacks by fictitious extremist organizations, as well as to respond to pandemic outbreaks and natural disasters in various regions.”

For the fictitious “extremists” groups, the U.S. military have a single mixed bag from peasants and indigenous Panamanians to Colombia’s insurgent forces and drug traffickers operating in financial and political circles in the U.S. Despite the weakening of the economic and political relations between the U.S. and South American countries, military ties remain very strong. Washington not only aims to maintain a physical military presence in the region, but also wants to maintain its position as the main weapons supplier.

In the Panamax operation led by U.S., Colombian troops took over the direction of the land component for the second consecutive year. The U.S. Southern Command also reported that

“Brazilian military forces directed the maritime component for the first time.”

That is, the country and the Panamanian coasts came under the sovereign responsibility of third countries. The maritime component commander of the Multinational Force for Panamax 2012 is Admiral Wilson Pereira de Lima Filho of Brazil, the U.S. military reported.

In one of its statements, the U.S. military openly referred to the right of the U.S. to intervene unilaterally in Panama

“when deemed necessary by the government of Panama and other nations in the region.”

The operation called

“Panamax says the U.S. military provides opportunities for participating nations, along with the Army of the South, to unite to counter the threats of transnational organized crime groups.”

The exercise included

“Southern Marine Forces, Southern Command Special Operations, and Southern Command Naval Forces with a contingent of ships and explosive devices, mobile diving, logistics and personnel security forces.”

All under the command of Gen. Simeon G. Trombitas, commander of the U.S. Army of the South. The Army of the South headquarters was, for over 50 years during the second half of the twentieth century, in Clayton, now the site of the City of Knowledge, on the outskirts of Panama City.

According to a dispatch from a Spanish news agency in Panama, National Naval Air Service Commissioner George Yanis said the military exercise would have a virtual character.

“It will be done in the U.S., where we will establish virtual tabletop exercises with a view to training our staff in preventing a threat that undermines free transit through the Panama Canal.”

For its part, the Southern Command said the main objective of the exercise is to provide a variety of responses to requests from the Panamanian government to

“protect and ensure the safe flow of traffic through the Panama Canal, ensure Panama’s neutrality and respect of national sovereignty.”

In 1989 the U.S. invaded Panama militarily alleging similar objectives. This tragic experience cost thousands of lives, and the U.S. justified it then, as now, by saying that it acted in defense of democracy, neutrality and national sovereignty of Panama.

On the current occasion, however, the U.S. notes that

“regional challenges require regional solutions. Panamax 2012 is designed to respond as a unified force to a wide variety of missions in the air, land, sea, space and cyber space,”

according to the Southern Command.

The U.S. compares the Panamax exercise to its invasion of Haiti after the devastating earthquake of 2010. U.S. military delegated responsibility in that Caribbean country to the military forces of Brazil and Chile. There are still millions of Haitians living in subhuman conditions due to the policies of the U.S. and its Latin American military allies. Totally out of context, the U.S. says that Panamax

“helps with humanitarian operations and disaster response, as was done in Haiti after the earthquake.”


Marco A. Gandásegui Jr., Director of the Department of Sociology at the University of Panama and  research associate of CELA

Source: America Latina en Movimiento (Spanish) | Haiti Chery (English)

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