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Those not restricted to the U.S. quality press could learn that President Endara's government received "one of its worst diplomatic setbacks" on March 30, when it was formally ousted from the Group of Eight, what are considered the major Latin American democracies. Panama had been suspended from the group in 1988 in reaction to Noriega's repression, and with the further deterioration of the political climate under foreign occupation, Panama was ousted permanently at the March meeting of foreign ministers. The Group issued a resolution stating that "the process of democratic legitimation in Panama requires popular consideration without foreign interference, that guarantees the full right of the people to freely choose their governments." The resolution also indicated that the operations of the U.S. military are affecting Panama's sovereignty and independence as well as the legality of the Endara government. This decision extends the pattern of strong Latin American opposition to the earlier U.S. measures against Panama and the invasion. As the media here barely noted, President Endara's inaugural address four weeks after the invasion was boycotted by virtually all Latin American ambassadors.81
The Washington-media position is that the Endara government is legitimate, having won the 1989 elections that were stolen by Noriega. Latin American opinion commonly takes a different view. In 1989, Endara was running against Noriega, with extensive U.S. backing, open and covert. Furthermore, the elections were conducted under conditions caused by the illegal U.S. economic warfare that was demolishing the economy. The United States was therefore holding a whip over the electorate. For that reason alone the elections were far from free and uncoerced, by any sensible standards. Today, the political scene is quite different. On these grounds, there would be every reason to organize a new election, contrary to the wishes of Endara and his U.S. sponsors.
The official position is offered by Michael Massing in the New York Review. Reporting from Panama, he writes that Endara's willingness to "go along" with the U.S. request that he assume the presidency "has caused the leaders of some Latin American countries, such as Peru, to question his legitimacy." "The Panamanians themselves, however, have few such qualms," because his "clear victory" in the 1989 election "provided Endara with all the credentials he needs." Citation of Peru for dragging its feet is a deft move, since President Garcˇa was an official enemy of the U.S. who had been recalcitrant about Nicaragua, had restricted debt payment, and in general failed to observe proper standards; best to overlook the rest of the Group of Eight, however, among "some Latin American countries." As for the views of "the Panamanians themselves," no further indication is given as to how this information was obtained.82
Massing reports on the police raids in poor neighborhoods, the protests of homeless and hungry people demanding jobs and housing, the reconstruction of Noriega's PDF, the restoration of the oligarchy with a "successful corporate lawyer" at the head of a government "largely made up of businessmen," who receive U.S. corporate visitors sponsored by OPIC (which ensures U.S. investments abroad) "as if they were visiting heads of state." The business climate is again "attractive" in this "land ruled by merchants, marketers, and moneylenders." "The government is drafting plans to revive Panama's banking industry, relax its labor laws, expand the free trade zone, and attract foreign investors," and to privatize state enterprises and "radically cut public spending."
Drawn from the "tiny white elite," the government has been accused of "wanting to turn the clock back to 1968, when a small rich group ruled the country" -- namely, exactly the group now restored to power. But "the charge is unfair," Massing comments. The proof is that when employees from Air Panama fearful of losing their jobs held a vigil outside his office, President Endara "sent them coffee and made a point of talking with them." What is more, while fasting in the Cathedral in an effort to expedite U.S. aid (or to lose weight, some unkind locals quipped), "he invited striking sanitation workers in for a chat and eventually negotiated a settlement." Furthermore, Vice-President Arias Calderón has said that he favors a "social market economy" in which the government seeks to correct disparities created by the market. True, no projects that might illustrate these plans "are in the works" and the Endara government "opposes the idea" of using U.S. aid for such purposes, "determined to leave virtually everything to the private sector." But that proves nothing, in the face of the powerful evidence showing that "the charge is unfair," just reviewed in its entirety.
Massing is not pleased with the outcome, particularly, the restoration of Noriega's PDF, "despite all the good intentions" of the United States (taken as given, in accordance with the norms of the intellectual culture), and its efforts "to atone for its past misbehavior." The problem does not lie in the U.S. military aid programs, which have trained security forces that "have been guilty of horrible excesses" in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Noriega's Panama (and other cases unmentioned). Rather, the problem lies in what the U.S. "had to work with." It's those folks who are bad, not us, please.
The consistent effects of our military training, the policies of which it is a part, the documentary record explaining the reasons, in fact, all of history is irrelevant. We are always willing to admit that there were aberrations in the past. But at every moment of time, we have changed course and put the errors of the past behind us.
We are Good, our intentions are Good. Period.
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81 CAR, April 6; Andres Oppenheimer, MH, Jan. 19, 1990.
82 Massing, op. cit.