The following are excerpts from a March 4 interview by the Mexican daily Excelsior, with Panamanian Defense Forces chief Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega:
“Panama is suffering an aggression joined by Panamanians whose brain is the Panamanian oligarchy, whose brain is the United States, the U.S. ‘establishment.’ And aggression by that nation, the most powerful on Earth, against a nation with only two million inhabitants. Of course, there is a reason for this: Panama has a canal, a geographic ‘waist,’ from which Washington could usurp not only Mexican territory, but also Panamanian territory.”
When the republic was founded: a foreigner, Bunau Varilla, signed a treaty never confirmed by any Panamanian.
Since then, U.S. aggression has persisted. It imposed governments, established the nation’s institutions, disarmed the Armed Forces. It intervened on Panamanian territory about 23 times; students have died. So, we have a history of aggression.
As time has gone by, aggression changed from bayonets, bullets, and cannons, to slanders, with newspapers, with wire services… but it is still aggression.
Like oil, which, for some countries, can be either a blessing or a curse, for Panama, the canal is like the prettiest girl on the bloc, who is always the object of seduction and rape by those who have money.
If the Torrijos-Carter treaties are complied with, the canal could be transformed from an object of lust into a great good for all Latin America, the world, and especially for Panama.
When Panama, whose shield bears the words “for the benefit of the world,” permitted its territory to be split to unite the two oceans so ships from all countries could cross, it was doing a good deed for all humanity.
Under international law, the United States and Panama are both obliged to carry out the canal treaties.They are documents signed with the guarantee of foreign friends, who guarantee Panama that on 12 noon in the year 1999, no foreign soldier will remain on our soil. Panama has the duty to preserve the security and the letter and the spirit of the treaties, in peaceful coexistence with the Americans, until the year 1999.
We aren’t going to violate them. We aren’t dumb enough to violate them, knowing we’ve got only 10 years to go for the canal to be ours; we aren’t going to step on that banana peel. Therefore, there isn’t going to be any violation from our side.The Panamanian people are too peaceful and defenseless to confront a nation whose interests are not in conflict with Panamanian interests.”
Q: “The possibility of an invasion is being discussed. Do you think this is possible?
“We believe that we live in a civilized world. In the Christian spirit, the arrogance of the large cannot impose itself on the weakness of the small; that would be absurd, catastrophic to its morality; and they would find us Panamanians with our dignity armed, not on our knees.”
Q: “Could Panama be subjected to …what happened to …Grenada? Would there be the same kind of combat here? “
“In Panama, something very different and very special has emerged. We decided that democracy cannot be imposed like a decal that you put on a shirt, run the iron over it and the figure sticks. That is what they want to do, and the U.S.’s error is to want to impose its ‘made in U.S.A.’ democracy on the Latin American countries.
General Omar Torrijos and his companions-in-arms produced a new force, the Defense Forces, in which soldiers don’t compete with civilians, but are colleagues to the civil, government administrators. The officer does not sit idle in the barks, nor spend his time analyzing the Napoleonic war, nor why Hitler lost at Stalingrad. He analyzes a war, today’s war against hunger, misery, and illiteracy. Our defense force is prepared to wage community and social struggles.”
Q: “Overseas, you are called Panama’s ‘strong man.’ Do you consider yourself the strong man? “
“Here in Panama, the only strong people are the women. Here the women rule. Here there is a matriarchy. We are afraid of the women. We respect them. But aside from this, the concept of a strong man was used to describe the military governments the United States historically imposed when it had a system of imposing military dictatorships on Latin America. And now, to cleanse itself in a basin of holy water, it begins to criticize everything military and to try to elevate so-called democracy to the image and likeness of its own system, with its vices, with its drugs, with its treasons, with its men, with its ‘lran-gates,’ with its psychological warfare. That is ‘democracy.’
Thus, the term ‘strong man’ is a thing of the past. Strongman is military morality, the morality of friendship, the morality of nationalist, patriotic conscience, the concept of not falling on one’s knees, nor bending one’s backbone.
We can accept the idea that the Defense Forces- not Noriega- are the strong men, because they won’t crawl; the Panamanian people are the strong men, because their spines are not hinged. In that way, we accept the term.
Q: “General, you are being tried in the United States. Even if you could be acquitted, would you want that?”
“Panamanian dignity affirms that the U.S. courts, especially in this case, made this indictment as part of an aggression against the man they felt was an obstacle. After 18 years of collaboration with the U.S. in a battle against drugs which has brought medals, letters, resolutions, applause, photographs, certificates… they come with this stupidity, and throw it against a patriot, against a leader, against an armed forces to subjugate them. And today they are finding out they don’t have a leg to stand on. There is no reason for me to go anywhere outside my country to respond. I am waiting here for Elliott Abrams, to arrest him.
I believe that Panama is one of the leading nations of Contadora. Panama has made a moral, material and ideological investment, and is paying the price for being in that peace-making organization.
When U.S.National Security Adviser John Poindexter came here, what he demanded was: Get out of Contadora; tone down your statements. You and Mexico are setting a bad example and you are preventing us from invading Nicaragua.”