Pubdate: Fri, 30 Jul 1999
Source: New Haven Register (CT)
Copyright: 1999, New Haven Register


WASHINGTON -- A retired Army general joined Thursday with House Republicans
in warning that the phaseout of the U.S. military presence in Panama could
be a boon to South American narco-traffickers.

"Panama is critical to counterdrug efforts," said retired Gen. George A.
Joulwan, who once led all U.S. military operations in Latin America.

Testifying before the House International Relations Committee, Joulwan said
losing the U.S. military infrastructure in Panama will affect the U.S.
ability to prosecute the war on drugs.

Under the Panama Canal treaties, the United States has until the end of the
year to terminate all military operations in Panama -- a process that is
well under way.

Committee Chairman Benjamin Gilman, R-N.Y., said the authors of the 1979
pact "could not have foreseen neighboring Colombia's drug-fueled agony, nor
the sophistication of the drug cartels' corrupting criminal reach."

Gilman said it was a mistake for the United States to have put itself in
the position of closing Howard Air Force Base, from which 15,000 military
flights had taken off annually.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., said Panama has no army, navy or air force
with which to combat "the well-armed narco-terrorist forces" in Colombia.

In addition, he said the Panama Canal, instead of reverting to Panamanian
control as prescribed under the treaties, "is now in the hands of communist
China," saying numerous entities with close ties to China's People's
Liberation Army are very active in Panama.

With the closure of Howard AFB in May, the administration has been
conducting counternarcotics surveillance flights from airfields in the
Netherlands Antilles and plans similar flights from Ecuador and a Central
American country to be named.

Rep. Sam Gejdenson, D-Conn., said the addition of these new sites for
surveillance of drug flights more than compensates for the loss of Panama.
He said official analyses show the locations will be able to handle up to
120 percent of the traffic that Panama had been handling.

Gilman called for approval of legislation he introduced last fall providing
for the U.S.-Panamanian military partnership to continue in exchange for
Panama's joining with Mexico and Canada in forging a "new, mature, mutually
beneficial relationship" with the United States.

But Ambassador Theodore McNamara recommended against such an effort, citing
political conditions in Panama. 
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