"Zonian Opinions"

Dick Holt (BHS 52)......
In the months and years to come, senior management in the Autoridad del Canal de Panama and politicians in the Panamanian government will be tested on their maturity in looking at problems that will continually arise during their learning cycle for the Canal and the old Canal Zone. Finding unexploded ordnance, breaking down of lock gates, corrosion of concrete that is approaching 100 years of age, and many other elements of the facilities they were given will become items for either crying, or taking mature actions as the new owners to correct at their expense. It is very easy to holler "foul" at the former owners. And furthermore to raise a stink about continuing responsibility of former owners to repair any and all things that go wrong. What it takes is a mature leader to accept the fact that when taking over any complex facility you can expect things to go wrong and pieces of machinery and buildings to fail.

It has been common knowledge that the Canal was built in the years 1904-1915, making it a little bit old. That fact was known at the time of the turnover of the facilities. It has also been common knowledge that the military, in carrying out its role in defense of the Canal, used the military bases and training facilities as any military unit would. The firing of weapons was necessary and it had to be done somewhere. The fact that the Panamanian government accepted the Canal "as is" via the Treaty should stand for something. To go back now some 25 years and say that the US screwed the Panamanians by leaving firing ranges with the possibility of having some live ammunition buried in the ground is somewhat in the realm of the ridiculous. Was it not there at the time of the signing of the Treaty?

What about the buildings collapsing in Balboa? Is this the responsibility of the US to repair or rebuild these buildings? I actually saw the former home of my buddy Irwin Frank in a state of collapse on the Prado in Balboa. Who is going to fix this problem? The US? When the concrete walls on the locks start to disintegrate, who is going to be held responsible for that? The US? You could go on and on about what is happening and what may happen, but the fact remains that the Panama government bought the Canal (actually were given the Canal) and it is now their job to fix whatever is wrong with it. Buyer beware is the old saying in buying of houses, cars, and most anything. Panama was so much in a hurry to possess the Canal that they forgot to beware. But on the other hand, this does give the Environmentalists something new to cry about. They are in need of more bad things to identify. And it gives news people something else to be sensational about. They need more exciting things in order to sell their newsprint.

Lynnette Stokes......
Mr. Holt, Wonderful comments! Good for you! I totally agree with all of your comments. When I got lucky enough to get stationed back home at Howard, I would get a quarterly supplement to place in my "Panama Canal Treaty" binder that I was required to maintain for the squadron. I could not believe some of stipulations that it included. It was terrible...and I found most of looked good on paper. I had a chance to go to the Atlantic Side to visit my old house in Coco Solo, and I don't remember ever being so heavy of heart and the amount of tears I cried that day. Went to see 227-C Holland Ave and all of the screens were gone, the water heaters had been removed, the building had not been painted since I left to go join the Air Force (and that was in 1980...I went back in 1992) but the worse for me was there were chickens in the back of my house!!!! Chickens! All I kept thinking about was what happen to those promises of "maintaining" these places? Of course now, all of these houses are gone in Coco Solo, torn down to place containers. All of those wonderful Mango, Coconut, Star Apple, Papaya Trees all gone. What a waste....a complete waste. So Mr. Holt, good for you!

Eric Jackson......
(The fact that the Panamanian government accepted the Canal "as is" via the Treaty should stand for something.)

Ah, but that's not what the treaty says. The treaty says that Uncle Sam had the duty to remove "all hazards," "insofar as practicable."

They put the responsibility to clean old military sites into the Department of Defense budget at a time when the DOD was getting terribly slashed and enlisted people with families qualified for food stamps, so it's kind of hard to call the brass these evil SOBs for skipping out on a bill that would have run to several hundred millions of dollars when the military was so strapped for cash.

But nevertheless, the US government did shirk one of its obligations.

On the other hand, as a Panamanian citizen who lives here, I think that it's now the Panamanian government's job and nobody else's to protect public health and safety throughout Panama, and I see the Panamanian government shirking this obligation.

Whenever the issue arises, there are plenty of Zonians who will argue that Jimmy Carter gave Panama too much to begin with, so the United States need not comply with the treaty provision about clean-up. Meanwhile, Panamanian activists across the board use the issue as a matter of political posturing, to blame Panama's problems on the US, or to try to look like they're defending people whom they are actually ripping off.

I don't imagine that many Zonians who think that it's OK for Uncle Sam to skip out on the cleaning bill, nor many Panamanian politicians who seek to skip out on responsibility for protecting public safety, would be able to look Jenny de Villarreal in the eye and explain to her that it was somehow OK for her 13-year-old son to be blown to bits, or that both the US and Panamanian government have a good reason to abrogate their duties to clean hazards from old military sites in order to prevent future incidents like the one that took the life of her son.

I think that a good precedent and procedure might be set if Panama sends the US a bill for dealing with that anti-aircraft shell at Pedro Miguel. That would allow for a negotiated practice of the United States compensating Panama for part of the expenses actually incurred in clean-ups, which would be much better than the US paying a lump sum to Panama, which would disappear and never be used for its intended purpose. I think that a reimbursement of some expenses and American technical assistance on call for unusual cases would be the proper format to resolve this dispute between the US and Panama.

Remember the CZ matches?

Do you have an opinion to share in regards to Panama Canal Zone? Please email me, and I'll be pleased to add your entry.

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