Most Americans are aware of the fact that the Panama Canal was built
with American blood and treasure. Most also know that we are on the
verge of transferring the Canal to the government of Panama. What too
few know, however, is that the supposed basis for the Canal turnover,
the 1977 Carter-Torrijos treaties, were never legally ratified by either
the United States or Panama. Moreover, as the United States moves out,
Communist China is in the process of moving in.

Hutchison Whampoa, a front company for China’s People’s Liberation
Army (PLA), has already acquired leases giving it control of the ports
of Cristobal and Balboa at each end of the Canal. Hutchison Whampoa is
also in the process of taking over Rodman Naval Station and other
military facilities being abandoned by the United States. Whampoa pays
Panama $22.2 million a year and makes large investments in the country’s
infrastructure. This company, headed by Li Kashing, is closely tied with
the China Ocean Shipping Co. (COSCO), which is controlled by the
military industrial complex of the Chinese government. COSCO is the same
company that almost succeeded in gaining control of the abandoned naval
station at Long Beach, Calif. The canal is a vital component of American
trade and defense capabilities. With the Chinese gaining a foothold in
our backyard, we are extremely susceptible to their ballistic missiles.

If the American people knew that the American Canal in Panama is, in
effect, being surrendered to a hostile foreign power, and that this
surrender is taking place illegally, they would be outraged. Yet the
mainstream media are not reporting the facts regarding either the
fraudulent Carter-Torrijos treaties or the developing Red Chinese
encroachment in Panama. Even worse, the Clinton administration
officially consummated the transfer at a ceremony in Panama on Tuesday,
Dec. 14. Mr. Clinton was apparently unwilling to wait until Dec. 31, the
date stipulated by the Carter-Torrijos treaties. Recently, President
Clinton acknowledged that Communist China gained control of strategic
points in the Panama Canal.

When reporters asked whether he was “worried about the Chinese
controlling the canal,” Clinton replied, “I think the Chinese will in
fact be bending over backwards to make sure that they run it in a
competent and able and fair manner.” I am very concerned about President
Clinton’s reckless disregard for the security of the United States and
the Western Hemisphere. What is even more stupefying is that this president actually believes
China will operate the Panama Canal in our best interest.

In order to expose and prevent this national security risk, I have
introduced the Panama and America Security Act (H.J. Res. 77) which
officially recognizes that the original Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty of 1903
is still in effect. The 1903 treaty gives the United States full
sovereign rights over the Panama Canal and Canal Zone.

The Canal has been a U.S. Territory for almost a century. In 1903,
President Theodore Roosevelt secured Panama’s independence from Colombia
and entered the United States into a treaty with the government of
Panama. The Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty granted the United States full
sovereign rights over the Panama Canal and Canal Zone.

Twenty-two years ago President Jimmy Carter entered into a treaty
with Panamanian dictator Omar Torrijos to give these rights away by the
end of the millennium. However, President Carter and Torrijos signed two
different documents. Under Article 20.2 of the Vienna Convention on the
Law of Treaties, for treaties to be valid, a reservation signed by a
nation must be agreed to by the other signatories. When the United
States Senate signed the treaty, they included a provision known as the “Deconcini
Reservation,” which states that either country may take unilateral
action to preserve the neutrality of the Panama Canal. When that version
of the treaty went to the Panamanians for ratification, they expressly
added a three-paragraph counter-reservation that contradicts the
Deconcini Reservation. This new text with the counter-reservation was
never presented to the Senate for ratification. Furthermore, under
Panamanian law, only the president of Panama may sign a treaty. However,
Omar Torrijos was not the president, thus making the treaty doubly void.

According to Article 46.1 of the Vienna Convention, a nation has the
authority to declare treaties invalid only if the violation “was
manifest and concerned a rule of its internal law of fundamental
importance.” A troubling aspect of the Carter-Torrijos Treaties is that
President Carter did not have the constitutional authority to abrogate
the 1903 Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty, which gave the United States
sovereignty over the Panama Canal. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Treaties
are legislative acts … treaties being declared, equally with the laws
of the United States, to be the supreme law of the land, it is
understood that an act of the legislature alone can declare them
infringed and rescinded.” My legislation will do just that.

Not too long ago, during Operation Just Cause, two dozen U.S.
Servicemen paid the ultimate price to defend the national security
interests of the United States. Without our military presence in the
Canal and Canal Zone, we are leaving it at risk of being taken over by
Communist China. The United States has a vested interest in the Panama
Canal and a responsibility under the Monroe Doctrine to defend and
protect the Western Hemisphere.

We’ve had great diplomatic relations with the government and people
of Panama. In fact, over 70 percent of Panamanians believe the U.S.
should retain control and operations of the canal. Even the people who
live in and around the Canal Zone understand that their country does not
have the military or policing capability to defend this important,
strategic waterway against sabotage or terrorism. My legislation will
not undo the actions that have been undertaken over the last 22 years.
However, this resolution will begin the process towards full sovereign
control of the Panama Canal as it was instituted in the original 1903
treaty, the only valid treaty. Even if the official transfer takes place
on Dec. 31, I will continue to promote my bill. Since the basis for the
transfer is invalid, recognizing it as a “done deal” would be like
counting a touchdown while there’s a penalty flag on the field.

Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage, R-Idaho, is the author of Panama and
America Security Act (H.J. Res. 77).

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