As the United States officially transfers the Panama Canal to Panama
today, and while much of the American press debates whether the U.S
delegation in attendance is sufficiently high-level, many other voices
in and out of government are warning that today’s “non-event” — as one
Panamanian official called the ceremony — represents the calm before a
very big storm.

In fulfillment of the 1977 treaties signed by then-President Jimmy
Carter and Panamanian dictator Omar Torrijos, the 50-mile,
American-built-and-maintained canal is being ceremoniously transferred
to Panama today, although the actual transfer will occur at noon Dec.

Dignitaries including Spain’s King Juan Carlos and Mexican President
Ernesto Zedillo arrived yesterday to witness today’s ceremony, along
with lower-level U.S. representatives including Secretary of
Transportation Rodney Slater, Secretary of Commerce William Daley and
former President Jimmy Carter.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who had been scheduled to
attend, canceled her participation.

While Panamanian treaty negotiator Fernando Manfredo called the
ceremony a “non-event,” the country’s Foreign Minister Jose Miguel
Aleman said: “What the world will witness with the transfer of the
Panama Canal will truly represent a new era, the start of a new
relationship between Panama and the United States. The solution to the
canal conflict has been an example for the world that conciliation is
possible between a small country and a superpower.”

That conflict began in 1964 when Panamanian students attempted to fly
the national flag alongside the U.S. flag at a Canal Zone high school,
which resulted in riots causing the deaths of an estimated 24
Panamanians and four U.S. servicemen. The strained relationship between
the U.S. and Panama led to the 1977 treaties.

The transfer signals a change in the United States’ worldview, says a
University of Arkansas political science professor who specializes in
U.S.-Panamanian relations, Margaret Scranton, according to a Reuters

“Clearly, Panama is no longer as important to the United States as it
used to be,” said Scranton. “We’re looking at the world in a new way.
We’re not solely preoccupied by threats and power vacuums.”

However, many people are indeed concerned with threats and power
vacuums. In fact, the absence of U.S. troops at the end of this month
will create an unprecedented power vacuum in what is likely the single
most strategically important piece of real estate in the Western

Perhaps anticipating this vacuum, on Sunday hundreds of Colombian
communist rebels “rained machine-gun fire and homemade missiles on a
Colombian navy base along the border with
Panama,” according to a Reuters report, “killing at least 45 marines,
independent civilian authorities said Monday.”

Describing the attack on the Pacific coast town of Jurado by 600
guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the report
cited a chilling military assessment of the situation the region faces
without U.S. troops in the canal zone.

“U.S. military authorities have warned that Colombian guerrillas, who
hold sway in the frontier zone, could launch attacks inside Panama and
even on the canal itself once the U.S. pullout is complete.”

Chinese domination and havoc predicted

As WorldNetDaily disclosed recently, a secret congressional
investigation has reported that soon after the U.S. pulls out its
troops, Americans can expect a large-scale “dirty war” in Panama,
and indeed, throughout Central America.

“Chinese organized crime operations are active in drugs, guns and
illegal alien smuggling in
Panama, and the Russian Mafia is known to be supplying weapons to
Colombian narco-terrorist forces,” the congressional investigators said.
“The war in neighboring Colombia against well-armed narco-terrorist
forces, with a history of ties to Cuba, is escalating and threatens to
spread throughout the region.”

Why all the focus on China?

For months, congressional and military critics have warned that the
Panama Canal would not really be run by the virtually defenseless
Central American nation after Jan. 1, 2000. Rather, the militarily and
commercially crucial waterway would be controlled by none other than
Communist China.

The concern stemmed from the fact that a Hong Kong-based company with
known ties to the Communist Chinese military, Hutchison Whampoa Ltd.,
won the right to operate ports at both ends of the canal. While critics
have equated this to de facto control of the canal, the Clinton
administration consistently scoffed at such concerns.

Scoffed, that is, until Clinton’s stunning Oval Office admission
recently that China, indeed, will control the canal.

“The Chinese will in fact be bending over backwards to make sure that
they run it in a competent and able and fair manner,” the president
said. Clinton then weighed in on Communist China’s intentions in the
matter: “They’ll want to demonstrate to a distant part of the world that
they can be a responsible partner. And I would be very surprised if any
adverse consequences flowed from the Chinese running the canal.”

Since the unusual candor of his bombshell admission about China’s
role in the canal, Clinton has since retracted his remarks as having
been erroneous.

“It appears we have given away the farm,” said Senate Majority Leader
Trent Lott, in a letter to Defense Secretary William Cohen. “U.S. naval
ships will be at the mercy of Chinese-controlled pilots and could even
be denied passage.”

In reality, say experts, China will indeed run the Panama Canal —
lock, stock and barrel. Not only does the immensely powerful Hutchison
Whampoa company control ” both the Pacific
and Atlantic lead locks,” according to Larry Klayman, Chairman of
Judicial Watch, who is in Panama for the
ceremony. But also, said Klayman, “unknown or ignored by most Americans
is the fact that the entire canal is now maintained and overseen by
Panama Ports Company, which is a subsidiary of Hutchison Whampoa.”

“The sole authority of this Communist Chinese-run company over one of
the largest trade choke-points in the world is frightening,” added
Klayman. “The Communist Chinese now have a knife to the throats of world
commerce, U.S. military troop and battleship movement, the United
States, and the Panamanian people.”

Klayman is in Panama along with Howard Phillips, chairman of the
Conservative Caucus and
Constitution Party presidential
candidate, to witness the ceremony and to “take every possible step
before Dec. 31, 1999, the actual transfer date, to see that the
Communist Chinese are not left in control of the canal,” said Klayman.

“What happens in Panama will have a tremendous impact upon the
security of the Western hemisphere for years to come,” said Phillips.
“Now that U.S. forces have been withdrawn and our bases closed, a
geo-strategic vacuum has been created which is a target of opportunity
for regimes hostile to the principles of liberty revered by most
citizens of the United States of America and the Republic of Panama
alike,” Phillips said.

In the U.S., last-minute opposition is raging to stop the final
transfer and pullout of U.S. troops at year’s end. Both a federal
lawsuit and a petition by members of Congress are attempting to stop the
turnover of the 85-year-old waterway, literally at the last minute.

“Considering the strategic nature of the canal, both economically and
militarily,” said Phillips, “defense against terrorism and military
attack on the canal will have to be constantly considered. Without a
restoration of a U.S. military presence in Panama, it will be difficult,
if not impossible for Panama to deter and defeat potential physical
threats to the canal. Such a restoration would be in the mutual
interest of both of our countries and has the support of the
overwhelming majority of people in both our nations.”

Related stories:

“Dirty” wars in Panama

In 2000, it’s China Canal

See Joseph Farah’s exclusive commentary,
“Clinton’s Panama Canal admission”

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