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Panama: No End to Rigidity

2 minute read

After eight days on the scene in Panama, a five-nation OAS investigation team (Brazil, Costa Rica, Mexico, Paraguay, Uruguay) flew back to Washington last week, unwilling to side either with Panama or the U.S. on the Jan. 9 Canal Zone riots. Officially the investigators kept a diplomatic silence pending a formal report to the OAS Council. Unofficially they said they found no real proof of U.S. charges that Castroites had instigated the first riots — though pictures of later fighting did show Communist troublemakers in the forefront. The diplomats also concluded that U.S. troops along the Canal Zone border were probably “too forceful” in their defense against invading mobs. Yet Panama, as some of the diplomats conceded privately, was hardly a “victim of U.S. aggression,” had no legitimate reason to claim sanctions under the Rio inter-American defense treaty.

Behind the scenes, the OAS tried hard to bring the two nations back to the conference table. The U.S. repeatedly assured Panama of its willingness to discuss all grievances once diplomatic relations were resumed. But the Panamanians, if anything, were becoming even more rigid in their demands for an advance U.S. commitment to renegotiate the 1903 canal treaty. The continuing deadlock had many Latin American diplomats worried. Warned an OAS ambassador: “The Panamanian economy is stagnating, the people are restive and unpredictable— and the government is keeping the blame on the U.S.”

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