Merida Initiative militarizes Panama

Students from the Student Revolutionary Front (FER-29) and the University Popular Bloc closed off one of Panama City’s main arteries for more than an hour on Nov. 11 to protest what they said were plans to open US military bases in Panama. Police agents dispersed the demonstrators with water cannons and tear gas and arrested 16 students, most of them from the Arts and Trades College. On Nov. 12 Governance and Justice Minister José Raúl Mulino told reporters that the four bases the students were protesting would be “100% Panamanian.” They are to be under the control of the Air-Navy Service (SENAN) and the National Border Service (Senafront) as part of the agencies’ effort to control the transport of narcotics through Panama, he said. “They are not military bases.”

According to Mulina, the government is opening up the first of the bases on Chapera island before Nov. 30. The others are to be in Darién province, near the border with Colombia, and in the La Perlas archipelago in the Pacific Ocean. According to the Venezuelan-based TeleSUR television network, on Oct. 20 Mulina had referred to two bases the US would set up in Panama, but in his Nov. 12 statement the minister clarified that while the bases would be Panamanian, they were part of the Mérida Initiative, a US-funded operation to fight the drug trade in Mexico and Central America. The US military had as many as 100 bases in Panama before the US withdrawal from the Panama Canal was completed in 1999. (EFE, Nov. 11;, Paraguay, Nov. 12 from ANSA; TeleSUR, Nov. 13, some from EFE)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 17

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