|From:||Fellowship of Reconciliation <firstname.lastname@example.org>|
|Date:||Mon, 12 Dec 1994 12:33:33 -0800 (PST)|
|Subject:||Panama Bases-Request for Advice|
U.S. Bases in Panama Appeal for advice and assistance, from John Lindsay-Poland Fellowship of Reconciliation, December 12, 1994 The Panamanian government is putting together a formal request for information about contaminants and their history on the dozen U.S. military bases in Panama. The bases are being turned over to Panama between now and the year 2000, when all U.S. military presence must be out of Panama in accordance with the Panama Canal Treaties. The format has been developed by Panamanian governmental agencies and NGOs and is already entering higher governmental channels in Panama. One of the NGO participants has asked for feedback on a draft of the format, so that there may still be an opportunity for those who have gone through this before with DOD to offer counsel and share experience. At the same time, the Pentagon is drafting its own, very general plan for turning over information on contaminants on the Panama bases, without consulting with Panamanian agencies or groups. It is due to be released shortly. The format as drafted asks for extensive information about all U.S. facilities in Panama, including description, condition, and history of sites, information on underground facilities and firing ranges, descriptions of technologies used that could pose a danger to health or the environment, and information on all studies carried out, including dates, methods and places. The draft does not give a timeline for transfer of this information, nor does it set priorities on what information would be most important to turn over first. It is six pages long. I have written a brief response suggesting the importance of a timeline and establishing priorities. Others may respond to me or directly to Charlotte Elton, Director of the Panamanian Center for Social Research and Action (CEASPA), whose e-mail is <email@example.com>. She is fluent in both English and Spanish. What follows is a background article about the issue. Panama Will Seek U.S. Clean-up of Bases The Panamanian agency responsible for U.S. military areas being turned over to Panama announced in November that it will ask the United States to "de-contaminate" the U.S. bases before they are reverted to Panama. Carlos Mendoza, president of Panama's Inter-oceanic Regional Authority (ARI), said that Panama does not have the hundreds of millions of dollars that will be required to clean up the bases. The request could meet a stony U.S. response, however, given a proposal by Senate Republicans to drastically reduce Pentagon budgets for environmental clean-up. The U.S. bases have been used for more than 40 years as testing and exercise grounds for weapons, leaving behind unexploded munitions throughout a large area near the Panama Canal. Like other military sites around the world, the bases in Panama are also the site of contaminants such as solvents to clean airplanes, petrochemicals, and PCBs. Mendoza said the ARI is carrying out a study of the areas to measure the extent of the problem so that it can be addressed before the year 2000, when the bases must be handed over to Panama. The San Jos Island in the Gulf of Panama, proposed by former President Endara as an area to house 10,000 Haitian refugees, was used by the U.S. to test chemical weapons in the 1940's, according to a recent study by the Center for Panamanian Research and Social Action. The Panama Canal Treaties require the U.S. to remove "every hazard to human life, health and safety" from the military areas, "insofar as may be practicable." While the treaty language is ambiguous, the Department of Defense is releasing a document that outlines its clean-up policy in Panama and requires that information on contaminants be turned over to Panama a year before each facility is reverted. Although the Canal Treaties require the United States to consult with Panama on environmental issues, the Pentagon did not do so in writing the policy. Until recently the Pentagon did not consider unexploded munitions as toxic waste, but a paper released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in August changes that assumption. The EPA paper would subject military firing ranges to Superfund environmental laws once the ranges are no longer in use. If the proposed EPA rule is applied to Panama, it could force the United States to comply with a stricter clean-up standard on the firing ranges. Citizen groups in the U.S., especially in communities near impact ranges, are pressing for a policy that considers unexploded munitions as hazardous waste as soon as they hit the ground. "Though this position is based on real threats to public and environmental health, it makes the military particularly nervous. It would give outsiders more control over one of the military's principal missions: combat training," according to the Pacific Studies Center, a military toxics watchdog group. The Superfund law, however, is up for renewal in a Republican Congress during the coming year, whose action could cancel any EPA policy on munitions. In addition, on December 5, two Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John Warner and John McCain, proposed an annual cut of $930 million from military and Department of Energy environmental programs in order to fund military "readiness." Coming from an annual budget of $2.4 billion for environmental and clean-up programs in the military, the cuts would have a severe effect on any Panamanian request to fully clean up the firing ranges and other military contaminants. National Park or Bomb Hazard? The firing ranges used by the U.S. military fall within a mostly forested area in the watershed of the Panama Canal. Because maintenance of the watershed's forest is crucial to protection of its biologically diverse ecology and the supply of fresh water that maintains the Canal, Panama's natural resources agency has proposed making the area into a national park that would stretch all across the Panamanian isthmus. Though supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the project has been suspended by the ARI because of the potential danger posed by unexploded munitions in the area. The Filipino Experience with U.S. Bases Grassroots efforts in the Philippines offer a model for how poor people in a former U.S. colony can leverage the U.S. to clean toxics left by the military. The Filipino Senate has held hearings on the problem, and the Filipino press has extensively covered the controversy generated by the discovery of contaminants. A recent study by U.S. scientists showed more than a dozen contaminated sites on Clark and Subic bases in the Philippines. The day before President Clinton's November 9 visit to Manila, Filipino grassroots groups held protests in front of the U.S. Embassy, in which former base workers and others spoke. The Philippines' President Ramos raised the issue in his meeting with Clinton, and Clinton agreed to share technical resources to study the extent of contamination on the bases, which were turned over to the Philippines in 1991 and 1992. Sources Citizens Report on the Military and the Environment 11/94; La Prensa 11/5/94; Manila Standard 11/8/94; Latinamerica Press 11/17/94; Pacific Studies Center, 12/6/94; U.S. Department of Defense. -John Lindsay-Poland
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