1994 CPEO Military List Archive

From: Fellowship of Reconciliation <fornatl@igc.org>
Date: Mon, 12 Dec 1994 12:33:33 -0800 (PST)
Reply: cpeo-military
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 <ceaspa@nicarao.apc.org>. 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

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

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

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.


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

  Prev by Date: Re: BASE CLOSURE: Pease Ruling
Next by Date: Letter to Deutch on DERA cuts.
  Prev by Thread: Net access on Maui
Next by Thread: Letter to Deutch on DERA cuts.

CPEO Lists
Author Index
Date Index
Thread Index