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January 13, 1999

Letter to the Editor
Regarding the Panama Canal
Published in the Washington Times

| More Panama Canal Information | Panama Canal Action Item |

Dear Sir:

Your Panama series has been a disappointment in at least two ways.

One, as suggested by the headline "Canal no longer crucial to national security", you fail to convey a fact-based sense of urgency about the on-going strategic significance of the assets we are surrendering.

Second, your series fails to point out that it is not too late for corrective action.

The real issue is not "Who manages the Canal?", but rather, "Who controls the isthmus?". Panama is, in effect, the "belt buckle" of the Western hemisphere from which the United States has been able to project power in defense of its vital interests from the Arctic Circle to Antarctica, and in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

While you did point out the unique value of the Jungle Operation Training Base -- which is topographically and climatologically irreplaceable -- your writers neglected to emphasize the important intelligence-gathering activities which have been based in Panama with respect to naval activity in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The particular loss concerns naval intelligence below the surface and information acquisition above.

Our military presence in Panama has permitted us to monitor, control, and outflank hostile activity in Central America and throughout the Caribbean. And, of course, without U.S. troops on the ground, our ability to prevent a terrorist attack on the Canal could result in our naval vessels being divested of the ability to rapidly transit vessels in wartime between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Most serious is the possibility that the vacuum we are creating will be filled by a hostile power.

Most of your readers are old enough to remember the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 involving a Soviet nuclear presence in Cuba. Currently, the Clinton administration has permitted a Hong Kong company closely linked to the Peoples Liberation Army of Red China to gain control of the ports at both ends of the Canal.

As Chinese influence waxes in Panama, and that of the United States wanes, there is the distinct possibility that, within a decade, Red China could threaten the United States from a position of strength within Panama.

Fortunately, much can be done, even at this late date. As you did point out, the overwhelming sentiment in Panama is for the United States to remain. Elections for a new government will occur in May. Even though that government will not take office until September, there is a strong possibility that the United States can negotiate a reconsideration of our withdrawal.

In anticipation of that possibility, we should immediately discontinue the premature removal of our forces and the turnover of our facilities.

Sincerely,

Howard Phillips

Chairman
The Conservative Caucus, Inc.


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