|CONTROLLING THE CANAL|
|Does handing over the Panama Canal pose national security dangers to the United States? William Ratliff of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and John J. Tierney of The Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C., respond to your questions.|
Klausa of Lake Geneva, WI, asks:
How will the canal be run differently under the control of Panama?
The canal will be run by the Panama Canal Authority consisting of eleven
directors, ten of whom are chosen by the Panamanian president, nine
requiring ratification by the legislature. The legislation itself provides
some safeguards against abuse. The PCA will have exclusive charge of
everything to do with the canal, though it can delegate some projects
and services to third parties. In the notice of the PCA's formation,
Article 5 says its "fundamental objective" is to maintain
a canal that will "always remain open to the peaceful and uninterrupted
transit of vessels from all nations of the world, without discrimination.
. . ." But whereas the U.S. ran the canal as a public utility for
the global community, pumping profits and sometime much more into maintaining
the facility, Panama intends to run it as a business for profit. Panama's
intention could be dangerous if it expects to make much from the canal
itself since doing so would require either a significant hike in tolls
or cutting corners in maintenance, or both. The former would drive users
to seek more cost-effective alternatives while the danger of the latter,
even in the medium term, is self-evident. Canal administrator Alberto
Aleman Zubleta has acknowledged that canal profits come mainly from
businesses made possible by the efficient operation of the waterway
itself. For example, the canal is the reason Panama has become a center
of international banking and shipping with a vast service sector that
support much of the Panamanian population. If the waterway is not operated
well, Panama could easily get less money from it than during the decades
of U.S. control. Pride of ownership -- "Future Generations Will
Be Proud of Us" says a billboard on the road to the Miraflores
Locks -- may come at a cost Panamanians did not consider carefully in
J. Tierney responds:
The immediate answer is that the Canal should NOT be "run differently." It should be run as well as the United States ran it since 1914, with efficiency, discipline, economic power and due regard for strategic considerations. Can we expect the same from Panama in the years ahead? The challenge is daunting.
Panama must be able to replace the income from former U.S. military facilities with their thousands of well-paying jobs. It must sell billions of dollars worth of properties and find productive use for them, or otherwise pay millions each year for depleted property. Panama must maintain the Canal -- an 86-year-old facility -- through its own resources. It must reverse soil erosion around the Canal or face the possibility of serious water shortage and possible closure. Panama's government must guard against political patronage which could lead to inefficiency and instability. Improvements in the Canal and surrounding area will require millions, perhaps billions, of dollars. A sound investment climate is critical. Finally, without any military force, and with a token police, Panama must find a way to secure the Canal (and itself) against all kinds of threats: strategic, accidental, deliberate or irrational.
There is no definitive answer to your question, but these are some of the dimensions of the problem.