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August 3, 1999



The Panama Canal will be open to all the nations of the world, without discrimination, when it comes under Panamanian control in 150 days, Panama’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jorge Eduardo Ritter, declared today at the Organization of American States (OAS).

Ritter told a protocolary meeting of the OAS Permanent Council that the instruments of accession to the treaty on the permanent neutrality and operation of the Panama Canal were deposited with the OAS "as evidence of the universal nature of the commitment and as acknowledgement of the role this agency is called upon to play in relations between and among states of the hemisphere."

Panama foto 4.jpg (79421 bytes)OAS Assistant Secretary General, Christopher Thomas, greets the Panamanian Foreign Minister at the entrance of the OAS

In his address, the Panamanian Foreign Minister said that although U.S. military presence ended this past July 31 with the withdrawal of the Southern Command, two military bases remained to be handed over—of the fourteen that existed when the treaties were signed. The Minister noted, however, that understanding was limited when it came to the rehabilitation of firing ranges and bombing areas, although there was so much in other areas. "Panama is not in a position to assume the costs involved in a job that is the responsibility of those with the appropriate technology and adequate resources to tackle it and who, furthermore, have a legal and moral obligation to finish it," he added.

The protocolary meeting opened with the welcome by Sir Arlington Griffith Butler, Ambassador of the Bahamas and Permanent Council Chairman. He underscored "the extraordinary importance of the historic event whereby, at noon on December 31, 1999—on the threshold of the twenty-first century—the Canal will come under the sovereign control of the Republic of Panama." The Caribbean diplomat also congratulated Panama and the United States on the harmonious transition process involving both governments.

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(From left to right) Panamanian Ambasador to the OAS, Lawrence Chewning Fábrega; U.S. Ambassador to the OAS, Victor Marrero; and Panamanian Foreign Minister, Jorge Eduardo Ritter

Meantime, OAS Assistant Secretary General Christopher R. Thomas remarked that the September 7, 1977 signing of the Torrijos-Carter Treaties at the OAS "marks a watershed in the history of inter-American relations." In his overview of the long process culminating in the signing of the treaties, Ambassador Thomas said "on December 31, 1999, OAS member states will witness yet another watershed in inter-American relations." He said he felt particularly gratified that the OAS had played a key role in facilitating the transition.