Media Center



April 29, 2005 - Washington, DC

Ambassador Rodolfo Hugo Gil, Acting Chair of the Permanent Council;
Mr. Brian Stevenson, Representative of the Acting Secretary General;
Permanent Representatives of the member states;
Special guests,
Ladies and gentlemen:

The Canal Treaties between the United States and Panama were signed in this Hall of the Americas on September 7, 1977. In that solemn act, which enjoyed the resolute and decisive support of the member countries of the Organization of American States, my father, Omar Torrijos Herrera, and Jimmy Carter put a final stamp on the future of the interoceanic route. I would like to avail myself of this opportunity to reiterate, yet again, the Panamanian people’s ongoing gratitude for the generous, disinterested, and fraternal support of the American peoples and their rulers, which, under the auspices of the OAS, made it possible to reach those agreements.

Signature of the Torrijos-Carter treaties put an end to controversy and longstanding disputes and opened up a new, more fruitful relationship that has persisted and grown over the years between the United States and Panama, and between the United States and Latin America.

The Protocol to the Treaty concerning the Permanent Neutrality and Operation of the Panama Canal, one of the treaties signed, remains open at the OAS for accession. May I urge those American States that have not already acceded to the Treaty to assist us with their support in order to ensure that this important maritime waterway, which facilitates world trade, continues to conserve its neutral status, which we regard as a commitment that must be honored as a matter of obligation and necessity.

After a 23-year transition period in which the United States and Panama collaborated in an enthusiastic and always timely manner, the Canal was placed in Panamanian hands on December 31, 1999. Today, this instrument of world trade is being administered efficiently and advantageously, even more so than when it was in North American hands, as both high-ranking U.S. government officials and business users of the Canal have repeatedly testified.

It is true that Panama has benefited greatly from the return of the Canal and adjacent lands and waters, but we are also shouldering a great responsibility. We are reviewing the possibility of broadening the Canal to enable it to handle more ships, including those that cannot pass through it today because of the size of the locks, which were built at the beginning of the last century.

The Political Constitution of Panama stipulates that a decision of that nature may only be taken by a national referendum. And a referendum will therefore be held. Nevertheless, I consider it my duty as President of Panama to inform this Organization, which has been so involved in the fate of the Canal, regarding the studies underway for its modernization.

I wish on this occasion to pay tribute once again to the work of the Organization of American States, which you so nobly represent, on behalf of the peoples of America. It is no easy task to forge and preserve democracies in a region still beset by so much injustice and inequality, in which broad swathes of the population are almost totally marginalized and living in poverty or, worse still, extreme poverty.

Faced with these endemic woes, we leaders have no option but to tackle problems with courage and determination and thereby try to solve them. Instead of playing to the crowd with a view to the next elections, we must strive to benefit present and future generations. Some of the measures we are called upon to take may not be particularly popular, but they are indeed necessary if we want to improve the health, housing, education, and living standards of the neediest segments of society.

I am familiar with your efforts in the OAS to prevent regressions with respect to the consolidation of our democracies and I know the perseverance with which you strive, sometimes against the odds, to expand our freedoms and protect and defend human rights.

Next Monday, May 2, the General Assembly will meet to choose the Secretary General of this Organization. I thank you for the distinction of having Panama preside over the Assembly. My Government made every effort to find a candidate backed by a consensus in order to support the Secretary General with solid hemispheric unity. Nevertheless, I am convinced that whoever serves as Secretary General will perform the functions of that office in a manner that integrates us and pursues the interests of all the American states and will work closely with the Permanent Council and the other organs in this important inter-American institution.

Often we remember that the OAS exists when disputes arise between states, fortunately a fairly infrequent occurrence in the Americas, or when situations develop that could imperil the democratic political institutional process or the legitimate exercise of power, or when there are disruptions of the constitutional order in member states. It is indeed advisable that the OAS act under such circumstances, as it has done in various countries in the past, and as it did in Nicaragua last October and a few days ago in Ecuador. Let us hope that, with assistance from the OAS mission, good governance will be strengthened in that sister nation, with full respect for the democratic order.

At the same time, the OAS carries out numerous activities of a different nature, designed to promote the integral development envisaged in the Organization’s Charter. That involves work in economic, social, educational, cultural, scientific, and technological fields. We leaders of member states look forward to the adoption of the Social Charter and Plan of Action, as two major responses to the need to promote development and reduce poverty.

I know that the OAS labors under severe budgetary constraints, which prevent it from performing the multiple functions assigned to it in its basic documents and in General Assembly mandates. Consequently, the Government of Panama has stated that it agrees to the necessary adjustment of the OAS budget and I am sure that a consensus will be forged among our countries in favor of this necessary gesture of solidarity.

Permanent Representatives of the member states:

Allow me to take advantage of this opportunity pay a well-earned tribute to one of the two principal negotiators of the Torrijos-Carter Treaties, who recently passed away.

I refer to Sol Linowitz, a great lawyer, a successful man of business and an outstanding public figure. He was appointed in March of 1977 and such was the thrust that he gave to the negotiations that in the mere six months he was in charge, the Treaties were achieved.

We are deeply moved by his passing because we Panamanians consider him a great friend. However, his presence and the spirit of justice and equity with which he negotiated the most important Treaties in the relations between Panama and the United States will remain in the memory of our people.

When we build the Torrijos-Carter Park on reverted lands on the Pacific shore of the capital city of our country, Sol Linowitz, negotiator of the Panama Canal Treaties, will be permanently honored.

I would like to thank the Acting Chair of the Permanent Council, Ambassador Rodolfo Hugo Gil, Mr. Brian Stevenson, and the members of the Permanent Council for kindly welcoming me and listening to my remarks.

I would like to end by wishing the OAS every success in its efforts to achieve the purposes set forth in Article 1 of its Charter, namely to achieve an order of peace and justice among the countries of the Americas, to promote their solidarity, to strengthen their collaboration, and to defend their sovereignty, their territorial integrity, and their independence, as well as its efforts to promote and consolidate representative democracy, with due respect for the principle of nonintervention. Without forgetting, naturally, that failure to eradicate extreme poverty is an obstacle to the full democratic development of the peoples of the Hemisphere.

Thank you very much.