On May 22, the Latin American Circle of International Studies (LACIS) announced that experts from the OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) confirmed the existence of chemical weapons in Panama, left behind by the U. S. armed forces. Washington has refused to comply with the responsibilities imposed by the Chemical Weapons Convention, namely that any country that produced, transported, storaged, used or traded such weapons has the obligation to destroy them in the very country to where they were taken, and dispose of the debris in such a way that they are permanently cleaned and eliminated.The Director General of the OPCW, Ahmet Üzümcü noted in the report of the Technical Secretariat to the Third Conference of the Convention last April: “The destruction of the eight chemical weapons denounced by Panama as abandoned, and verified by the Secretariat in 2002, has not even started yet”. Ambassador José Manuel Terán, permanent representative of Panama in the OPCW, offered more relevant information:
“In the case of Panama… certain States which are part of this Convention… conducted some experiments… forbidden by the Convention… using bombs with chemical components that are still lethal. The destruction of such weapons abandoned in the Island of San Jose has not been solved yet. This represents a potential danger for human and animal life, as well as for the environment; this also limits the touristic development of the island. The Republic of Panama… complying with the responsibilities established in the Convention, will reinstate diplomatic conversations with the US to achieve an agreement. We trust that good faith will prevail to put an end to our differences”.
The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), a well-known organization of the civil society in the U. S., conducted an extensive and documented study on the subject, known for more than ten years now, without any major reaction from any of the parties involved, including the OPCW. Not until recently, and apparently directly motivated by private business interests and touristic developments in the Island of San Jose, the government of Panama has decided to put some pressure on the OPCW and the U. S. authorities.
The study made by the FOR, reveals that the U. S. developed a chemical weapons program in Panama, at least since 1930 and until 1968. Since 1943 the purpose of the program was to test chemical weapons under tropical conditions. An arsenal of mustard gas by the tons, as well as phosgene (a poisonous gas) was distributed through different locations around the country. Chemical explosive devices unused or not exploded were left behind in Panama, when the U. S. armed forces had to leave the country, in accordance with the Torrijos-Carter Treaties.
Some documents located by the bomb expert Rick Stauber in the U. S. National Archives, when he was working for the military contractor PRC, confirm that the United States dumped chemical weapons in France Field, in what is currently the location of a storage center for general merchandises in the Free Zone of Colón. Mustard gas bombs of about 15 kilos leaking contaminant materials were taken there or thrown into the sea.
The U. S. Army has implicitly recognized that there are other chemical weapons dumps in Panamanian soil, when refused to reveal a document produced in 1993 by the Chemical and Biological Command, listing other dangerous repositories of such weapons outside the United States. If there were no other locations in Panama with such dangerous materials, says John Linday-Poland, FOR’s Regional Coordinator and Latin America specialist, the Pentagon would have specified it so, while declining to deliver such document.
Treasure hunters, natural erosion or the urban development could lead to accidental and dangerous discoveries of those dumps. Panama and the OPCW mention eight chemical weapons abandoned, but available data show that there could be more than three thousand. The Latin American Circle for International Studies will continue to offer and spread more information on the subject.