Panama Reconsiders US Drug PactPanama is re-thinking its participation in the Salas-Becker Agreement with the US because the US has used the agreement violate the rights of Panamanian citizens.
The President of Panama’s National Assembly, Pedro Miguel Gonzalez, has filed a demanda de inconstitucionalidad with the Supreme Court against the Salas-Becker Agreement. That agreement between Panama and the United States, signed in 2002, allows for joint patrols in Panamanian waters and the conduct of bilateral maritime police operations to prevent illicit activities such as drug trafficking, illegal fishing, and contraband transport. In reality however, the US has arrested, taken and jailed Panamanian suspects under the agreement without even letting Panama know about it and that, claims Gonzalez, is in violation of Panama’s constitution.
One high-profile case that has prompted the legal move of Gonzalez was the arrest in 2006, supposedly in international waters, of the ship Perseus V which was found to be carrying a ton of cocaine hidden under a shipment of scrap metal. Captain and crew among which 7 Panamanian nationals, were all taken to the US and have been convicted on drug trafficking charges – something many in Panama regard as kidnapping. It later turned out that the ship moved on to Mexico with even more drugs on board, likely as part of some sting operation. The drugs and scrap metal all mysteriously vanished and eventually the head of Panama’s Maritime Service, Ricardo Traad, was arrested on insistence of the DEA and charged with having sold the drugs and kept the profits. He spent some time in jail and was released when charges against him were dismissed. Supposedly, he only sold the scrap metal for a phenomenal amount of money, not the drugs.
Pedro Miguel Gonzalez may very well have more personal reasons for attempting to get the Salas-Becker agreement declared null and void by the Supreme Court. His election as President of the National Assembly was vehemently opposed by the United States – and even derailed the ratification of a free trade agreement between the two countries – because they regard him a fugitive from justice. Gonzalez was indicted in 1992 for the killing of American soldier Zak Hernandez on the eve of a visit of President George H.W. Bush. Gonzalez was tried in Panama and found not guilty, despite testimony by an “eyewitness” who later turned out to have received $125,000 for his testimony from the US government. Should Gonzalez ever venture out at sea, he could be arrested and deported to the United States under the Salas-Becker agreement.
Narco Sphere, Okke Ornstein