It didn’t seem to matter that an obvious majority of Americans opposed the Panama Canal giveaway. (Mail to Washington was overwhelmingly against the treaties). The Senate proceeded anyway to vote 68-32, barely the two-thirds majority required, to ratify the proposal to transfer the canal to Panama in the year 2000.
It didn’t seem to matter that many interpret the Constitution as vesting power to dispose of U.S. property and territory in both houses of Congress. The Senate earlier rejected that idea and retained for itself the sole right.
Before the Tuesday vote, pro-treaty leaders seemed to bend over backwards to please Panamanian dictator Torrijos as they hurriedly sought to meet his objections to language in the DeConcini amendment (providing that the U.S. could intervene unilaterally to keep the canal open).
Even the most stalwart giveaway devotees must have been a little chagrined after the Senate vote when Torrijos said his forces would have “intervened in the canal by tomorrow morning” had the treaty been “rejected or made unacceptable to Panama.”
Sen. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.) Senate GOP leader, said Thursday Torrijos’ threats could peril legislation that must be hammered out in both houses turning the canal over to Panama. He called Torrijos’ remarks “among the the silliest diplomatic gestures I’ve ever seen” and admitted he himself might have voted against the treaty had he known in advance of the threats.
A news account said American intelligence sources learned a week ago that Torrijos and his staff had made plans for an attack on the Canal Zone if the treaty failed. Why was this kept from the Senate – if it was?
Sen. Robert Byrd, Democratic leader who engineered the giveaway treaties through the Senate, said he felt passage was a victory for America. This is hard to understand – especially in view of the gradually-broadening communist shadow across the globe, diminishing American influence, and with the canal being the strategic waterway it is right here in our own defense perimeter.
Couldn’t there have been other concessions to Panamanians in lieu of giving up the canal? Like helping them with highways, bridges, and communications to unite their country? Such were proposed. but the majority of the Senate didn’t seem interested.
A provision added by the Senate at the request of Sen. Edward Brooke (R-Mass) delays the treaties from taking legal effect any sooner than Oct. 1, 1979. That gives time for detailed back-up legislation to carry out – and pay for – the complicated process of transferring power in the Zone.
In drafting the legislation, it is hoped the two houses of Congress will be more protective of U.S. interests than the majority of the Senate seemed to be.
President Carter, happy over the vote, indicated he would travel to Panama City to formally present Torrijos with notice of ratification. This seems unnecessary – as superfluous as the grand treaty signing he held before the Senate even began consideration.
Utah’s two Senators, Jake Garn and Orrin Hatch, fought a good fight in opposing the treaties and should be commended for seeking to follow the wishes of the majority. Sen. Garn called the Senate action a “serious mistake” which American people will live to regret.” We think he is right.