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(English) Carlos Andres Perez and the Torrijos-Carter Treaties

Eduardo Morgan Jr.

Carlos Andrés Pérez was a Venezuelan who embodied the spirit of Simon Bolivar. His life, which has been summarized in the world press on the occasion of his death at 88, was a constant struggle for democracy and freedom in Venezuela and throughout Latin America. Panama was a direct beneficiary of that struggle, having received his substantial and active support in its negotiations of the Torrijos-Carter Treaties.

I met Carlos Andres on my first trip to Venezuela in the summer of 1970. At that time, he was head of Accion Democratica, a powerful opposition party. It was a brief encounter, a lunch at the home of one of his best friends, who was also my host on that trip.

A few weeks later, my friend tells me that Carlos Andrés would be passing through Panama on his way to Costa Rica for the inauguration of Don Pepe Figueres on May 8, and asks me to tend to him during his time in Panama. This unexpected situation allowed me to spend two unforgettable days with a political genius and a true believer in the betterment of people.

Carlos Andres had very good friends in Panama, where he had spent time in exile (among them, Carlos Ivan Zuñiga and Diogenes de la Rosa). During those two days, he questioned me about Panama and General Omar Torrijos, whom he knew was a good friend of mine. As we returned to Panama City from a tour of the Canal Zone, then under U.S. jurisdiction, crossing the Bridge of the Americas under a heavy May downpour, he told me the following: “As long as the Canal Zone remains under U.S. jurisdiction, Panama will not be fully independent”. I agreed with him wholeheartedly, saying that the only way to do it was with the help of our sister nations.

A few months later, in September or October of that year, my friend called me and said Carlos Andres needed to urgently see me, and begged me to take the next flight to Caracas. Carlos Andres explained that he wanted me to deliver a letter to Don Pepe Figueres, President of Costa Rica, for he had learned that anti-Torrijos guerillas were being trained on Costa Rican soil. He said that, because of his relationship with President Figueres, his name had been mentioned, and he wanted Don Pepe to received his personal letter denying any involvement. Also, he stressed that he did not like the military regimes, but that Omar Torrijos seemed like a different kind of military leader, and that a return to power by Arnulfo Arias would not suit Panama.

He me handed the letter to Figueres in an open envelope, and the next day I returned to Panama and briefed General Torrijos. In the letter, Carlos Andres disavowed any action against Panama and advised the Costa Rican President to do the same. The day after, I traveled to San Jose and handed the letter to Don Pepe at a ceremony in the National Theatre. After reading it, he told me he would send a letter to General Torrijos the next day, to state that would not allow any movement against the Panamanian government in Costa Rica.

My friendship with Carlos Andres was strengthened by my frequent trips to Caracas during those days, and I had the chance to accompany him a few times during his first presidential campaign. His triumph was historic, as it broke all records for voting, even though he began as a virtual unknown in the polls. His nickname, “the man who walks” was validated as he travelled almost all of Venezuela. I was with him the day of his electoral triumph, taking the opportunity to remind him that he had promised to help Panamanians achieve full independence by putting an end to the U.S. presence in the Canal Zone and its military bases. He replied emphatically: “Come to my first conference as President-elect tomorrow, and you will see that the focus of my foreign policy will be the demise of the anachronistic Canal Zone”.

And did he deliver! His dedication to the Panamanian cause was total: more than a negotiator, he was an apostle, organizing a support group that included Alfonso Lopez Michelsen (Colombia), Daniel Oduber (Costa Rica) and Jose Lopez Portillo (Mexico). Their actions are recorded in Omar Jaen Suarez’s magnificent work, Historias de las Negociaciones de los Tratados Torrijos-Carter, and in other accounts on the matter.

Carlos Andres Perez was a great Venezuelan and Latin American who took it upon himself to culminate Simon Bolivar’s struggle for freedom with his invaluable help in the eradication of the Canal Zone, the last colony in Latin America. Panama is indebted to him.

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