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Panama Says U.S. Harassment Charges Are Psychological Warfare

August 22, 1988

PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) _ Panama’s Defense Forces say charges that its troops are harassing U.S. troops are part of a psychological war designed to destabilize the government of Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega.

The statement released late Sunday said U.S. officials who reportedly accused the Panamanian government of deliberately sanctioning attacks on Americans ″must have the IQ of a 3-year-old Cro-Magnon.″

U.S. officials in the Panamanian capital said Sunday that U.S. personnel have reported at least 240 incidents of harassment by Panamanian authorities this year, including attempts to extort bribes for traffic violations and the stoppage of mail.

″PDF (Panama Defense Forces) members have been notably less courteous in dealing with our people,″ said an official at the U.S. Southern Command who spoke on condition of anonymity.

U.S. sanctions aimed at ousting Noriega, who has been indicted by two federal grand juries in Florida on drug trafficking charges, were applied in March and have damaged Panama’s economy.

Panama’s Defense Forces said the harassment reports sought ″to destabilize Panama and immerse it in chaos, an indispensible step for not fulfilling and to annul the Panama Canal Treaties, and particularly to prolong the U.S. military presence beyond the year 2000,″ when the United States has agreed to turn the canal over to Panama.

Cynthia Farrell, a spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy in Panama City, said Sunday that the reports of harassment are coming from U.S. military personnel.

″Civilians, business people and embassy personnel have reported no increase in harassment,″ she said.

She said she was not sure whether U.S. military personnel are being bothered more or are ″simply reporting more cases.″

The latest incident occurred when Panamanian officials blocked U.S. trucks from picking up mail at Torrijos International Airport for three days last week, a second Southern Command official said.

The official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the dispute was satisfactorily settled. A Panamanian official called the dispute a ″bureaucratic misunderstanding.″

The U.S. official said 240 cases of harassment were reported from February to August: ″What’s going on these days has been going on for months - going way back to last year.

″One of the things that’s happening is that a lot of people are being asked for bribes when they’re stopped for traffic violations, and that’s probably because the police aren’t getting paid regularly,″ the official said. ″But if a case like that is reported, it goes down as harassment.″

The New York Times on Sunday quoted Southern Command, State and Defense Department officials as saying there have recently been an increasing number of beatings, abductions, rape and extortion of U.S. military personnel and their dependents.

The story, under a Washington dateline, said the U.S. officials view the incidents as a campaign by the Noriega regime to pressure the United States to lift economic sanctions against Panama.

However, Southern Command officials disagreed with the reported motive and one official said the increased harassment ″could be just an indication of individual frustration and anger.″

The Panama Defense Forces statement said, ″The supposed U.S. government officials (cited by the Times) must have the IQ of a three-year-old Cro-Magnon when they assert that actions taken by the Panama Defense Forces against U.S. military personnel are attempts to force the Reagan administration to lift or soften economic sanctions imposed on Panama.″

The statement said U.S. troops cause daily problems for Panamanian authorities, including fights, mistreatment of women, venereal disease, shooting in public places and refusing to pay bar and restaurant tabs.

U.S. sanctions were applied after Noriega ousted President Eric Arturo Delvalle. Delvalle has since been in hiding, but the United States continues to recognize him as Panama’s legitimate president.

About 12,000 U.S. servicemen are stationed in Panama by treaty to protect the Panama Canal, a vital waterway linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. They are attached to the Southern Command, which is in charge of all U.S. military operations south of the U.S.-Mexico border.

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