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The Andean Regional Initiative and Panama

(gov'tl position)

As the administrations in Washington changed, a Republican proposal, the Andean Regional Initiative, began to take center stage as the next step beyond Plan Colombia, which was a Colombian proposal that had the strong backing of the outgoing Clinton administration. In Panama, the Andean Regional Initiative has been presented mainly in terms of about $20 million for this country, mostly for law enforcement and for economic development near the Colombian border. Meanwhile, it has become known that the United States, mostly via civilian contractors, has been carrying out logistical operations for military missions throughout the region from Panama's Tocumen Airport, pursuant to an agreement with the Moscoso administration whose details have been kept secret from the Panamanian people.

So what does the Andean Initiative mean for Panama, and for the region? The answers are far from clear, and the perceptions vary widely with the political perspective of the observer. For example, is the Bush administration policy an escalation of US involvement in Colombia's civil conflict, or does it mean that the United States is slowly backing away from a military adventure? For Panama, does the Bush policy represent a payoff for the use of this country for Plan Colombia support operations, or is it, as represented, an effort to prevent Colombia's madness from spreading across our borders?

Given that the military component of Andean Regional Initiative aid to Panama is negligible, we are dealing primarily with a US Agency for International Development program. Thus we may want to pay attention to the declarations of USAID officials, from one of which the following was excerpted. As you shall see, however, very little is being specifically said about Panama.

From the statement of Michael Deal, Deputy Assistant Administrator Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean US Agency for International Development before the House International Relations Committee Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, June 28, 2001

We are and will continue to strengthen local governments in rural areas of Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, and Panama where the lack of basic institutional and social services has marginalized rural populations.

Where the state is present, it is in the form of an overly centralized, unresponsive bureaucracy that does not necessarily work or understand the local interests of a community. Thus, we are training mayors and council members in identifying and monitoring projects, setting priorities, and handling financial resources in a more accountable, transparent way. It is a very important part of bringing democracy to rural areas. And it is an indispensable part of any program where local empowerment and ownership of national goals --- such as the war against drug cultivation - will be required to assure the continued enforcement of agreed upon eradication agreements.

With USAID assistance and through policy dialogue, the decentralization process in Bolivia helps targeted municipal governments to develop and carry out action plans in a participatory fashion, engaging civil society at the local and regional level in the process. As a result, citizen participation in government has increased, and municipalities have organized themselves into a nationwide Federation, with departmental associations and an association of women council members.

Corruption is another very serious problem. The ongoing corruption scandal from the Fujimori era in Peru has shaken public confidence in the government institutions of the country. We will work closely with the incoming administration to strengthen democratic institutions and promote good government. Similar problems are being encountered throughout the region, where we are working to strengthen the ability to expose corrupt practices and investigate and prosecute corrupt officials and very importantly, make citizens realize they have the right to demand accountability from their governments.

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