During the long and often controversial process of renegotiating The Panama Canal treaties, the Catholic Bishops Conferences of the United States and Panama, as well as other religious bodies in both countries, supported the need for a new treaty as an imperative of justice between our two nations.
This support was not based on partisan politics but on the principles of social justice which we believe should govern relations among all states in our increasingly interdependent world. The final form of the treaties did not fulfill all our hopes; they are clearly less than perfect agreements. But the resolution of the status of the Panama Canal, as well as the political and economic relations surrounding it, was achieved peacefully and makes it possible for Panama to exercise legitimate sovereign control over its territory.
In a world where too many issues are still settled by violence, and where the relationships of large and small nations still manifest patterns of domination and dependency, rather than mutual respect and interdependence, a peaceful resolution of the Panama Canal question is a significant achievement. For the United States the successful negotiation of the treaty has provided a new atmosphere for dealing with other questions of hemispheric concern.
For this reason I am disappointed by the present tenor of debate in the U.S. House of Representatives which is determining how the treaties will be implemented. I recognize that legitimate technical and economic questions must be examined by responsible officials. But such concerns should not be used to subvert what has been accomplished by a solemn agreement, duly ratified, between Panama and the United States.
I wish, once again, to place the voice of our episcopal conference in the United States on the side of reason, fairness and justice in our diplomatic relations. I stress the significance of what has been achieved, and emphasize that it can and should be seen as a first step in a new relationship between the United States and Latin America. This is a moment of great potential for the people of our hemisphere; it should not be squandered.
I urge Catholics and other citizens of our country, especially responsible officials, to look beyond partisan disputes to the question of how a large nation and a small one should approach an emotionally-laden issue like this. The treaties are a significant accomplishment for both our nations. They should he implemented expeditiously and fairly.
I urge the members of the House of Representatives, and then the members of the Senate, to act with vision and courage to complete the long process of resolving the Panama Canal question.