Why does the US have chemical weapons in Panama?

Why does the US have chemical weapons in Panama?
  • El Mundo

The United States will destroy the chemical weapons left on an island called San José in Panama. This has been ensured by both governments in an expected decision for years, and was presented to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

According to sources close to the Panamanian government, the destruction of weapons is the result of a historical bilateral agreement between the United States and Panama, which includes the financing and execution of the US operation, subject to the monitoring and verification by the OPCW, a later stage that required the approval of the Board of Directors of the organization, Newsjes said.

The United States will finance and implement this measure, in a process that could last up to eight months and will begin between September and November this year.

Logistics covers equipment, facilities and measures to guarantee the safety of the personnel involved and the environment.

This agreement to destroy chemical weapons was presented before the 85th Executive Council of the OPCW by the representative of Panama at The Hague Willys Delvalle and was recognized by Argentina, Chile, Mexico and Guatemala.

Chemical Weapons in San Jose


A US pending issue

According to local media, there is no official record of chemical weapons left on the island, or what kind they are. However, the little information that has been leaked makes it possible to state that these are mustard gas and phosgene bombs that were part of a protection program for the Panama Canal and an experiment to see the behavior of these agents in the tropics, according to Newsjes. They were left after World War II.

The arsenal contains at least eight bombs and a series of chemical munitions, which were definitely used for experiments, according to Luis Gutiérrez Esparza in an article written in 2013.

The munitions were identified in 2002 during a technical inspection by the OPCW on the island of San José in Las Perlas archipelago. Support for the plan to destroy these chemical weapons was expressed by the member countries of the OPCW Executive Council.

Documents found by bomb expert Rick Stauber in the US National Archives when he was working for a military contractor confirmed that the United States dumped chemical weapons in France Field, which is currently a location of a storage center for general merchandise in The Colón Free Zone.

Chemical Weapons in San Jose


A long process

This is not the first time the subject comes to light. The United States and Panama began conversations in 2002 to begin the process of cleaning up the island with the help of specialists in chemical removal.

The Republic's deputy foreign minister, Harmodio Arias, explained at that time there was still "no firm cleaning process, but an offer from the US government on how to proceed with cleaning."

The official had reported that Panama had no technician who knew how to deactivate a one-hundred-kilo bomb containing chemical ingredients, and requested that Washington cover costs and resources, as it will be done nowadays.

US former president George Bush had committed himself to cleaning San José Island, which was declared quarantined by the government of former President Mireya Moscoso, but nothing happened.

In 2013, former Panamanian Foreign Minister Fernando Núñez Fábrega explained that the total cleanup of the island would allow Panama to be removed from the OPCW list of countries that have these ammunition.

For now, and until the project is finally started, the United States has a pending issue, of the legacy left by one of the worst wars in human history and its handling with deadly chemical weapons for years in Panama.

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