Panama and the United States: The End of the Alliance by Michael L. Conniff, University of Georgia Press: Athens, GA 30602, ISBN 978-0-8203-4414-0, 241 pp. (Paperback), $24.95
Panama and its trans-Isthmian canal sat at the center of United States foreign policy concerns in 1977-78 when the Carter-Torrijos treaties were signed and ratified, and again ten years later in the run-up to Operation Just Cause. After the U.S. invasion the relationship receded in the public consciousness. This history by a leading specialist offers interesting perspectives as the U.S. withdraws from two very different combat zones half a world away.
This is the third edition of Conniff's account of U.S.-Panama relations, but his first look at the period since Panama gained control of the Canal and American forces left the country in 1999. That "post-treaty" period, running through 2011, gets only 16 pages. However, the book is one of the few comprehensive treatments of bilateral relations to cover (as Paul Harvey used to put it) "the rest of the story."
The book is far from a dry chronicle of treaties. Panama is a colorful place, full of outlandish characters, and Conniff's inclusion of social movements, mores, and personal factors behind the scenes make a readable account. Conniff lived and worked in Panama in the mid- 1960s and traveled there afterward, cultivating original sources. He spent time in Panama on a Fulbright grant when I served at the U.S. Mission in the mid-1990s.
"The End of the Alliance" refers to the dissolution of a longstanding close working relationship between the two governments after recovery from Operation Just Cause. Conniff details Panamanians' longstanding dependence on their American partners: frustration at U.S. dominance and at the same time desire for protection from their own leaders. Most Panamanians approved of the U.S. overthrow of General Manuel Noriega, Conniff finds. However, recurring expectations on both sides that the U.S. would retain a presence after 1999 never came to pass.
So the Treaties expired not with a bang but with a whimper. At the canal turnover ceremony on December 31, 1999...