Public Papers

Statement by Press Secretary Fitzwater on the Situation in Panama


President Bush received his morning intelligence briefing at Camp David, which included an extensive update on the situations in Panama and Romania. General Brent Scowcroft [Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs], Gen. Colin Powell [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff], and Secretary of Defense Cheney will join the President for lunch at Camp David today and provide him with personal briefings on these issues.

Secretary Cheney reports from his trip to Panama yesterday that morale among U.S. soldiers is high, a degree of normalcy is returning to Panama City, and the PDF [Panamanian Defense Forces] continues to surrender or otherwise report themselves to U.S. forces.

The American military continues to find tens of thousands of weapons in warehouses at various locations. These include grenade launchers, rocket-propelled grenades, heavy machineguns, and other military weapons. We continue to see encouraging signs of support for the Endara Government, including the widespread showing of white flags, the traditional symbol of the opposition parties.

The Endara Government is making significant steps in the process of reconstruction. Their cabinet has met. Plans are being made to meet food and housing needs. A special economic group from the Endara Government will meet with the administration's Economic Reconstruction Task Force this afternoon. This task force includes State and Treasury Department representatives who are assessing the needs of the Panamanian people. The exact time and location of the meeting is yet to be determined.

The United States continues to operate refugee centers, help with restoring law and order in the streets of the city, and the providing of medical assistance. The military is airlifting some 1,200 tons of food and medical supplies into Panama this week. Our training of the security forces is going well, with nearly 1,000 former PDF members now joining the U.S. military on street patrols. More than 5,000 U.S. troops are on patrol.

The United States continues its efforts to bring General Noriega to the United States for justice. We are having discussions through established diplomatic channels with all parties involved, including the Endara Government and the Papal Nuncio. We will not comment on the nature of those discussions or any specific reactions. The only other member of the PDF indicted by U.S. courts besides Noriega, Col. Luis del Cid, has been apprehended and returned to the United States. He is currently in the custody of U.S. marshals and will be arraigned today in the Federal court in Miami.

The Panama Canal is now open 24 hours per day. The two major airports in Panama City, Torrijos and Tocumen, are now open for operation during limited hours. The Treasury Department has expedited the return of escrow funds to Panama. That money is now going to the Endara Government to help with the reconstruction process. There is roughly 1 million in total Panamanian Government assets blocked in the United States. Our Ambassador has allocated ,000 in emergency/disaster relief funds immediately for food and medicine for refugees.

President Bush is pleased with the progress that has been made in helping the Panamanian people resume a new life under freedom and democracy. He is monitoring the progress of U.S. economic assistance. He commends the U.S. military for the impressive job it has done in carrying out all phases of this operation.