As a result of the Torrijos-Carter Treaty dated September 7, 1977, the former Panama Canal Zone was turned over to Panamanian jurisdiction. The relinquishment of jurisdiction became effective midday December 31, 1999.
Panama was interested in converting several U.S. military bases into private industrial parks similar to the ones in the Philippines Islands. Panamanian delegations were sent to the Philippines to see how Subic Bay Naval Base and Clark Air Force Base were converted into civil investments projects after DOD officially shuttered the facilities in 1991 and 1992. Following its closure in 1992, both bases were transformed into huge free port zones by the Philippine government.
The only active U.S. military operation in the Philippines has been a U.S. special-operations task force supporting Filipino forces in their ongoing campaign against Abu Sayyaf and other Muslim extremist groups in the southern part of the country. I understand that the United States military is again welcome to use Subic Bay and the sprawling Clark Air Base, two decades after the installations were abandoned due to political friction with Manila.
Philippine Defense Undersecretary Honorio Azcueta said U.S. troops, ships and aircraft can make use of the old bases, as long as prior approval is granted by the government. The United States had key bases in the Philippines for decades after World War II, but relations broke down in the early 1990s, and the facilities were returned.
We were interested in alluring credit unions to become part of the free port zones in Fort Clayton and Howard Air Force Base. These sites had high technological infrastructure; specially fiber optics and a first class landing strip in Howard for large planes. To carry out this goal I traveled to Puerto Plata in Argentina to discuss our conversion program with Latin American credit unions members of the Organization of American Credit Unions—OCA (Organización de Cooperativas de América).
I traveled to Argentina as Deputy Vice-Minister of Economics and Planning representing the Republic of Panama. My briefcase was loaded with valuable presentations to explain the advantages of investing in Panama. It was a slow process, but I’m happy to say that at present times, both military bases have been successfully transformed into strategic private investments free zones.
When the expansion of the Panama Canal is accomplished sometime in 2015 to accommodate Post-Panamax vessels, the Isthmus of Panama will consolidate its strategic commercial position. Panama will become the commercial hub of the Americas receiving air and maritime traffic from all over the world. We expect to become the next Singapore of Latin-America.
Below are some pictures of my trip to Puerto Plata in Argentina in 1992. As I’ve said before, 1990-1995 were the most productive years of my professional life. I wished I were granted more time to fulfill other significant projects planned by the Endara Administration. There was so much to be done during the reconstruction period after the downfall of the military regime in 1989. However, there’s no use crying over spilled milk. What happened, happened.