WASHINGTON, D.C. – President George W. Bush and Panama’s Martín Torrijos are calling on U.S. lawmakers to ratify a pending trade accord between the United States and Panama.
Bush and Torrijos met for an hour on May 6 in Washington, D.C. and, in addition to the central issue of the trade deal, discussed matters related to expanding the Panama Canal, security and the regional fight against drug trafficking and organized crime.
“The Panamanian free-trade vote is a priority of this government. It is – it should be a priority of the United States Congress,” Bush said, taking the opportunity to again ask legislators for action on trade accords with Colombia and South Korea.
The U.S. leader emphasized the persuasion campaign being waged by the Panamanian government in favor of the bilateral pact and thanked Torrijos for planning to visit Capitol Hill later that day to “work the issue.”
Torrijos was hopeful of making progress with U.S. lawmakers, especially now that the speaker of Panama’s National Assembly, Pedro Miguel González, announced that he will not seek re-election when his term concludes on Aug. 31. Last September’s election of González, who stands accused in the United States of participating in the June 10, 1992 ambush that resulted in the death of U.S. Army Sgt. Zack Hernández and left Sgt. Ronald T.Marshall wounded, is the reason legislators have brandished not to ratify the trade treaty with Panama.
González, who spent three years in hiding after being named as a suspect in Hernández’s death, turned himself in to Panamanian authorities in 1995. A jury later acquitted him of the killing after a trial in which U.S. prosecutors took part.
Washington, however, refuses to recognize the Panamanian verdict and continues to maintain an international warrant for González’s arrest.
In theory, with González no longer speaker, the accord with Panama could be ratified before Bush ends his term in January 2009, observers say.
Bush also took advantage of his fourth and possibly last meeting with Torrijos to urge the U.S. Congress to approve the Merida Initiative, a roughly $1.4 billion proposal whereby Washington wants to help Mexico and Central America combat the drug trade and organized crime.