Pastoral Message From Bishops of Panama on Crisis, April 20, 1988
To our brothers and sisters in the faith, to all Panamanians, to men and women of good will who reside in our country, peace and benediction. Deeply concerned, but full of hope in the Lord of life, we address ourselves to all of you in view of the critical situation the country is going through.
I. Let Us Observe the Panorama
The universities are making an effort to open, while the schools remain closed. Health centers are running out of medicines and medical supplies. The banks have opened only to receive deposits, but not for withdrawals or financing for the people. A high percentage of industry and commerce has declared itself bankrupt. The number of unemployed in the private and public sectors mounts to tens of thousands, while the work stoppage continues to increase. Agricultural production is beginning to diminish, and there is not sufficient planting being done for the future. The lack of currency is bringing thousands of Panamanians to misery and desperation, and the number of Panamanians leaving to other countries is beginning to take on disquieting dimensions. Meanwhile delinquency in our cities is increasing at an alarming rate.
All this has motivated a series of diverse reactions, above all in political sectors, both of patriotic ideals and of excessive ambitions; of generous desires of struggle for liberation and of sectarian party passions; of doubts and mutual misgivings, even of hatreds and reprisals which would make of our country a sinister battlefield.
- We cannot continue like this. We are brothers living together and sharing, by the grace of God, a sky and land that configures one same country for all. For that reason we direct our urgent call to the government and to the opposition, to civilians and military, to all honest men and women, to share a same common patriotic concern in searching for a rapid solution to the grave crisis that has prostrated the nation in a state of agony.
The most serious part of the situation is that there is no glimmer of a solution nor is there a properly integrated dialogue that can offer real hope. And there begins to be dramatic talk of an authentic catastrophe, of the slow death of the nation....
- As pastors and spiritual guides, individually and in consultation with the clergy, religious and lay people, and also collegially through the Panamanian episcopal conference, we have frequently addressed ourselves to "all men and women of good will who live in Panama with us, to bring a message of faith and reflection in view of the diverse problems that we have shared together" (pastoral letter of Feb. 5, 1984).
Some public moments have demanded special attention of the conference. Such it was in the case of the signing of the canal treaties – when the bishops achieved wide moral support in favor of Panama's rights – that the episcopal conference issued a long letter about the necessary return to a real democracy (pastoral letter "The Situation of the Country," June 29, 1978). In the same line and in a more detailed manner, on the eve of the first direct presidential elections since the military coup of 1968, the episcopal conference published a pastoral letter "About the Present Moment" (Feb. 5, 1984). Likewise, within the framework of these and other similar orientations, the study on poverty in Panama, "Toward a More Human Economy," promoted and realized by the church, takes on great significance (May 1, 1985).
All these documents reflect the great desire of this Panamanian church to offer the light of the social doctrine of the church, to illumine with the depth of faith and the word of God the particularly conflictive situations of our people (see, Conclusions of the Third General Conference of Latin American Bishops (Puebla), 470).
- Despite all this, our voice has not always been heard. For that reason, today we once more raise our prophetic cry before the relentless persecution suffered by all the people, victims of external pressures and internal intrigues, to say to all Panamanians: For the love of God and neighbor, the supreme law of the Lord, let us put a stop to the fights and animosities that are destroying the heart of the nation! Enough of ambitions and political protagonisms that are destroying the country! The nation is in danger! Let us save Panama!
Before a situation of such urgency no Panamanian can idly shrug his shoulders nor exempt himself of responsibility.
- The first reaction of the church as a people has been to go to the help of the most needy, particularly through Caritas in the various dioceses. This gesture has proven once more that a shared need is sign of the most genuine solidarity.
The action of the church, united to the efforts of civic groups, entitites and persons, has helped to humanize the crisis and to not lose hope in a just solution.
The simple faith of the people, on the other hand, has reacted to the crisis with prolonged manifestations of prayer and penance, crying to heaven with full conviction that the Lord is present in the midst of a suffering people.
This devout spirit, expressed strongly during Lent and Holy Week, continues full of fervor in the midst of paschal joys and offers us the keynote of brotherly and national reconciliation as the only effective way out of the crisis that we are suffering.
II. Causes of the National Crisis
- The principal causes of the national crisis are:
a. A capitalist economy alien to the basic needs of the immense majority of the people.
b. The intervention of foreign powers and their economic domination, with the resultant dependency that impairs national sovereignty and identity.
c. Official repression and military and paramilitary action in repeated violation of human rights.
d. Widespread corruption in public and private sectors.
- All these causes have converged with force around the political problem that the nation has been experiencing since the elections of 1984. The very serious accusations of retired Col. Roberto Diaz Herrera made this problem worse in June 1987 and motivated frequent popular protests of a peaceful nature, which were severely repressed.
From the very beginning, the political problem had serious repercussions in the economic life of the nation, above all on the stability of the banking system. The banks were able to partially recover, and the year ended with relative normality.
- In the first months of this year the political problem worsened considerably because of the crisis of constitutionality brought about by the forced separation of President Eric Arturo Delvalle from his position, after his having attempted to separate from his position the commander of the Defense Forces. The most serious aspect of the political crisis became evident then: the predominance of the military in almost all aspects of national life, including the social communication media, and many political and popular organizations of the nation as well as the lack of subordination of the Defense Forces to civil authority. All this, under the protection of Law 20 of 1983, is a clear manifestation of a de facto military dictatorship.
It is necessary to emphasize the importance that the Defense Forces have the respect that they merit as a highly trained professional body for the defense and security of citizens. The military are as much "of the Panamanian people" as are the rest of the citizenry. As pastors of them also we remind them that they owe their loyalty to God, to the nation and to the armed forces in that order.
- The crisis struck the economy again when the government of the United States of America increased considerably the economic sanctions already in effect against our country. These have affected the functioning of the government structure and have dealt a strong blow to all the people, especially the most poor and needy.
As church and as Panamanians, we reject these measures, which violate national sovereignty. We consider that, given the dependent structure of our economy, these exceed any strategy of political pressure and become a threat to the life of our people. They are, therefore, morally unjust. For that reason, we demand that they be suspended immediately. In the same way we reject all forms of military intervention.
This crisis confirms the need to examine the Panamanian economic model, as we bishops have expressed on various occasions, giving priority to an economy which is more favorable to the majorities of the needy. But at the same time it has produced a general restlessness, expressed in attempts at peaceful protests that have always been strongly repressed, besides having limited the freedom of expression and legal protection against arbitrary detentions.
- We repudiate the fact that those in power manipulate the concept of national sovereignty and the defense of our rights over the canal as if they were the ones responsible for the country or who identify with it, excluding the other citizens whom they classify as traitors and as bad Panamanians. The country is not only the government; the country is all of us!
We denounce the apathy and incompetence of many government organisms, national as well as local, in the face of the prolonged agony of the people and the rapid deterioration of all our institutions.
We are troubled by the attitude of certain functionaries and consultors of the government, radicalized in their positions, whose statements and activities seem to seriously go against the democratic institutions of the nation. In this context we are concerned about the increased militarization of civil groups and the creation of the "national system of information."
- In regard to the groups of opposition, we recognize the merit of their struggles in defense of human rights and the restoration of democracy; however, we note that at times they have aggravated the crisis by a certain intransigence for dialogue, for party or personal interests, or by their lack of programs of clear social content.
- The basic issues of the crisis demand, for their careful and adequate evaluation and solution; a true national dialogue, which we have proposed many times. This should be done with time and with the free and effective participation of all, especially of the popular sectors.
- On the other hand, the concrete response to the present crisis requires effective consultations and decisions on a much shorter term. It cannot wait. For this reason, the principal political forces of the government and of the opposition should sit as soon as possible at the table of dialogue. No one should postpone, for personal or party interests, the true welfare of the Panamanian people. "There begins to be dramatic talk of an authentic catastrophe, of the slow death of the nation."
- To facilitate this so-needed dialogue, a group of prominent statesmen of Latin America and Spain proposed a mediator in the person of the archbishop of Panama, of whom they asked this service. After consulting the episcopal conference and counting with its support, the archbishop expressed his willingness, conditioned to the acceptance of this mediation by both sides. In effect, both sides have written to request his mediation.
Nonetheless, it has still not been possible to initiate formal conversations for reasons that have been made known to the public. An important part of the problem arises from the frequent and offensive attacks on the church and on the archbishop, particularly on the part of the social communications media inclined toward the government and obviously opposed to this dialogue becoming really effective.
The archbishop of Panama remains willing to promote this dialogue, in the capacity of mediator, as has been requested; yet happily accepts that this task be done by whomever can do it best. The important thing is that both sides really come together with genuine interest and commitment, that they do it soon and that appropriate conditions for the dialogue be created.
- In effect, true and civic dialogue requires an atmosphere of freedom. For that reason it is essential that Panamanian citizens' rights be respected, especially the right of free expression (Article 37 of the National Constitution), of free meeting or protest (Article 38), and of personal freedom against all arbitrary detention (Article 21).
- Can we continue insisting on dialogue, prompt and effective, as an initial solution to the crisis that we are experiencing? We believe so, and that working for dialogue is the Christian duty of those who work for peace (cf. Mt. 5:9).
How can we help? By insisting through prayer and penance before God - in homes, parishes and movements - as well as among ourselves and with others, through meetings and pastoral assemblies of reflection about the church and the national reality. This pastoral message, as well as the principal recent documents of the church, can be helpful reading. We have to fully inform ourselves, not only about the actual situation, but also about the social and moral doctrine of the Gospel and of the church that must guide us toward a renewed Panama that can be just and fraternal, in true solidarity.
- As pastors of the church and in reference to our public actions, we have received criticisms and recommendations, many times made with honest and positive criteria. We sincerely recognize our weaknesses and deficiencies, and we ask the favor of your prayers for a witnessing and active commitment in order to correct our wrongs and inspire more and more solidarity, freedom and justice for all, especially the poor and marginated.
- We request the solidarity of the people of Latin America and of the whole world with our people, who today suffer a double oppression, external and internal, in the search for a more just, democratic and free society. In this spirit we make our own the prayer of Pope John Paul II in his recent encyclical "On Social Concerns": "O God, who gave origin to all peoples and wished to form them in one family in your love, fill our hearts with the fire of your love and awaken in all men and women the desire for a just and brotherly/sisterly progress, so that each may be realized as a human person and equality and peace may reign in the world. Amen."