Thursday 21 February 2013

U.S. Marine Corps General John Kelly winds up visit to Panama

The Panama Canal
The President of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli, met yesterday afternoon (February 20) with U.S. Marine Corps General John Kelly, commanding general of U.S. Southern Command.

“Today we have a more professional police force, and are committed to the welfare of the population," the Panamanian president told the local press.

Kelly met with U.S. Embassy personnel, as well as other senior Panamanian officials, to discuss security cooperation between Panama and the United States. The Panamanian officials included Minister of Public Security Jose Mulino, and the directors of Panama’s National Aeronaval Service (SENAN), National Border Service (SENAFRONT), and the Panamanian National Police.

According to the United States’ government, the primary goal of the general’s visit was to “hear the viewpoints, concerns, interests and ideas of Panamanian leaders to better understand the bilateral partnership and security cooperation between the two countries and throughout the entire region.”

In his public comments, the General thanked Panama for its cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking and organized crime.

"We look forward to working together, because this reinforces the region and makes it safer," said Kelly while accompanied by the U.S. ambassador in Panama, Jonathan Farrar.

The United States and Panama have strong security ties. The U.S. Southern Command works closely with Panamanian security forces on several areas of mutual interest, including the disruption of illicit trafficking, humanitarian assistance projects, multinational exercises, disaster readiness, and training.

For his part, president Martinelli thanked the United States for its cooperation on security issues and for training grants to Panama’s security forces.

Panama is the general’s first stop in his second visit to Central America as commander of the U.S. Southern Command. He visited Honduras and El Salvador in January and will head to Guatemala for a two-day visit on February 21st.

In 1989 the United States invaded of Panama, killing an estimated 2,500 – 4,000 people, and removed president Manual Noriega from power. He was then detained as a “prisoner of war” and flown to the United States, where he was tried and found guilty on eight counts of drug trafficking, racketeering, and money laundering in April 1992.

His sentence ended in September 2007, and he was later extradited to France to face charges of money laundering and murder. He was found guilty and sentenced to seven years in jail in July 2010, and the next year was extradited to serve 20 years in Panama. He arrived in Panama on December 11, 2011.

In 2009, Ricardo Martinelli won the Panamanian presidency in a landslide, with almost 60% of the vote. Recently, however, his popularity has plummeted as he has been beset by corruption scandals, including accusations that he had taken bribes from an aide to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The extradition of Noriega from France was seen by some as an attempt to distract from these scandals.

Gen. Kelly assumed the leadership of U.S. Southern Command Nov. 19. Before commanding U.S. Southern Command, he served as Senior Military Advisor to former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

(TE Wilson is the author of Mezcalero, a Detective Sánchez novel.)

Twitter: @TimothyEWilson
Email: lapoliticaeslapolitica [at] gmail [dot] com

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