Panama will allow Iranian warships to sail through canal
Panamanian officials said that they have an obligation to allow any ship to cross the canal as long as the regulations are respected
By News Desk - February 08 2023

(Photo credit: Edward R. Ortiz De Icaza/ACP)

Panamanian authorities announced on 8 February that Iranian warships would be allowed to sail through the Panama Canal as long as they adhere to international regulations, pay the toll, and do not commit hostile acts.

In a statement released by the Panama Canal Authority, officials highlight that they have an obligation to allow any ship to cross the canal as long as the regulations are respected.

The statement highlights a 1977 treaty, “to which 40 countries of the world have adhered, expressly establishes that Panama declares the neutrality of the Canal […] both in times of peace and in times of war.”

In 2022, more than 14,000 ships crossed the strategic 80-kilometer waterway, representing 5 percent of the global maritime trade volume.

In January, Iranian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Shahram Irani announced that plans were in progress to dispatch naval forces to the Panama Canal.

“The Iranian Navy units are getting closer to the coasts of the Americas,” he stated during a conference in Tehran, adding that Iranian naval forces had already been deployed to all of the strategic straits across the world – with the exception of two.

“The Iranian Navy forces will sail into one of those two remaining straits this year while plans are being made for the presence of the Iranian naval forces in the Panama Canal.”

The announcement set off alarms in the US, with former Florida governor Jeb Bush accusing Panama of helping Iran evade western oil sanctions.

Just last week, US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said Washington is keeping “a close eye” on Tehran’s naval activities in the Western Hemisphere.

“We continue to have a number of tools in our tool belt available to hold the Iranian regime accountable,” Patel told reporters.

The US started the construction of the Panama Canal in 1904 and inaugurated it in 1914, installing military bases to maintain control of this strategically important area, in line with Washington’s interventionist policy in Latin America.

Decades later, Washington and Panama reached an agreement to hand over control of the canal to the local government.

However, in 1989, the newly-inaugurated government of US president George H.W. Bush launched operation “Just Cause,” when over 20,000 US troops poured into the small Central American nation to oust dictator Manuel Noriega, who had been a longtime CIA asset and for years helped Washington fund right-wing death squads in Nicaragua and El Salvador.

Over 500 Panamanians died, including hundreds of civilians, as the US brutally bombed the country and its soldiers shoveled bodies into mass graves.

Human rights organizations have long estimated the real number of Panamanian victims could be higher than the official death toll, prompting former President Juan Carlos Varela to establish a commission to investigate the true number.

Only 23 American soldiers lost their lives in the assault.

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