By David Carrasco, founder of the Prensa Latina correspondents agency in Panama and current director of the Bayano Digital newspaper
This indiscriminate and intimidating military operation opened up the possibility of turning the interoceanic waterway into the scene of a holocaust, as crew members refused to allow the ship to be boarded by any country other than Panama, the legitimate sovereign of those injured countries and waters. .
News of this incident was reported primarily by Prensa Latina and sent with warning signals over the news agency’s telex.
The main correspondent of Prensa Latina in Panama was the Guatemalan journalist and poet Arqueles Morales, who suggested giving the issue top priority, not only to let the world know about this unprecedented event, but also to try to protect the lives of Cuban sailors , whose fate was uncertain.
A serious limitation in accessing information in the area of events was the impossibility of reaching the sector with a view to questioning crew members.
At that time, the so-called Canal Zone, a separate area of 1,432 square kilometers, was governed by the strict legal system of the state of Louisiana, while the canal was a complex managed according to strategic military criteria.
This colonial regime with the vices of the apartheid system imposed by the United States on Panama forced Arqueles and I to relocate to collect sensitive information.
The key challenge was to overcome the media siege and help save the lives of the Cubans trapped on the ship, as well as prevent reconnaissance efforts from turning the canal into a bloody ditch.
General Omar Torrijos and Panamanian Foreign Minister Juan Antonio Tack played key roles in resolving the conflict, which impacted the United Nations.
Both were the direct architects of that world body’s Security Council meeting, convened in Panama in March, with the majority supporting Panama’s sovereign aspirations.
WITNESSES TO IMPACT EVENTS
The Prensa Latina correspondent helped to privilege the situation of the ship seized without justification.
In turn, representatives of the shipping sector questioned the disastrous precedent that blocked free passage on this sea route, which opened to world shipping in 1914, turning the canal into a center for settling international disputes outside of universal law.
After intense tensions, the Imías’ propellers were activated by order of the captain on board the ship and its return to Cuba was completed on November 16 of the same year.
In the port of Havana, the sailors were embraced and cheered by their loved ones, who interpreted the result as a victory for humanity over anti-peace interests.
Knowing that we were witnessing an impact event that culminated in the release of the impounded ship created a sense of satisfaction in the information space.
A few weeks earlier, in September, we visited Tocumen International Airport to welcome hundreds of Chileans to whom the Torrijos government had opened its doors after the coup in Chile.
“Welcome to Panama. We are journalists from Prensa Latina. You are safe.” With these words of encouragement, we turn to the exiles we interview, urging them to regain their lives.
Some of them still live in Panama, others have moved to Cuba, Sweden, Norway and Australia. Somehow they knew that Prensa Latina was with them at crucial moments.
It should be remembered that when Panama took full control of the canal and its waterfront on December 31, 1999, Prensa Latina was also there alongside the Panamanians, celebrating the event as a Latin American triumph.