Panama's Stance on ISIS

By: Kara Patrick In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks occurring in Beirut, Lebanon, Paris, Baghdad and Iraq, humanity is uniting. Globally world leaders have come together standing strong on their promises to help Syrian refugees.

Rather than allowing democratic countries to be crippled by fear, not only of the Islamic State, but of each other, some countries are moving forward in a positive direction. World leaders in Canada, France, the United States and Panama have spoken out urging the world against hate and xenophobia.

At the recent G20 confrence, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked whether the Paris attacks would make him rethink bringing 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by year’s end.

He said no.

Despite, just about everyone telling the new prime minister what to do, including Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall who persistently advised a delay in refugee resettlement,  Trudeau politely dismissed all unsolicited advice.

Yesterday, French president François Hollande announced that the country would welcome as many as 30,000 refugees.

 “Life should resume fully,” said Hollande, “What would France be without its museums, without its terraces, its concerts, its sports competitions?”

He added, that the country has a duty to respect the commitment to accept refugees, and that more security checks would be put in place.

Hollande continued “some people say the tragic events of the last few days have sown doubts in their minds,” but called it a “humanitarian duty” to help, one that will go hand in hand with “our duty to protect our people.”

President Obama, similarly, announced plans to accept up to 10,000 refugees last Tuesday.

In response to the Republicans in Congress who are preparing legislation that threatens to suspend a US refugee program for Syrians Obama warned “We are not well served when, in response to a terrorist attack, we descend into fear and panic. We don’t make good decisions if it’s based on hysteria or an exaggeration of risks.”

He continued “When individuals say we should have a religious test and that only Christians, proven Christians should be admitted, that’s offensive.  I cannot think of a more potent recruitment tool for Isil [Isis] than some of the rhetoric that’s been coming out of here during the course of this debate.”

Where does Panama stand?  

In February, Panama became the first Latin American country to join the US-led coalition against the Islamic State. To some, Panama’s choice to join the fight specifically targeting the group seemed shortsighted.  

Political analyst Juan Carlos Hidalgo described the country’s move as “senseless.” With a lack of army to provide support, and no direct threat, he expressed concerns that the vocal support could simply make Panama a target.

Political analyst Renato Pereira countered his statement, saying the “Islamic State’s ideology would include the conquest of Panama”.  Pereira also spoke to the possibility that Panama may already be a target because of the Panama Canal, and the religious nature of the Syrian war. Panama is a predominately Christian country, with a Cardinal designated by the Pope.

In September, Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela announced that the government would consider accepting Syrian refugees. In a press conference the president said “How could we close our doors to those fleeing the war, looking for better days for their families?"

Recently, the former head of Security Council Ramiro Jarvis spoke on Panama’s stance following the recent terrorist attacks. He also touched on the topic of accepting Syrian refugees.

“What treatment should be given to those who form part of these terrorist organizations? (...) I think that is an issue we need to discuss," said Jarvis. Jarvis continued by acknowledging the threat in accepting international refugees, but followed this by warning against hatred and xenophobia.

"One of the successes of terrorist organizations is based on creating hatred between ethnic groups and religions, if we go into a policy of segregation to specific groups for religious reasons, we run a greater risk that more people are recruited because they feel rejected by the societies in which they live," says Jarvis.

On Saturday President Varela spoke specifically to the Paris terrorist acts as the “reason why Panama joined the coalition,” reaffirming his stance on participating in the fight against the Islamic State.

Without a military force in Panama, many question how Panama is contributing.  So far aid from Panama has been in the form of “blocking financing of terrorist groups and supporting humanitarian missions.”

Foreign Minister and Vice President, Isabel De Saint Malo de Alvarado spoke out via Social Media saying “Panama has no army, Panama does not participate in the military coalition,” she continued to speak on how Panama is helping. "The country is on a committee dealing with the “financial system”, explained the VP.

"The coalition against the Islamic State is made up of six commissions, [including] the military commission, which obviously Panama is not a part of.
We are fighting not only against terrorist financing, but the flow of dirty money, money laundering, drug trafficking and terrorism through the financial center of Panama.“

While Panama’s support is not coming in the form of military aid some are still concerned it will make the country a target. Over 350 people have signed a petition that has been circulating online, requesting for Panama to take “a neutral stance” towards the Islamic State. Panamanian citizens expressed their concern through the petition, after the president reaffirmed the support of the coalition against the Islamic State.

The Panamanian government’s stance against the Islamic State has remained strong. Their approach to receiving refugees fleeing civil war in Syria however, seems to have changed a little.

Foreign Minister and Vice President, Isabel De Saint Malo de Alvarado spoke on the matter yesterday. "We have held meetings with United Nations agencies[…]. What we have recommended so far is that Panama can participate in finding a solution for refugees, but not necessarily by receiving families, rather by cooperating with international organizations whom support countries taking in refugees, with more experience than Panama has in the matter."

Despite wavering on accepting Syrian refugees into the Republic of Panama, Panama’s VP/Foreign Minister assured that Panama would continue to help the international community on the matter of Syrian refugees.

Conclusions and analysis

While Panama’s assistance in the matter of both, placing Syrian refugees and eliminating ISIS may seem minimal, their vocal commitment is meaningful.

It is vital that we as governments, leaders, nations, and world citizens do not take a neutral stance. We must stand united, not only against those who spread terror, but against the tendency to let fear rip away at our rights, freedoms and beliefs.