Visiting Costa Rica and Viewing the Panama Canal after the Withdrawal of the U.S. Armed Forces

Seiji Fuji


If you want peace, prepare for war

 I’ve interviewed and shared views with many ambassadors for the Big Talk article in the past. In the September issue of Apple Town I spoke with Mario Fernandez Silva, Ambassador to Japan from the Republic of Costa Rica in Central America. Our talk impressed me greatly. Democracy has been established in Costa Rica and it enjoys favorable economic development even compared to the other Central American countries. Costa Rica is also well known for having abolished its army in 1948. Many Japanese people seem to think this means Costa Rica has entirely negated the idea of military strength, but that simply isn’t true. The most memorable part of my talk with Ambassador Fernandez was his statement “if you want peace, prepare for war,” which was inspired by an Ancient Roman saying.
Ambassador Fernandez, who has taught at a university and possesses a wealth of historical knowledge, also said as follows: “I really like photography, so I often read photography magazines. I was impressed by a photograph of General Kazushige Ugaki. He served as minister for foreign affairs under the Konoe Cabinet, before which he was governor-general of Korea. Ugaki was on the front lines against China, and insisted that China posed a greater danger than the United States. Reading Tamogami’s essay made me recall General Ugaki.”
I asked him if it was possible for Japan to continue not having an army, considering that Japan is faced with North Korea, who carries out reckless actions such as sinking a South Korean patrol boat, and China, whose policy is one of expansion. His answer was as follows:
North Korea is a dangerous country, not only for Japan but for the entire world. To maintain his power, Kim Jong Il sacrifices his own citizens and spends money on weapons. China used to control North Korea, but now they can’t do anything.
Allow me to respond to your previous question of whether Japan needs an army or not. If Japan can manage without an army, I think that’s a good thing. But in Japan’s current situation, perhaps you need an army to protect your citizens. The most important thing now is to protect your citizens, and you must not pay too much attention to the past and to your neighboring countries. China also speaks of peace while expanding its military preparations. Japan must consider how to protect its country by itself.
Fernandez also said, “Last week, I attended the same luncheon as the Dalai Lama. In Tibet, over one million people have died in the conflict with China. The Dalai Lama is always asking for peace, but China doesn’t have ears to listen.”
Afterwards, I asked the ambassador why he made such brave statements on extremely delicate issues. His answer was, “I taught human rights and other subjects at the University of Costa Rica, so I suppose I speak more as a researcher than a diplomat. Because of this, I’m not afraid to share what I think.”
I became very interested in Ambassador Fernandez’s country of Costa Rica and began making plans to visit. The Republic of Panama is also located next to Costa Rica. In the past I visited Egypt with three members of my family during a very dangerous time when Islam extremist guerillas attacked tourists and tourist buses were accompanied by security escort vehicles. Thinking that it would be safe to rent a car and blend in with the local cars, we drove a shabby rental car from Cairo to visit the Suez Canal, a round trip of 400 kilometers. That’s when I decided that I wanted to visit the Panama Canal.
My schedule in Costa Rica was quite full, but when I arrived there I made plans to visit the Panama Canal and had arrangements for airplane tickets to Panama and one night in a hotel made for me by a local travel agency.

Talking about the environment with Costa Rica’s Minister of Foreign Affair

 In Costa Rica I spoke with Rene Francisco Castro Salazar, Costa Rica’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. Minister Castro is a shrewd politician who is known as the right hand of Laura Chinchilla, the country’s first female president who took office in May 2010. He is also an environmental issue specialist who earned a PhD from Harvard. Castro spoke in detail regarding the “green” policies Costa Rica is implementing that connect environmental conservation with everything from politics to business. He said their future challenge is establishing sustainable ecotourism that can reliably boost earnings. A wide variety of other topics were raised, and it was a very enjoyable dialogue.
During our tight schedule afterwards, we went from Costa Rica to Panama for two days and one night. I had figured that Panama would have an atmosphere simple to Costa Rica’s because the two countries are next to each other, but things were different from the moment we arrived at the airport. Costa Rica gained independence from Spain in 1821 and has a long history. In contrast, Panama has been controlled by a number of different forces and only became a fully sovereign nation fairly recently in 1999.
While Costa Rica’s ethnic makeup contains many people of Spanish origin, Panama is a melting pot of many races including people of mixed race and African heritage. And while procedures at the airport went very smoothly in Costa Rica, the immigration officials at the airport in Panama were mostly black and very inefficient.
We took a chartered taxi from the airport and arrived at the Panama Canal’s Miraflores Locks after approximately 50 minutes. I was under the impression that the Panama Canal used water gates to deal with the difference in elevation between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, and thought that using the difference in elevation for hydroelectric power generation would create an inexhaustible supply of energy. However, actually visiting the Panama Canal made me realize that my previous image was totally wrong. Including the Miraflores Locks that I visited, the Panama Canal has three water elevators called “locks” that raise boats in three stages to the water level of Gatun Lake (26 meters). On the other side they are lowered in three stages. I also thought that the Panama Canal was filled with sea water but the only water used in the locks is lake water from Gatun Lake. Expansion work was begun in 2007 with the goal of completing it by 2014, the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal. The new locks will be installed with water tanks to reuse up to 60% of irrigation water. Even though the boats only have to be raised a distance of 26 meters, when looking at the locks the boats appear to be climbing a mountain.

The U.S. forces are steadily withdrawing from locations all over the world

 I had thought that the U.S. forces were stationed at the Panama Canal, which is a vital strategic position. However, most of them are gone now. America has a history that includes westward expansion and the genocide of Native Americans, which began when people immigrated to the country from the east coast. After they had expanded all the way to the west coast, the Civil War occurred that resulted in the U.S.’s largest number of war dead. Then plans were probably made for the Panama Canal to further expand their hegemony across the Pacific Ocean to Asia. Excluding the countries of Thailand and Ethiopia that retained their independence as buffer states for Great Britain and France, Japan is the only country that remained independent and even defeated Russia which was pressing for colonization by the Caucasian countries. It is thought that the war with Japan was already being planned from this stage.
The rights to construct the canal and perpetual lease of the development zone were gained through the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty of 1903. Construction began and the canal was opened in 1914. The U.S. possessed the rights to govern the Panama Canal Zone and administer the canal, and had military facilities for many years in the perpetual lease zone. In 1919 the U.S. Forces drafted War Plan Orange towards Japan, which had been victorious in the Russo-Japanese War. At the beginning of 1924 it was adopted by the Joint Army and Navy Board. In response to Panama’s increasing requests to return the Panama Canal, the U.S. returned the rights to govern the canal and Panama Canal Zone to Panama in 1999, and the U.S. forces withdrew from the area. Now the area is managed and administered by the Panama Canal Authority.
Perhaps this withdrawal is one example of America’s decline. The U.S. forces used to have a base in the Philippines but they withdrew in 1992. They also withdrew from Ecuador in 2009. After the end of the Cold War it seemed as if the U.S. would have unipolar control over the world, but their power is being steadily exhausted through the Gulf War of 1991, the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq afterwards. Furthermore, the Obama administration has set forth a policy to curtail war expenditures by 1 trillion dollars (approximately 81 trillion yen) within five years. And in the midst of such circumstances the relationship between the U.S. and Japan has grown stilted due to the Futenma issue.

China’s operations for the liberation of Japan are proceeding steadily

 To begin with, the idea of the U.S. protecting Japan according to the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty is nothing but an illusion. The U.S. is currently in a state of overcommitment, and they are in the process of embarking on a “New Monroe Doctrine” in which they cancel their excessive external promises and work only to deal with their own problems. At the same time China has been increasing its military expenditures by two digits each year for the past twenty years. The self-confidence they have gained from developing this military and economic strength has led them to begin carrying out a policy of expansion.
This September there was an incident in which a Chinese fishing boat ran into a Japanese Coast Guard vessel, but Japan didn’t charge China with intruding into its territorial waters. Seiji Maehara, who was Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism at the time, did have the captain of the ship arrested for interfering with a public servant in the execution of his or her duties. Yet after strong protests from China, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku had the captain’s punishment suspended and he was freed by the Naha District Public Prosecutor’s Office. The matter seemed settled, but it resulted in China ? who had systematically caused the incident ? demanding an apology and reparations. While the U.S. is withdrawing, China is expanding. If things continue on this way Japan might even become one of China’s autonomous regions in the future.
The weak response to the incident near the Senkaku Islands clearly showed the Kan government’s betrayal of Japan. I gathered my courage and published a secret document entitled “Phase II Operational Directive for the Liberation of Japan by the Communist Party of China” in the October issue of Apple Town, and the current situation is just as that directive described. The basic strategy outlined at the beginning of the document describes the following three steps to be taken towards the peaceful liberation of Japan.
A. Normalization of diplomatic relations with China (Phase I operational objective).
B. Formation of a democratic coalition government (Phase II operational objective).
C. Establishment of the Japanese People’s Democratic Republic ? the Emperor will be executed as the leading war criminal (Phase III operational objective).
Item A was achieved in 1972 when diplomatic relations between Japan and China were normalized, and item B was achieved last year with the birth of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) government. Item C is coming next. Japanese people need to quickly become aware of what’s happening.

Protecting one’s own country is the foundation of a sovereign nation

 If Japan doesn’t display a stance of being able to defend itself with its own power, then the truth is that the U.S. can’t protect us either. Many people have the mistaken impression that, according to the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, the U.S. will automatically retaliate if Japan were attacked. However, the Security Treaty doesn’t contain any articles for automatic entry into war. Whether or not the U.S. will mobilize the armed forces is left up to point by point judgment. First the American president must decide to participate in the war. It’s possible that the U.S. forces can be mobilized in this way, but the president’s command is only valid for two months and continuing troop deployments for any longer than that must be authorized by Congress. The U.S. seems to be thoroughly occupied by its own problems, so would they really decide to help protect Japan in an emergency?
It seems possible that China might carry out a military invasion of the Senkaku Islands in the near future. In that case, it’s unclear whether President Obama would actually mobilize the armed forces and there’s little hope that Congress would authorize further deployment two months later. For that reason I doubt the validity of the U.S.’s “nuclear umbrella.” One reason is that the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty doesn’t contain an article for automatic entry into war ? if Japan suffered a nuclear attack it’s unthinkable that the U.S. would carry out a counteroffensive for Japan’s sake, even taking on the risk of a nuclear attack on their own country. We must assume that the “nuclear umbrella” does not exist for Japan’s security.
Japan must either have its own nuclear arms or participate in nuclear arms sharing policy that NATO (Belgium, Germany, Italy, and Holland) has already entered into. In this arrangement, nuclear arms are continuously transported by U.S. armed forces warships and a country who experiences a nuclear attack immediately receives the right to command the nuclear weapons from the U.S. forces. Protecting one’s country is the foundation of all sovereign nations, and I believe that Ambassador Fernandez’s statement of “if you want peace, prepare for war” is right on the mark.
We returned temporarily to Costa Rica from the Panama Canal before heading back home. We left the capital city of San Jose, and then went through Miami and Dallas in the U.S. before arriving at Narita. The long journey from the hotel to our home took 36 hours. The trip only lasted three nights and six days and our schedule was quite busy, but I feel that my voyage to Costa Rica and Panama, including my discussion with government officials and visit to the Panama Canal, was very productive.