Editor's note: The claims made in this story have been clarified in a follow-up post here, published at 7:30 pm on April 8.
PANAMA CITY — Panamanians woke up yesterday morning to the unfamiliar and slightly aggressive sight of a U.S. aircraft carrier anchored in the bay off Panama City.
Radio talk show hosts squawked excitedly on the airwaves as rattletrap taxis and luxury sports cars slowed along the Cinta Costera to gaze out at the U.S. warship, visible from every bend in the coastal road.
Some gaped in awe, others with disgust. With only three days to go before Panama City plays host to the Summit of the Americas, many Panamanians are questioning what type of message the U.S. is trying to send by bringing a warship to peace talks. For others, the sight of the carrier is rattling ghosts from the 1989 U.S. invasion to oust strongman Manuel Noriega.
"I think it's a mistake to put that aircraft carrier outside a summit that's trying to promote peace," Mitchell Doens, who heads Noriega's old Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD), told Fusion on Tuesday evening. "It's a reminder of a moment we don't want to repeat. We were the last country in the Americas to be invaded by the [U.S.] government in 1989, so some could interpret this as an intimidating military presence… I just don't see the point. There is no war in the Americas."
Fusion reached out to the U.S. embassy several times on Tuesday, but no one authorized to speak to the press was available for comment.
Some Panamanians are trying to be diplomatic about the situation. Congressman Luis Eduardo Quirós Bernal, president of Panama's legislative commission on foreign relations, said the ship's entry into Panama probably has something to do with U.S. efforts to protect President Barack Obama during this Friday's Summit of the Americas.
"Each state has to decide how to protect its president, and in this case we don't feel any type of intimidation," Quirós told Fusion.
The congressman said Panama has had many "traumatic" moments with the U.S. over the years, but now has solid relations with the people and government of the United States, its main trade partner. He says the presence of the aircraft carrier should reassure the people of Panama that their government is doing everything in its power to facilitate the U.S. government's ability to protect its president and have a successful summit.
Doens thinks that's malarkey.
"An aircraft carrier isn't going to provide any security," he said. "And it isn't a good diplomatic move by the U.S. because it could provoke anti-U.S. sentiments at a time when not even a quarter of century has passed since the invasion."
Other Panamanians, however, are just looking out to sea with mild amusement.
"They probably have more firepower right there than all the other Latin American countries put together. That's the big stick, right?" laughed Panamanian developer Jose Manuel Bern, whose downtown tower overlooks the bay. "You gotta hand it to the U.S., man. That's for everybody to see. The U.S. gets points for style."