The Roman Catholic Church urged the United States Friday to lift the economic sanctions it imposed on Panama to oust strongman Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, saying they pose "a threat to the life of our people."
The church said in an eight-page pastoral letter that the sanctions "have strongly hit all the people, above all the poorest and the most humble.""We consider that . . . they exceed any strategy of political pressure and constitute by themselves a threat to the life of our people," it said. "They are, therefore, morally unjust. Because of that, we demand that they be suspended immediately.
"In the same way, we reject all forms of military intervention."
The sanctions block Panamanian government assets in the United States; bar payments by all people and organizations in the United States to the Noriega-controlled administration, and ban payments to this administration by all U.S. citizens and organizations in Panama, including U.S. branches and subsidiaries.
The sanctions, combined with closures of the banks and a two-week strike in March, have brought Panama's economy to a virtual standstill.
"The lack of money in circulation is bringing misery and desperation to thousands of Panamanians, and an exodus has started of citizens to foreign countries that is beginning to have worrisome dimensions," the hierarchy of the Catholic Church said in its letter.
"Meanwhile, delinquency in our cities is increasing in an alarming way," it said, adding that the crisis is turning Panama into "a sinister battle camp."
"We cannot continue like this."
The letter was signed by Archbishop Marcos G. McGrath and the 10 bishops of this predominantly Roman Catholic nation. It asked the government and its opposition to start bargaining as soon as possible to arrange a solution to end the crisis.
The church agreed at the end of March to mediate the dispute but suspended the effort a week later.
Financial analysts said earlier Friday that the government was seeking an international organization to process a backlog of checks that have piled up since Panama's banks closed seven weeks ago.
Banking regulators have been rebuffed in previous attempts to get European or Latin American banks to take over the clearinghouse operation.
A financial analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the officials wanted an international organization that would be "beyond the scope of the United States."
"The objective . . . (is) to have the accounts with an organization that has diplomatic privileges and immunities," he said.
Three ministers, including Foreign Minister Jorge Abadia, meanwhile offered their resignations to Panama's civilian chief executive, Manuel Solis Palma.