From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
|Zak Hernández Laporte|
|1970 June 10, 1992|
|Place of birth||Puerto Rico|
|Place of death||Panama|
|Allegiance||United States Army|
|Awards||Purple Heart Medal|
Sgt. Zak Hernández Laporte (b. 1970June 10, 1992), was a 22-year-old member of the United States Army who was killed in Panama City when the Humvee in which he was riding was ambushed on the eve of President George H. W. Bush's visit to Panama. His accused murderer, Pedro Miguel González Pinzón, was acquitted in 1997 in a trial mounted by Panama's judiciary. Two years later he was elected to Panama's National Assembly and, in September 2007, was chosen by his peers as National Assembly President, an event which has generated protests from the governments of the United States and Puerto Rico. This event also jeopardized U.S. Congress' ratification of a Free Trade Agreement between the U.S. and Panama, a pact that was previously ratified by Panama and was, until Pedro Miguel Gonzalez's elevation, considered likely to receive bipartisan Congressional approval.
On June 10, 1992, a group of Panamanians were protesting the scheduled visit of United States President George H. W. Bush to their country. One of the main reasons behind the demonstrations was the invasion of Panama by the US for the arrest and conviction of Head of State Manuel Noriega in 1989, during which anywhere between 200 and 4,000 Panamanian civilians were killed by US forces. Among the protesters was Pedro Miguel González Pinzón.
On that day Sgt. Hernández, a Puerto Rican soldier stationed in the Panama Canal Zone, and his comrade Sgt. Ronald Marshall, were in their Humvee on the outskirts of Panama City, close to the area where the demonstrators were protesting, when suddenly they were ambushed. Hernández was killed and Marshall wounded.
After disappearing to Cuba for several years, once his party was returned to power, González Pinzón was brought by his late father, Gerardo Gonzalez (then President of the National Assembly and head of the PRD party) to "surrender himself" to Panamanian President Ernesto Perez Balladares. After two years of confinement, González Pinzón was acquitted in a 1997 trial marred by witness intimidation, harassment of the prosecutor, and ex parte communications by the judge with Gonzalez's father and others. All seven jurors were civil servants who owed their jobs to the PRD. The U.S. government and other outside observers maintain that the trial was a sham resulting from Panama's notoriously corrupt judiciary, where influence peddling remains common. Longtime Gonzalez friend and now current PRD leader and Panamanian President, Martin Torrijos, was Vice Minister of Government and Justice at the time of Gonzalez's trial. In September 2007, González Pinzón was elected President of the National Assembly.
 International protest
His election has been protested by the Government of the United States. Tom Casey, a spokesman for the United States State Department, said that the United States government was
"deeply disappointed that the Panamian National Assembly elected Pedro Miguel González Pinzón from among its members" and that "The United States wants those responsible (for Zak Hernández' murder)...to face justice".
On September 4, 2007, the Senate of Puerto Rico approved a resolution expressing its "profound preoccupation" that a person indicted for Sgt. Zak Hernández' murder has been elected president of the Panamanian National Assembly. During a previously scheduled courtesy visit to his office, Senate President Kenneth McClintock on September 6 presented a copy of the resolution to Panama Supreme Court Chief Magistrate Graciela Dixon.
Key members of the U.S. Congress, such as Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and the committee's ranking Republican member, Charles Grassley (R-IA) have signaled that Gonzalez's elevation to National Assembly President represents an obstacle to Congress' ratification of the U.S.-Panama Free Trade Agreement. (In assuming the presidency on September 1, 2007, Gonzalez said he would step down should be become an obstacle to FTA ratification by the U.S. Despite clear signals from the U.S. Congress and Bush Administration officials that he indeed poses such an obstacle, Gonzalez has thus far refused to step down.)
Zak Hernández' name appears on "El Monumento de la Recordación" (The Wall of Remembrance} at the Puerto Rico Capitol complex as the only Puerto Rican casualty in the 1992 United States military operation in Panama. The U.S. consulate in Panama also displays a plaque in memory of Zak Hernández.
- ^ WTOP News
- ^ Panama News
- ^ Top Panama Lawmaker Sought in U.S. Death
- ^ "El Monumento de la Recordacion" (The Wall of Remembrance}