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21st Anniversary of the 1989 US Invasion of Panama

December 20, 2010

Twenty-one years ago the US military invaded the Central American nation of Panama under the pretext of the War on Drugs. It is worth revisiting this bit of US history since it can shed light on current US foreign policy.

President George Bush Sr. told the American public that Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega was a dictator and a thug. The US military mission in Panama was to “restore democracy” and was named Operation Just Cause.

I remember that the propaganda campaign was so well received by the American people that even many “peace” groups were not opposed to the removal of Noriega. This was the case in Grand Rapids, where few people were willing to question of challenge the invasion.

Noriega was a thug and had been involved in drug trafficking for decades. However, it is important to note that the US was aware of his drug trafficking activities, since Noriega was a CIA asset since the early 1970s. In fact, when George Bush Sr. was Director of the CIA and Vice President he and Noriega had close relations. According to Bill Blum, author of Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions since WWII, Noriega was on the CIA payroll for at least two decades.

Numerous former DEA agents have noted that Noriega was involved in drug trafficking while he worked as a US government asset. Former drug trafficker Col. Oliver North acknowledged this relationship is numerous cables that are now declassified and organized by the National Security Archives. In one memo, North states, “You will recall that over the years Manuel Noriega and I have developed a fairly good relationship.”

The evidence is overwhelming that Noriega was trafficking in drugs while working directly with the US government. If that is the case, what was the real reason that Noriega was targeted in late 1989? According to Noam Chomsky, Noriega was targeted because he opposed the US Contadora Peace Process and supported the Central American initiation Esquipulas Peace Plan. The Esquipulas Peace Plan did not seek to marginalize the Sandinista government from the rest of the Central American nations and since the US had been waging a covert and economic war against Nicaragua since 1980, Noriega’s failure to support the US plan cost him dearly.

However, beyond deposing Noriega, the US also used the invasion of Panama to test new weapons systems, something that happens in almost every US intervention. One of those weapons was a stealth bomber that targeted civilians neighborhoods, particularly that of El Churro. The bombing was intense and contributed significantly to the estimated 4,000 civilian deaths at the hands of the US military, according to a United Nations report.

The level of war crimes was serious and provides a clear example of the ongoing double standard of US foreign policy. Just months after the US had killed thousands of Panamanian citizens, George Bush Sr. condemned the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Bush’s condemnation of Saddam Hussein would have easily been applied to the US for their invasion of Panama in 1989.

In addition to the US hypocrisy demonstrated in Panama the US media did not question the pretext of the invasion. In fact, the mainstream commercial media tended to reflect the general attitude of the White House and bought into the demonization of Noriega without providing any historical context.

The US military also used Press Pools, where they selected specific news agencies to come to Panama, but controlled their itinerary preventing them from doing any investigative reporting. This issue and many others are explored in detail in the award winning documentary, The Panama Deception. Twenty-one years later it would do us all well to think about how the 1989 US invasion of Panama is relevant today.


One Comment leave one →
  1. Leejack permalink
    December 21, 2012 4:23 am

    This was an atrocity and it needs to be investigated, even now almost 24 years since the invasion

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