The Case of Panama: U.S. Continues its Bully Ways as International Outlaw

December 1, 1991


Analysis of the Dec. 20, 1989
U.S. Invasion in Historical Context

 

"From Mexico to Argentina, Latin American governments today roundly condemn the use of force by the United States against General Manual Antonio Noriega of Panama."

New York Times, Dec. 21, 1989, p. 24.
 

"I appreciate the support that we’ve received, strong support from the United States Congress, and from our Latin American neighbors."

–George Bush, Dec. 21, 1989, reported
in New York Times, Dec. 22, 1989, p. 16.
 

QUESTION FROM REPORTER: "Was it really worth it to send people to their death for this? To get Noriega?"
GEORGE BUSH: "…every human life is precious, and yet I have to answer, yes, it has been worth it."

New York Times, Dec. 22, 1989, p. 16.


Introduction

Because of my concern about U.S. belligerence in Panama in context of a variety of continuous intervention activities in Central America, I agreed to join a group of about 120 U.S. citizens visiting Panama from Sunday, November 26 to Wednesday, November 29, 1989. We attended an international conference opposed to U.S. intervention in Central America, with a focus on Panama, sponsored by The Center for International Political Studies. The Center is affiliated with the University of Panama. We lodged at the Continental Hotel in downtown Panama City, while the conference was held at the ATLAPA Convention Center a few miles distant. On Nov. 28 we drove through Balboa, past Howard AFB, to the city of La Chorrera, where we observed several hours of street celebrations related to Panama’s Independence. There I met provisional Panama President Francisco Rodriguez, and Vice-President Carlos Ozores. I again visited Panama with a small delegation of US Americans in December 1991, on the two year anniversary of the 1989 invasion in order to better assess the damages and the aftermath effects. We stayed in a church facility on the very edge of the bombed out, totally destroyed, neighborhood of Chorillo in Panama City.

Handwriting On The Wall–1989′s Forewarnings of Intervention

Simply by reading newspapers I was becoming increasingly concerned that the United States was carrying out a variety of illegal activities in pursuit of its foreign policy goals in Panama. Obsession with Gen. Manuel Noriega was an all too familiar form of political theater preparing the U.S. citizenry for a U.S. overthrow of the increasingly sovereign Panamanian government. No matter how much the U.S. government, or even myself, might dislike or disagree with the internal affairs of another nation, there are civilized rules and procedures available for addressing the issues. Political sovereignty is a sacred international law concept.

I have compiled in chronological order the essence of newspaper accounts reporting U.S. concern with Panama during 1989. They follow:

* James Baker stated during his confirmation hearing for Secretary of State under President Bush that covert actions "would not be inappropriate." He specifically indicated that in some cases the U.S. would consider providing "covert support for a political party or candidate to influence the outcome of another nation’s elections." –Los Angeles Times (LAT) story published in San Francisco Chronicle (SFC), 1/19/89

* "CIA Director William Webster warned of increasing unrest and ‘coup plotting’ in Latin America countries and declared that a bipartisan policy must be developed to support covert action in the region…Webster also said that, despite U.S. economic and political pressures designed to force out Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega, ‘he’s in no imminent danger unless new initiatives are developed.’…Because U.S. pressures have not forced Noriega’s ouster, Webster said, it is up to President Bush to consider whether to try to increase the pressures or turn to ‘alternatives,’ which the CIA director declined to define." –LAT story published in SFC, 2/9/89

* "In the expectation that the Panamanian national elections in May will be rigged, small groups of guerrillas based in Costa Rica say they are prepared to resume their activity within Panama…Their strategy is to initiate armed attacks on the Panamanian military if Noriega rigs the May 7 elections." –SFC, 4/12/89, "Ex-Contras Ready To Do Battle In Panama"

* "President Bush signed a secret intelligence directive to provide more than $10 Million in aid to opponents of Panama’s Gen. Manuel Noriega in that country ‘s upcoming elections…Bush signed the directive, called a ‘finding,’ in February…Bush personally lobbied the plan through Congressional intelligence committees and won approval for the CIA to provide more than $10 million in aid–including printing, advertising, transportation and communication–for Noriega’s opponents." (Emphasis by the author) –San Francisco Examiner (SFE), Sunday, 4/23/89

* "A covert plan under which dissident military officers in Panama would have removed Noriega from power had been approved by then president Ronald Reagan…On April 6, President Bush extended for one year economic sanctions against Panama that Reagan had first approved last year…Bush…signed a secret intelligence directive to give more than $10 million to opposition candidates in Panama’s May 7 elections for president, legislators and local representatives." (Emphasis by the author) –SFE, 4/24/89, "U.S. Plan To Oust Noriega Revealed"

NOTE: $10 million in Panama has a U.S. equivalent (X110) of $1.1 billion; Reagan’s covert plan to assist a coup by dissident Panamanian officers mentioned in SFE, 4/24/89, article above, was rejected by Senate Intelligence Committee.

* As of May 1989, 10,300 U.S. military personnel were in Panama. After the May 7 election results were voided, 1,000 additional U.S. troops were sent from the 7th Light Infantry Division from Ft. Ord, CA, and an additional 1,000 troop from the mechanized infantry from Ft. Polk, LA. — SFE, 5/11/89

NOTE: The failed coup attempt occurred on October 3, 1989.

* "Mr. Bush emphatically assured the public…that rumors of ‘an American operation’ in Panama were ‘not true.’" –New York Times, 10/10/89, Tom Wicker

* "I wouldn’t mind using force if it could be done in a prudent manner…So I’m not ruling out the use of force for all time." –President Bush, SFE, 10/13/89

* "The Justice Department, acting with unusual secrecy, has given the FBI legal authority to apprehend fugitives from U.S. law in foreign countries and return them to the United States without first obtaining the foreign state’s consent…The ruling could apply to such cases as the U.S. effort to bring Panamanian strongman Manuel A. Noreiga to trial on federal drug-trafficking charges in Florida…The new ruling carries the title, "Authority of the FBI to Override Customary or International Law in the Course of Extraterritorial Law Enforcement Activities." — LAT, 10/13/89

NOTE: Noriega was indicted on U.S. drug charges in Florida in Feb. 1988 for alleged crimes committed in Panama.

* "Fourteen years after a formal ban on U.S. assassinations of foreign officials, the Bush administration is now redefining its language to permit clandestine operations even if they threaten the lives of foreign figures…Officials concede that it would significan
tly expand the types of military operations the administration can launch against foreign targets such as terrorists, drug lords or Panamanian strongman Manuel A. Noriega." –LAT, 10/14/89, "U.S. OKs Covert Operations That May Kill Foreigners"

* "Sources have indicated that the administration will pursue a more aggressive approach to unseating Noriega…Bush…suggested…that he still might use the U.S. military in the campaign against Gen. Manuel A. Noriega." –LAT, 10/14/89, "Bush Hints At Military Move On Noriega" * William H. Webster, the Director of the CIA requested "giving the Central Intelligence Agency greater latitude in supporting potentially violent efforts to overthrow foreign dictators…Mr. Webster, in his first extensive discussion of the agency’s role in the failed coup attempt in Panama on Oct. 3, said he now detected a willingness in the Bush administration and Congress to reinterpret the order in a way that would give the CIA greater freedom to deal with coup planners like those in Panama…’ I think Noriega’s days are numbered.’" –New York Times, 10/17/89, "C.I.A. Seeks Looser Rules On Killings During Coups"

NOTE: The "order" referred to above is Executive Order adopted in 1976 by Pres. Ford barring U.S. involvement in assassinations.

* "The CIA has launched a $3 million operation, with the approval of congressional oversight committees, to overthrow Panamanian Gen. Manuel Noriega…The covert operation has ‘no restrictions’ other than an order prohibiting Noriega’s assassination and could involve U.S. troops." –The Post-Journal, Jamestown, N.Y., AP story, 11/16/89

CONCLUSION: It certainly did not require much study beyond reading the newspapers to believe that the U.S. was preparing to overthrow, by whatever means, Gen. Manuel Noriega, and to assure a government of our pleasure.

Other Forewarnings

During the summer of 1989, 50,000 military dependents living in Panama were ordered to return to the United States.

General Cisneros of SOUTHCOM was quoted in The Tropic Times, July 10, 1989: "If we acted militarily, from what we know, the majority of the Defense Forces will not fight."

Tanks and helicopters were weekly moved to U.S. bases in Panama after the coup attempt, in violation of treaties.

The U.S. was conducting unilateral military exercises in Panama but outside the Canal Zone, again in violation of treaties.

Movement of troops and supplies occurred in large numbers every hour from large cargo planes on Dec. 18 and 19.

Bush subsequently told the New York Times that specific invasion plans had been in the works since the October coup attempt. U.S. Defense Secretary Richard Cheney told reporters that the invasion plan had been in existence for some time as he had been briefed about it when he became Secretary of Defense in the spring of 1989.

U.S. Intervention In Panama: The Historical Perspective

As early as the 1500s, the idea of constructing a ship canal between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans occurred to navigators and explorers as the geographical form of the Central American Isthmus was becoming known. Many Isthmus surveys were made over the years. Opinion remained divided between a route through Panama and a longer route through Nicaragua. This divided opinion continued until the building of the Panama Canal was begun by the U.S. in 1904.

A chronological history of U.S. relations (mostly intervention) with the Isthmus of Panama is as follows:

1823 — President James Monroe sends message to Congress that includes his declarations now know as The Monroe Doctrine. In essence it stated that the U.S. cannot afford to let European nations extend their national territory in the Western Hemisphere, or interfere in western affairs with armed force. At this time the Isthmus of Panama was part of the Republic of Colombia.

1846 — The volume of North American traffic by foot and animal across the Isthmus became so great that the U.S. entered into a treaty with Colombia (also called New Granada at that time) authorizing the U.S. to build a railroad across the Isthmus and to protect all transit through the Isthmus. With the railway, the U.S. intended to counteract the British presence in the region, especially in Nicaragua, as well as providing easier and more rapid commercial transportation across the Isthmus.

1849 — Gold discovered in California increased the numbers of N. Americans moving through the Isthmus to prospect for riches on the western side of the N. American continent.

1849 — U.S. Col. Hughes prepares first major U.S. map of railroad and potential canal routes across the Isthmus of Panama, which at that time was part of Columbia.

1850 — U.S. and Great Britain sign Clayton-Bulwer Treaty providing for the neutrality of an interoceanic Isthmus canal whenever it was to be built, so that neither country would have exclusive control over the canal.

1854 — U.S. Lt. Strain continues map explorations of Isthmus of Panama.

1855 — U.S. completes railroad across the Isthmus of Panama from Panama City to Colon.

1856 — U.S. troops are unilaterally dispatched to the Isthmus of Panama, the first time they are used under authority of the Treaty of 1846 to protect U.S. lives and property and to guarantee order.

1858 — U.S. Lt. Michler continues map explorations.

1860 — U.S. troops are unilaterally dispatched to the Isthmus of Panama.

1861 — U.S. troops are dispatched to the Isthmus at the request of the government of Colombia.

1862 — U.S. troops are dispatched to the Isthmus at the request of the government of Colombia.

1870-1875 — U.S. Navy Commodores Selfridge and Tull continue map explorations.

1873 — U.S. troops are unilaterally dispatched to the Isthmus of Panama.

1881-1889 — The French attempt to build a canal across the Isthmus of Panama. Attempt failed in bankruptcy; 22,000 workers die of disease (20,000 of them being blacks imported mostly from Jamaica and Barbados).

1885 — U.S. troops are unilaterally dispatched to the Isthmus of Panama, subsequently assented to by the Colombian government.

1898 — The U.S. battleship "Oregon" races around Cape Horn to join the U.S. fleet off Cuba in the Spanish-American war. This provided a specific political, emotional and military basis in creating the determination of the U.S. people to build the canal.

1900 — U.S. troops are dispatched to the Isthmus at the request of Colombia.

1901 — U.S. troops are unilaterally dispatched to the Isthmus.

1902 — U.S. troops are unilaterally dispatched to the Isthmus.

1902 — An Act to "Provide For the Construction of a Canal Connecting the Waters of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans" approved by Congress.

1903 Nov — Pres. Theodore Roosevelt, working closely with individuals in the Isthmus of Panama, orders U.S. Military forces to the Isthmus to prevent Colombian forces from quelling an Isthmus "rebellion." Roosevelt recognized "Panama" as a sovereign state 2 days after the bloodless "revolt." Twelve days later (Nov. 18) the Hays Treaty was concluded with "Panama" by which the U.S. was granted all it desired for the construction, maintenance and protection of the canal. It has never been certain that any "Panamanian" ever signed the Hays Treaty, or the Isthmian Canal Convention as it was called at the time. Note: In Nov. 1903, U.S. issued an order preventing Columbia from landing forces in its own territory.

1904 — Congress appropriated the $10 million due "Panama" for the treaty and canal rights.

1904 — U.S. takes control of newly formed Canal Zone territory and begins construction (May 4).

1914 — Canal is opened to boat traffic. About 6800 workers died of disease while constructing.

(Aug 15) — the Canal, most of whom were Blacks from Jamaica and Barbados, Chinese and Indians. Housing for the non-white workers (the overwhelming majority) was markedly inferior to that provided whites. The most important difference beyond basic comfort issues was the lack of window screens in non-white quarters, a major reason why so many non-whites died from malaria and yellow fever from mosquito bites at night while sleeping.

1964 — A group of Panamanian students attempted to raise the Panamanian flag in the Zone.

(Jan 9) — They were attacked by U.S. troops and 22 students were killed.

1968- — Coup led by General Omar Torrijos displaces the oligarchic rule in place since 1903.

1969 — Torrijos, a nationalist, initiated a social transformation of Panama bringing the poor into the government for the first time and implementing a number of services available to the poor.

1977 — After years of difficult bargaining, the Torrijos-Carter Treaty was signed abrogating the

(Sept) — Earlier treaty and providing for a totally Panamanian Canal from the year 2000. The Canal Zone and the U.S. military bases would disappear gradually. However the U.S. retained the right to intervene "in defense of the Canal" even after expiration of the treaty, scheduled for December 31, 1999. General Torrijos, in response to this provision added by the U.S. Senate, explained that the U.S.. may intervene, "but on arrival they will find the canal destroyed." The extreme vulnerability of the canal to sabotage makes its defense effective only with Panamanian cooperation.

1981 — General Omar Torrijos dies in a suspicious airplane crash.The airplane was on a ten

(July 31) — minute flight from Penonome to Coclecito when it crashed into a mountain. Unconfirmed but persistent versions claim that the plane’s instruments were interfered with prior to take-off.

President Theodore Roosevelt Launches The "Big Stick" Policy

President Roosevelt’s unilateral intervention into the internal affairs of sovereign Colombia, at the beginning of the 20th Century, in order to acquire "free" reign to construct and protect an interoceanic canal, established a policy that President Bush was merely continuing when he ordered the military invasion of Panama on December 20, 1989. Roosevelt, responding to criticisms that he violated Colombia’s sovereignty, stated that the U.S. had a "moral" duty to overcome Colombia’s "selfish" interests and delays in granting U.S. canal rights in the Isthmus of Panama. He cited considerations of "treaty rights and obligations," of "national interests and safety," of "collective civilization," and in the "interests of its inhabitants." (Jan. 4, 1904 message to Congress). Does this sound familiar?

There is no doubt that President Roosevelt, who came to the Presidency from the Vice-Presidency when President McKinley was assassinated in September 1901, was eager to have work begun on the canal prior to the 1904 Presidential campaign period. In fact work on the popular idea of a canal began in May 1904, one month prior to his nomination at the Republican convention in June and in preparation for his campaign against Democratic candidate Alton B. Parker.

Shortly after Roosevelt had conspired with individuals in the Isthmus of Panama to promote a "revolution" in early November 1903 and declare the new sovereign nation of "Panama," the U.S. completed a treaty with the new country. There is no record of any authentic signing of this treaty by Panamanians which occurred only 12 days after the declaration of sovereignty, hardly enough time for a new nation to undertake conscientious deliberations on a major policy decision. Nonetheless, the treaty has been considered a fact of history as of the date of its signing (Nov. 18). Roosevelt delivered a December 7, 1903, message to Congress in which he argues for its ratification. Though there was popular support for the canal, there was suspicion in Congress about the methods used to acquire the rights to build the canal. An article, "Wants Canal Built Without Suspicion of National Dishonor," published in the Virginian Pilot (Dec. 18, 1903), identified these questionable methods.

In his December 7, 1903 remarks to Congress, Roosevelt stated:

"The experience of over half a century has shown Colombia to be utterly incapable of keeping order on the Isthmus. Only the active interference of the United States has enabled her to preserve so much as a semblance of sovereignty. Had it not been for the exercise by the United States of the police power in her interest, her connection with the Isthmus would have been severed long ago." Roosevelt then proceeded with a mini-history lesson: "In 1856, in 1860, in 1873, in 1885, in 1901, and again in 1902, sailors and marines from United States warships were forced to land in order to patrol the Isthmus, to protect life and property, and to see that the transit across the Isthmus was kept open. In 1861, in 1862, in 1885, and in 1900, the Colombian Government asked that the United States Government would land troops to protect its interests and maintain order on the Isthmus."

Roosevelt’s positive, though self-righteous and arrogant attitude continued:

"Every effort has been made by the government of the United States to persuade Columbia to follow a course which was essentially not only to our interests and to the interests of the world, but to the interests of Colombia itself. These efforts have failed; and Colombia by her persistence in replacing the advances that have been made, has forced us, for the sake of our own honor, and of the interests and well-being, not merely of our own people, but of the people of the Isthmus of Panama and the people of the civilized countries of the world, to take decisive steps to bring to an end a condition of affairs which has become intolerable. The New Republic of Panama immediately offered to negotiate a treaty with us. This treaty I herewith submit."

Does this sound familiar?

Prior to this point, there had been lively debate comparing the canal routes in the Isthmus of Panama, and Nicaragua, respectively. There is reason to believe that the U.S. Government deliberately "nursed" the Nicaragua canal route in order to induce better terms from Colombia, which had been holding the canal route at what was considered an exorbitant figure.

The essence of the provisions of the 1903 treaty with the new nation of "Panama" was as follows:

  1. Guaranteed independence of the new Republic of Panama;
  2. Canal Zone is granted to the U.S.. over which the U.S. had absolute jurisdiction;
  3. All railroad and canal rights in the Zone are ceded to the U.S.;
  4. U.S. agreed to police the entire Zone;
  5. U.S. is granted "sanitary" jurisdiction over the cities of Panama and Colon, located within the Zone, and is vested with the right to preserve order throughout the Republic should the Panamanian Government in the judgment of the U.S. fail to do so;
  6. U.S. paid $10 million to Panama, and in 1913 began annual payments of $250,000.

Roosevelt is known, among other things, for a famous quote: "I took Panama, and left Congress to debate it later." The quote is a close version from the text of his speech given March 23, 1911, at the University of California (2 years after leaving the Presidency, and 3 years before the Canal’s completion):

"I am interested in the Panama Canal because I started it. If I had followed traditional, conservative methods, I should have submitted a dignified state paper of probably two hundred pages to the Congress, and the debate would have been going on yet. But I took the Canal Zone, and let Congress debate, and while the debate goes on the canal does als
o."

Relations with Colombia were understandably estranged for many years. As late as 1919, the U.S. Senate was considering a treaty with Colombia stating that the "taking" of Panama by the U.S. in 1903-04 was in fact, and in law, not justifiable.

In Roosevelt’s message to Congress in 1904, he declared that in "flagrant cases of wrongdoing" by Latin American countries, the U.S.. had the right to exercise "international police power" over them. This became known as the policy of the "Big Stick", a significant expansion of the Monroe Doctrine. It has legitimized frequent intervention, "legally," "morally," or from a perspective of "practical politics," into Latin American affairs, including the unilateral military invasion of Panama on December 20, 1989, by the U.S. Bush administration.

The Importance of the Canal, and Panama, to the United States

Though the commercial and military importance of the Canal may have diminished over the years due to changes in transportation and communication policies and technologies, it has been and continues to be a major focus of U.S. foreign policy in Latin America.

Even after the Panama Canal was completed in 1914, the U.S. wasn’t comfortable being dependent upon this one route through the Isthmus. In 1916, the U.S. negotiated the Bryan-Chamorro Treaty, the latest in a history of similar treaties with the then U.S.-occupied Nicaragua. The U.S. was granted an option of a canal route through Nicaragua as well as a naval base on the Gulf of Fonseca, in exchange for $3 million.

Security of the Canal has always been an issue. It is so vulnerable to sabotage from the ground or air that it requires the full cooperation and trust of the Panamanian government and military forces. Of course the same issue would apply as well wherever other canals might be constructed.

World War II and the invention and use of the atomic bomb raised new anxieties about defense of the Canal. Following WWII, canal engineers were ordered to make surveys and recommendations. Proposals included deepening the Canal to sea level, thus eliminating vulnerable locks, constructing a second canal through Nicaragua, and completing the third set of locks, begun in 1940.

The Canal, the Canal Zone (approximately 10 miles wide by 50 miles long), and their inextricable connection to the country of Panama for their protection, has provided the U.S. with three major benefits:

 

  1. Incalculable wealth over the years, not so much in toll fees, but in saved travel time and distances, and, therefore, tremendous amounts of money, saved by ships sailing between California and New York, and in general between eastern and western points of global destinations. This helped consolidate expansion of the U.S. commercial empire.
  2. Presence of a number of U.S. military bases in Panama, most in the Canal Zone, but all functioning as a geo-strategic force for assuring U.S. control in Latin America, as well as furnishing a training and indoctrination center for Latin American military officers.
  3. A financial center in the Isthmus facilitating major expansion and maintenance of U.S. transnational corporations. Just for Panama alone, about 80%-90% of her foreign economic transactions are with the U.S., and at least 50% of all private sector business in Panama is U.S. related. It has been known for years that Panamanian banks have been laundering and profiting from drug monies, long before Gen. Noriega was in power.

Recent Panamanian Politics (Since 1968)

    Nationalism and General Omar Torrijos

It must be remembered that historic, U.S. obsession with Panama because of the Isthmus Canal, has always placed Panamanian sovereignty at the mercy of U.S. interests. Furthermore, easy financial regulations had for years made international banking with close ties to U.S. business and commercial activities Panama’s leading industry. This created a boon for Panama’s bourgeoisie, but the majority poor had never benefited from Panama’s industrial and economic money flow. A large percentage of the poor are descendants of British West Indian laborers imported for the canal construction.

Though anti-U.S. sentiment had been evolving over the years, it wasn’t until 1964, when U.S. troops fired on and killed 22 Panamanian students as they were hoisting a Panamanian flag in the Canal Zone, that Panama’s "stability" became an issue for the U.S. The students were questioning the 1903 canal treaty and calling for genuine self-determination. Four years later, in 1968, the issue of self-determination became so popular that a nationalist-based coup displaced the long line of U.S.-sponsored oligarchies that had controlled Panama since 1903.

The popular General Omar Torrijors, part of the coup, initiated in 1969 a new period in Panamanian history where nationalism, sovereignty over the Canal Zone, self-determination, and a form of popular government became real issues of focus. For the first time the Indian communities of Panama (the Cunas, the Chocoles, and the Guaymies) entered politics with demands for protection of their culture, language and territory. A system of Municipal Assemblies was established in order to carry out a series of people’s reforms relating to agriculture, education and delivery of social services. The poor were brought into the government and they had newly found access to services and reforms. International fruit and mining companies were required to pay fairer prices to the Panamanians.

After many years of debate and bargaining, the Torrijo-Carter Treaty was negotiated in 1977. This Treaty finally established a timetable by which Panama would acquire sovereignty over the Canal in the year 2000.

Under Torrijos a social democratic government was developing with substantial popular support. A political party, the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), was formed in 1978 to engineer the continued transformations, with former Minister of Education, Aristides Royo, elected President.

In 1981 Gen. Torrijos was killed in a suspicious plane crash that many claim to this day was the designed result of an assassination plan.

    A Dualistic Policy Follows Torrijos’ Death

Shortly after Torrijos’ death, President Royo suddenly resigned and was succeeded by Ricardo de la Espriella. Gen Ruben Dario Paredes became commander of the National Guard (later to be called the Panamanian Defense Forces) in 1982, and initiated efforts to realign more closely with the U.S. However 3 policies implemented due to popular support and demonstrations sympathetic with the attitudes of Torrijos contributed to a confusing, dualistic Panamanian relationship with the U.S.:

  1. Panama strongly censured U.S. support of Britain in the 1982 Falklands (Malvinas) war;
  2. Panama insisted that the Reciprocal Inter-American Assistance Treaty be revised to provide more equity;
  3. Panama became one of the 4 Latin American countries forming the Contadora Group in 1983 launching efforts to negotiate peace for the sovereign nations of Central America. The other 3 nations were Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela.

Gen. Paredes, the unpredictable commander of the National Guard, accused U.S. Ambassador to Panama, Everett Briggs, of "contacting Panamanian officers without using the normal channels" which strained relations further with the U.S. Panama’s politics continued on an unstable course. Shortly thereafter Paredes resigned. President de la Espriella mysteriously resigned for "private" reasons in February 1984. It has been reported that Gen. Manuel Noriega, who replaced Paredes as head of the National Guard, ordered Espriella’s resignation.

In the May 1984 elections, PRD candidate Nicolas Ardito Barleta, former World Bank Vice-President, was elected President amid a severe economic crisis. Unemployment was over 20%, the fiscal deficit amounted to $13
0 million, and the foreign debt was nearing $4 billion. Barleta launched an austerity program which was met with massive protest and demonstrations. The National Legislative Assembly revoked them in December 1984.

In 1985 the government attempted to modify labor legislation, impose new taxes, and to withdraw subsidies to agriculture and industry. This led to a convergence of opposition forces, mostly unions, to protest these policies. Aging conservative Arnulfo Arias, elected President on 3 occasions and overthrown as many times, stated at the time: "Never before in our history did we have a dictatorship led by drug dealers, men so small but with such great ambitions."

    Gen. Manuel Noriega

Manuel Noriega’s ties to U.S. intelligence agencies began in the 1950′s when he started as an informant about his fellow classmates at a military academy. Later he was on the CIA payroll for what has been reported at $200,000 a year. Prior to his falling out of grace with the U.S. in 1986, allegedly because of his drug activities, he had been a CIA "asset" and confidant of at least 6 U.S. presidential administrations, going back to the first years Nixon was in office, and perhaps to the earlier Kennedy years. It is widely reported that he has been Panama’s chief intelligence official since the early 1970s. Though his drug involvement has received sensational attention in 1987-1989, Panama has been a drug laundering station for many years with many political officials and business persons believed to be involved, including many members of the bourgeoisie.

One of the confusions about Panama’s politics lie in the fact that Noriega was from the poorer sectors of Panama society and represented an anti-oligarchic philosophy. He was a vestige of the popular Torrijos government. He possessed a fair amount of support throughout Panama, especially among the poor, but his support was not believed to be deep. His questionable character and dualistic allegiances made it difficult for people to trust him fully. He was not, is not, a Torrijos-style charismatic leader. Feelings were mixed about him. The popular movement (unions, students, peasant groups, shanty town dwellers, some church people, etc.) has not been sufficiently strong but coalesced in the 1980s to force adherence with earlier reforms started under Torrijos’ leadership.

In September 1985, Noriega, as head of the National Guard and Head of Government, dismissed President Barletta who had been elected in May 1984. He appointed Eric Arturo Delvalle as the new President. However Solis Palma was later elected President, and his term was to have expired on September 1, 1989, when a newly elected government was scheduled to have assumed power. Strangely, the U.S. had never recognized the elected Palma presidency. Ironically, the U.S. continued to recognize Delvalle, who, as noted above, was appointed by Noriega as President in 1985. Delvalle went into hiding after advocating the removal Gen. Noriega as head of the newly named Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF).

Panamanians had come to blame Noriega for the economic crisis, and for his alleged drug activity, corruption, and complicity with the CIA. U.S. financed propaganda has made him out to be more evil, it seems, than Hitler. So his popular base had been eroded with the assistance of the U.S. conspiracy to oust him, adding to his own character and integrity problems. However, when Noriega is compared to other Central American leaders such as Cerezo in Guatemala, Christiani in El Salvador, and Azcona, the recent President of Honduras, he is not as corrupt, nor are human rights abuses as grave a problem in Panama when compared to those of other countries.

In February 1988 Noriega was indicted in Florida for alleged drug offenses committed in Panama between 1981 and 1986. However, Congressman Charles B. Rangel (D-NY), Chair of the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control, has reported that high officials of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Justice personally met with him as late as 1987 declaring that Noreiga was fully cooperating with the U.S. efforts in prosecuting Latin America’s drug traffickers. Further they added that he was to be commended for his efforts, not charged with drug offenses.

U.S. Policies Since 1986: The Turning Point Against Noriega

As stated above, Panama was part of the Contadora Group that formed in 1983 to seek peace in Central America and, in effect, to oppose U.S. supported Contras in Nicaragua. Noriega publicly supported the Contadora process. However, Noriega at the same time approved the U.S. directed Contras training on Panama’s Coiba Island .

The Reagan administration in 1985 and 1986 conducted a secret campaign of threats and intimidation in Latin America in an effort to thwart Central America peace efforts, and to win support for the contra war in Nicaragua, according to classified documents and interviews with U.S. and foreign officials. Toward the end of 1986, the campaign included "an effort to force from office the head of the Panamanian defense forces, Gen. Manuel Noriega. When Noriega did not respond to a direct request from then national security adviser John M. Poindexter that he resign, the United States cut off aid to Panama, then leaked damaging classified documents about Noriega to The New York Times and NBC News." (See The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 10, 1987, "Threats Abetted Contras," by Alfonos Chardy).

What caused Reagan’s security adviser to personally request a resignation from Noriega after he had served many years as a CIA "asset?" His alleged drug activity, and that of many others, apparently had been known for many years. It seems that it was Noriega’s refusal to honor in 1986 an earlier personal request from Admiral Poindexter to overtly increase training support for the Contras and assist with planning scenarios for invasion of Nicaragua that so incensed the Reagan administration. After all, the Reagan policy to overthrow Nicaragua (and subsequently the Bush policy) could be considered a psychotic obsession, satisfying the psychiatric definition for clinical paranoia–a fear not supported by objective evidence. When one is paranoid, one is not likely to be able to perceive facts clearly. Behavior in this case tends to be manifested in ways that are adjudged the product of mental illness.

The combination of Noriega spurning this personal request while on the CIA payroll, along with Panama’s support of the Contadora and subsequent peace efforts in Central America, seems to have produced a U.S. vendetta against Noriega and the people of Panama as long as Noriega remained free of U.S. control. Since 1987 U.S. policy has very specifically focused on ousting Noriega, and returning power to the pre-1968 oligarchic structures and attitudes that are much more trustworthy for maintaining "stability" in protecting U.S. interests. The nature and amount of pain and suffering the U.S. government has inflicted on the people of Panama in order to ostensibly rid that sovereign nation of one man staggers imagination, a sense of justice and morality, defies international law, and assaults reason. It is sadistic.

Prior to the overt military invasion, U.S. policy directed against Panama’s sovereignty and for Noriega’s removal can be understood in four categories of economic strangulation, political harassment, electoral intervention, and militarization/escalation of tension.

1. Economic Strangulation. Up to 90% of Panama’s foreign economic transactions are conducted with the United States. Half of all private sector business in Panama is U.S. related. Panama has been the center for substantial U.S. financial operations for much of this century. Thus, an economic war directed against Panama by the U.S. has even more far reaching implications than it would have in other countries not quite as dependent upon the United States. The U.S. dollar is the effective
currency in Panama, unlike other Latin countries. It should also be kept in mind that 30-40% of Panama’s national budget is required to service the national debt.

The U.S. policy of squeezing Panama’s economy effected the poor the hardest, thereby punishing the primary support base of Noriega. However, the business class also claimed that the sanctions were ruining them.

The U.S. economic strangulation occurred as follows:

  1. Revenues derived from, and U.S. payments for, operating the Canal were withheld from the Panamanian government. This was a direct violation of the Torrijos-Carter Treaty;
  2. Prohibition of payments to the Panamanian government by any U.S. citizen, organization or entity in either Panama or the U.S.;
  3. Cancellation of Panama’s sugar quotas;
  4. Cutting U.S. economic and military aid;
  5. Vetoing loans and payments to Panamanian international financial institutions;
  6. Excluding Panama from the Caribbean Basin Initiative.

2. Political Harassment. The U.S. significantly interfered with the work of the Panama Canal Commission. Of the 4 Panamanian members, one has been forced to resign, the U.S. refused to recognize another, and refused visas for the other 2 members preventing their attendance at meetings in the U.S. This behavior violates the Torrijos-Carter Treaty.

3. Election Intervention. The national Panamanian elections held on May 7, 1989 were to have chosen a president and members of the National Assembly to take office on September 1.

One must keep in mind that since the death of Torrijos in 1981, internal Panamanian politics have suffered from a severe economic crisis, wide-spread corruption, a questionable 1984 election, accusation of pervasive drug trafficking, lack of effective moral and political leadership, and a somewhat fragmented popular movement. None of these factors, of course, justify intervention of Panama’s sovereignty. They simply suggest the vulnerability to outside intervention from the U.S. However the U.S. was intervening it was not designed to assist an organic, popular democratic process for the benefit of the Panamanians. It was not done according to the provisions of international law. The U.S. has always been preoccupied with the Canal, and over the years the importance of military bases has increased for maintaining geo-strategic control throughout Latin America. This fact is not likely to change.

The opposition party, Civilian Democratic Opposition Alliance (ADOC) represented (and represents) the pre-1968 oligarchy. They indicated a willingness to renegotiate the 1977 Treaty. ADOC presidential candidate Guillermo Endara, and the 2 accompanying vice-presidential candidates, Guillermo Ford and Ricardo Arias Calderon, respectively, represent the upper classes and have business and banking backgrounds. In February 1989, 3 months before the elections, President Bush signed a secret intelligence directive to provide more than $10 million to aid ADOC in their campaign to defeat the pro-government’s candidates loyal to Noriega.

It must be noted that in 1989 $10 million in Panama, a nation of about 2.3 million people, is equivalent to $1.1 billion in the United States, a nation of 250 million people. This is a staggering amount of money to introduce into an election process from an outside nation. In the 1988 U.S. elections when a president, 435 members of the House of Representatives and 34 Senators were running for office in a nation of a quarter of a billion people, the total costs of all these campaigns amounted to about $400 million. Imagine, if you can, the Soviet Union, or Panama, introducing $1.1 billion to either the Democratic or Republican Party, or to a third political party, in order to assure victory of candidates furthering the policies supporting the outside nation making the election contributions. Can you imagine it? Can you see political scientists arguing its prudence and wisdom? Of course, such contributions to U.S. elections from outside are prohibited by U.S. law.

When the pro-government forces voided the election results which seemed to indicate their candidates had been clearly defeated, they cited evidence of foreign subversion of the internal political affairs of Panama. They were unfortunately correct.

When the U.S. used the voiding of the elections by Noriega and his loyalists as another justification for ousting Noriega, the U.S. was again operating on the shaky and illegitimate ground of hypocrisy. The election results seemed to indicate that U.S.-supported (purchased) candidate Endara won, and that he would by Panamanian law take office on September 1, 1989, replacing the previously elected President Solis Palma. Remember, as described above, Noriega dismissed elected President Barletta in 1985 and appointed Eric Arturo Delvalle instead. Nonetheless, Palma was subsequently elected president but Noriega continued to recognize his appointee Delvalle. The U.S., being a cohort with Noriega at the time, of course recognized Delvalle as well, not the elected Palma. Events became more sordid later when Dalvalle went into hiding after the National Assembly removed him from "office" for trying to remove Noriega from the PDF. Apparently the U.S. and Noriega are about equal in their belief in honoring legal and democratic processes. Maybe this helps explain why Noriega and the U.S. have been such good working buddies for the last 20 years.

Many believe the 1989 election was more a plebiscite about Noriega rather than an affirmative vote for the opposition bourgeoisie party. The significance of the elections is more likely that Panamanians also wanted Noriega out of power without having an opportunity to articulate their alternative. It means that the political future is problematic for U.S. supported officials. It is believed that distrust of U.S. intentions runs deep even among the apparent majority who voted for Noriega’s exit from power. Statistics remain fuzzy on the voter turnout and vote counts. The process by which Panamanians will now embark upon to achieve their sovereignty, or continue a nationalist process but 20 years old, remains to be seen.

4. Militarization and Escalation of Tensions. Tensions were mounting between U.S. military forces and Panamanians throughout 1989, especially after the May elections were voided. SOUTHCOM increasingly issued belligerent statements about the necessity of military solutions. On May 11, just 2 days after the elections, 2,000 additional U.S. troops were dispatched to Panama, making a total of about 13,000 U.S. military personnel stationed at a dozen military installations. The U.S. was building new temporary military housing while at the same time it was sending 50,000 military family members back to the U.S.

The U.S. noticeably escalated unilateral military exercises and maneuvers, theretofore conducted with Panamanian military forces within the canal zone according to Treaty requirements, in areas of civilian population outside the Canal Zone. Virtually all of the following U.S. military activities conducted in the summer and fall of 1989 violated the Torrijos-Carter Treaty:

  1. Buzzing helicopter and low flying planes over civilian neighborhoods;
  2. Driving armored convoys through the streets of Panama’s cities and towns;
  3. Conducting exercises firing live ammunition in civilian areas;
  4. Driving and parking tanks in downtown streets.

People have described the atmosphere as being like a "tinderbox" that could blow at any time. After the ill-fated coup attempt of October 3, tensions escalated even more.

The December 20, 1989 Invasion

About 1 a.m., Wednesday, December 20, 1989, without explicit warning the U.S. dropped 12,000 troops with bombs and firepower into the country of Panama, striking Panama City and the city of Colon, along with a number of PDF military installations simultaneously. The Panamanian Defense
Forces headquarters, located in an economically poor neighborhood in Panama City, was leveled as well as a number of blocks of inhabited neighborhood housing surrounding it. The newly revealed Stealth bomber was used to drop two 2,000 pound bombs on the Rio Hato Military School. This was probably the first combat mission ever for the Stealth. Two thousand additional U.S. troops were dispatched to Panama making a total invading force of 14,000 U.S. young men and women complementing the 13,000 U.S. military personnel present in Panama prior to the invasion.

    Martial Law

After the invasion, U.S. troops in effect declared and carried out martial law, acting as a state security force, arresting thousands of people perceived as supportive of Noriega. This is of course grotesquely illegal. U.S. troops went house to house and it is believed they rounded up, arrested and then detained 7,000 Panamanian civilians in various camps and facilities. In addition the Pentagon acknowledges detaining 5600 members of the PDF.

    Casualties

It is difficult to assess the extent of Panamanian casualties, dead, wounded and maimed. The U.S. media focused almost entirely on the status of Noriega and the numbers of U.S. casualties. Panamanian media were shut down by U.S. forces. Martial law was enforced in the streets by U.S. military. There were no organized efforts allowed to look for bodies in the rubble in the blocks of bombed out housing. The bombing of inhabited areas in the middle of the night without warning certainly must have caused extensive civilian casualties. ABC-TV news reported on December 28 at least 1,000 civilians dead, counting 55 bodies on a street in 1 block. Panamanian health workers were quoted as saying the devastated areas around PDF headquarters left 10,000 homeless and that it looked like a "little Hiroshima." They claimed at least 2,000 dead in mass graves and still buried under mounds of rubble. There were rumors that as many as 4,000, and perhaps as many as 7,000, had been killed. At a meeting with Panamanian human rights workers in December 1991, a conservative estimate from objective evidence indicated over 3,000 Panamanians had been killed. Bombing in the poor neighborhoods of Chorillo and San Miguelito was said to have been intense and indiscriminate. These were 100% non-white areas. In fact, Panamanians report no white areas were bombed at all. Of the thousands of civilians arrested by U.S. troops, 200-500 are said to have already disappeared from accountability.

After much prodding the Pentagon acknowledged 225 Panamanian civilians killed in the invasion with no figures on the number of wounded. However, the U.S. government presented precise figures for U.S. and PDF casualties: PDF suffered 314 killed, 124 injured; U.S. military suffered 23 killed, 323 injured; U.S. civilians suffered 2 killed, 1 injured.

Thus total casualties from the U.S. invasion counting dead and injured were 349 U.S. persons, and probably 5,000-10,000 Panamanians. In addition almost 13,000 Panamanians, civilians and PDF members, had been arrested and detained. The status and whereabouts of these detainees was not known at the time, and to this day not all of them are accounted for.

The Panamanian police and army were destroyed. The Canal was threatened because of the invasion. The social and political infrastructure of Panama was destroyed. In sum, the casualties from the U.S. invasion was enormous.

U.S. Stated Objectives of Invasion: Their Fallacy

1. "Save ‘American’ lives." This of course meant U.S. American lives, not Panamanian American lives. Prior to the invasion there had been one U.S. Marine killed while running a Panamanian road block near the PDF headquarters, and 2 U.S. citizens "roughed up", and 1 Panamanian officer wounded. After the invasion, 25 U.S. citizens had been killed and 324 injured; thousands of Panamanian Americans had been killed and injured. The justification of an invasion to save "American" lives at the expense of thousands of "American" lives is absurd, tragic, and literally psychotic.

2. "Exercise treaty and security rights to protect the Canal." The Canal was not in danger and there was no claim that it was prior to the invasion. It was endangered after the invasion from conceivable sabotage by angered and desperate Panamanians. The only days in the Canal’s history that it has been closed was after the U.S. invasion.

3. "Restore ‘democracy’." The fact is that Panama has never had a democratic tradition. Under Torrijos there was a beginning of a self-determination, democratic and popular consciousness. But since the U.S. "took" Panama from Colombia in 1903, until the 1968 coup Panama was ruled by an oligarch working closely with U.S. political, military and economic interests. Guillermo Endara was "sworn in" and "installed" as the new Panamanian President on a U.S. military base in Panama only a few minutes prior to and as a legitimization of the 1989 U.S. invasion. What kind of a "democracy" is it when a President is "installed" with the force of thousands of foreign U.S. troops killing, maiming and detaining thousands of Panamanians? I believe there is emasculation of the integrity of both political language and logic here.

4. "Bring Noriega to justice." There is absolutely no legal jurisdiction the U.S. possesses over alleged crimes committed in Panama between 1981-1986, or over the body of Manuel Noriega forcibly snatched by invading sovereign Panama. U.S. behavior blatantly and brutally violated international and U.S. domestic and Constitutional laws. U.S. behavior makes a mockery of justice. Furthermore there is no serious claim that Noriega is any longer a significant player in drug trafficking. The fact is that he had been cooperating with U.S. authorities since 1986 in the prosecution of drug trafficking.

    International Law

The U.S. has agreed since 1945 to abide by the United Nations Charter under the force of law and the U.S. Constitution.

The U.N. Charter, Chapter 1, Article 2, Section 4, states: "All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations."

The Organization of American States (OAS) has a similar provision. The OAS was formed in 1948 to implement the 1947 Rio Treaty signed at Rio de Janeiro by most American states, including the U.S., and Panama, agreeing to protect against aggression every state in the Western Hemisphere. Under the U.S. Constitution, treaties are part of the supreme law (the Constitution itself).

On December 22, 1989 the OAS voted a harsh condemnation of the U.S. invasion by a vote of 20 to 1. The one country voting against the condemnation was, of course, the United States.

On December 29, the U.N. General Assembly voted a harsh condemnation of the U.S. invasion by a vote of 75 to 20. The U.S. and some of her allies comprised all 20 of the votes against condemnation.

    Media Coverage of Invasion

The U.S.. media again performed a masterful job of being the unofficial official news organ for the U.S. government and its policies. No matter how illegal, barbaric, arrogant, irrational, or psychotic the policies, they are reported with enthusiasm, almost gleefully, and with little or no critical commentary. The media was excellent in serving the official public relations function for the invasion. The U.S. government provided the information and controlled virtually all images in order to marshal public, Congressional, and local media support for the invasion.

I listened to accounts of the invasion and its aftermath on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) radio, and on British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Latin America
short wave radio coverage. To summarize the differences between U.S. and this "foreign" coverage of the invasion, see chart below for key words in the respective reporting:

 


"Foreign" Media U.S. Media
"invasion" "surgical strike"
"occupation" "restoring democracy"
"imperialist act" "restoring democracy"
"lawless" "lawful"
"trying to determine number of
Panamanian civilian deaths"
"The U.S. death total now
stands at _____"
Noriega had described a
"’state of war’ with the U.S."
Noriega had "declared war
on the U.S."

The lack of critical assessment by the U.S. media was extraordinary, though certainly not unusual.. The fact that a military force invaded a sovereign nation in violation of every legal principle and moral standard, killing, injuring and detaining thousands of Panamanian citizens, should catalyze an outrage with headlines such as "U.S. Murders and Maims Thousands," or "U.S. Barbarism Reigns," or "U.S. Invasion Violates International Law," etc.

Panamanian people seen on U.S. TV celebrating Noriega’s presence in the Papal Nuncio, and his later surrender to U.S. authorities, wearing newly created "Just Cause" T-shirts, was an example of orchestrated imagery for the U.S. audience. As you recall, the U.S. invasion was code named "Just Cause" and some U.S. sponsored entrepreneur, or the U.S. government itself, quickly produced and distributed these T-shirts. Their individual cost alone would be beyond the capacity of most Panamanians to purchase. No Blacks, nor poor were seen on the cameras. Only middle and upper class, neatly dressed persons, very English in their language. The people seen on camera were obviously a very selective, biased sample of Panamanians. I wonder how many of them had experienced bombing, automatic weapons strafing, or detention.

 

Conclusion: Personal Remarks

I have attempted to describe a historical context for the December 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama. I think it also important to place U.S.-Panama history in the larger context of U.S.-global relations.

I believe that very little of what the U.S. does in the world can be fully understood apart from recognizing our real God: The American Way of Life. We possess 4.5% of the world’s population but consume nearly half of the world’s resources. Our consumption, waste and comfort patterns require an incredible amount of exploitation and control over human and natural resources in order to be sustained. Most of us grow up and rapidly become acculturated and educated in believing our superior morality, usually without thinking about it, and intelligence as a nation, usually without thinking about it, believing in our "manifest destiny." Our world view is presented to us by very heavy conditioning that for the most part remains unchallenged among the majority of our population. This is similar to the popular conditions in any empire.

To sustain our Way of Life one must be detached from the real world and remain in denial about economic, political, ecological, global, and justice realities. As we start becoming aware we are faced with the imperative of changing. In order to justify continued exploitation and control in the world enabling our Way of Life while maintaining our moral "superiority", we must literally create an ideology, a fundamental belief system, that makes us feel good about all this. Our belief system has been and continues to be that the U.S. is dedicated and indispensable to furthering the cause of "democracy" and "human rights" throughout the world in the face of evil forces threatening these values.

For most of us the evil has been called "Communism." It has been described as being virtually everywhere. Now "terrorists," "drug traffickers," and "Hitler-like" characters are becoming our new evils, frequently replacing "Communism" as the Cold War has withered away.

It makes little difference what the evil is called. Its presence, whatever terminology is used to indentify it, will always justify our use of various tactics and forces to assure continued protection of our interests. The truth of the matter is that our real fear, "the evil", is the poor, the majority of the world’s people who often organize to seek a fairer share of the world’s resources. Some have been describing the emergence of the Third World War, replacing the Cold War. The U.S. has been the most prominent battler in this Third World War, assuring that revolutions do not succeed in "destabilizing democracies", or in assuring that "evil" governments are overthrown by "democratic" forces. Since the passage of the National Security Act of 1947, which created the CIA and the National Security Council, the U.S. has been involved in covert or overt operations in nearly 100 "Third World" nations, and another 20 "First" and "Second" World countries. Since WWII, somewhere between 20 and 30 million people have died in these overt and covert wars, all in the "Third World."

The war is the rich against the poor, the Haves against the Have-Nots. The American Way of Life is at war with the world. The U.S. cannot "afford" to allow the policy of self-determination, and popular democracy to succeed. Self-determination interferes with our ability to exploit and control, so necessary in order to maintain our disproportionate American Way of Life. Most US Americans are not conscious of the violence that our Way of Life inflicts on the people of the earth, on our own people, and on the earth herself. Ultimately we are perpetrating this violence against ourselves.

The invasion of Panama must be seen, I believe, in this context. It was nothing new or out of character with our historic policies, attitudes, arrogance, irrationalities, and psychosis. To maintain our Way of Life requires us to be arrogant, to possess a superior attitude, to be unaware, and to act irrationally, to act in ways that can only be described as barbaric and psychotic. Our Way of Life is based on a fundamental lie, and it is very dangerous to all living things.

Of course the real issue in Panama was not Noriega. Control and domination over Panama, a nation that has been slipping away from us since 1968, was the significant issue. We are afraid of development of a self-determination consciousness among Panamanians. The U.S. policy of counterinsurgency and hemispheric control, which is what SOUTHCOM is all about, is more important than ever in Latin America partly because of the "stubbornness" the Nicaraguan revolution posed in 1989 and the intensifying revolutionary struggle in El Salvador at that time. Those revolutions threatened the "national security" interests of the United States because they were revolutions rooted in justice, necessarily designed to remove oligarchs from power who have been living off the poor for generations. Justice is the foundation of peace. The U.S. is scared of peace because the U.S. cannot tolerate justice. Our Way of Life cannot tolerate justice.

Earlier the 4 objectives of the invasion as presented by President Bush were identified. I see 4 different objectives:

  1. Punishing Noriega for not cooperating with U.S. demands for assisting with plans for overthrowing the Nicaragua government. The U.S. ego will not be challenged or embarrassed. "Cry uncle" or else!
  2. Installing a Panamanian government which can be trusted to fully cooperate with U.S. policies in Central America.
  3. Installing a Panamanian government which will be open to re-negotiating and delaying or revoking transfer of the Canal to Panamanian control by the year 2000, per the Torrijo-Carter Treaty.
  4. Protecting U.S. SOUTHCOM’s military infrastructure to assure a vigorous capacity to intervene and/or control throughout Central and South America. Under the existing Torrijo-Carter Treaty, all U.S. military bases and troops must leave Panama by 2000 as well.

When Noriega is compared to other leaders in Latin America he is not as corrupt, nor did he support or carry out pervasive human rights abuses. The U.S. obsession with Noriega’s drug activities must be understood for what it is. It provided the convenient cover and prepared the U.S. population for the U.S. recovering control over Panama by whatever means necessary. As stated earlier, Noriega had been cooperating with the U.S. drug prosecution efforts since 1986. Despite this the administration painted him to be nearly as evil as Hitler.

The hypocrisy of U.S. representing itself as a fighter of drugs can best be understood by examining our history in drug trafficking:

  1. Heavy involvement of the U.S. government with the opium and heroin trade in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam war;
  2. U.S. financing Contra terrorist operations in Nicaragua from cocaine profits;
  3. U.S. assistance to the Pakistani’s opium traffickers in order to support the guerrillas in Afghanistan.

I hope that in the 1990s and beyond the U.S. people will accept the need for a personal and political liberation process of change where justice and love replace greed and fear as our primary values. If we do not, I believe our perishing is not far off. If we choose to accept a process of transformation we will have met the greatest human challenge in modern history: Seeking a new consciousness that deeply understands the sacred interconnectedness of everything on this planet, that without a passionate pursuit of love and justice, our souls will rot in the blindness of selfishness and our bodies will perish from our own toxic wastes.

Sources

Abbot, Willis J. Panama And The Canal. London, New York, Toronto, Havana, Buenos Aires: Syndicate Publishing Co., 1913.

Berryman, Angie and Eva Gold. Panama: Behind The Headlines (A Report by the Latin American and Caribbean and NARMIC Programs of the Peace Education Div. of the American Friends Service Committee). Philadelphia: AFSC, October 1989.

Blum, William. The CIA: A Forgotten History. London and New Jersey: Zed Books Ltd., 1986.

Compton’s Pictured Encyclopedia, Vol.11. Chicago: F.E. Compton & Co., 1951 Edition.

Funk & Wagnell’s New Standard Encyclopedia, Vol XIX. New York & London: Funk & Wagnalls Co., 1931.

Lewis, William Draper. The Life of Theodore Roosevelt. The United Publishers of the U.S. and Canada, 1919.

Richardson, James D. A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1789-1904, (Volumes II-X). Published by Budreau of National Literature and Art, 1904.

The World We Live In: A Pictorial Survey of the Universe. New York: Hunt & Easton, 1893.

Third World Guide. Grove Press, 1986.

Vietnam Veterans Against The War (VVAW). Vietnam Veterans Fact-Finding Delegation To Panama–Final Report. VVAW, P.O. Box 74, Brooklyn, N.Y.: September 15, 1989.

"Wants Canal Built Without Suspicion of National Dishonor," Virginian-Pilot (Friday, December 18, 1903)

Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States. Harper Colophon Book, 1980.


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