“Just Cause”?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPanama’s history is intertwined with the US, for better or worse, since the creation of Panama in 1904.  There are lots of periods when the nature of the relationship is open to question.  Panama found its independence from Colombia in 1904 with the US conveniently supporting a “revolution” in which only one shopkeeper and one donkey died.  The US Navy sitting in the Bay of Limon kept Colombia from putting down the “rebellion” and maintaining its sovereignty over the Isthmus.  Teddy Roosevelt was busy building an empire, as most nations were doing back then, and needed a canal.  Colombia had rebuffed Roosevelt’s efforts not fully understanding that Roosevelt always got what he wanted.  Eventually the US Canal Zone became a colonial outpost of the US.  Then as colonialism was phasing out, and all the major powers were shedding colonial possessions, Jimmy Carter negotiated the return of the Canal Zone and the Panama Canal to Panama in 1999, against considerable opposition in the US, much of it from conservative circles, and especially in Texas.

After the treaty was signed Panama feared that the US would renege on the agreement, and many in the US were having second thoughts.  When the immensely popular military leader of Panama, Omar Torrijos, who had negotiated the Turnover of the Canal, was killed in an airplane crash, Manuel Noriega managed to leverage his position as head of the National Guard to take over the country. Noriega had also quietly been working for the US CIA keeping an eye on Torrijos and back-channeling communications with Cuba.  Noriega also was Oliver North’s point man on organizing terrorist acts against the Sandinista government and funneling illegal aid to the Contra rebels, part of the Regan covert foreign policy.

[The National Security Archive, George Washington University: “The Contras, Cocaine, and Covert Operations”National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 2]

Noriega was a valuable employee to the CIA much of the time, and often was paid more per year than the President of the United States was paid. Already Noriega was a known drug lord, acknowledged by the US and used to funnel cocaine for the CIA to be sold on the streets of Los Angeles to raise illegal funding for the Contras.
Retired Navy Admiral Stanford Turner, who took over the CIA from George Bush in 1977, says …

“Bush is in the government during the Ford administration and Noriega is on the payroll. Bush is out of the government during the Carter years and Noriega is off the payroll. Bush comes back and so does Noriega. Those are the facts, and you have to figure out for yourself what they mean”

CIA Spymaster George Bush [41] is then Vice President George Bush and the relationship between Oliver North and Noriega has soured. Suddenly Noriega is portrayed as a drug lord, a thug, and dictator … all of which of course he was, even while in the employ of the CIA. Noriega takes advantage of the fear of many Panamanians that the US would renege on the Canal Turnover, taunts Bush, and shakes his fist at the US declaring that the US was at war with Panama. [Obviously for Panama to say it was at war with the US would be like a flea on the back of an elephant yelling, “I’m going to get you Mr. Elephant!”]

As Panamanians prepared for Christmas, a few minutes before midnight on December 19, 1989 the Panama Canal was closed for the second time in its history. The duly elected President of Panama, an election overturned by Noriega, was hustled off to a US base to be sworn into office, and then at midnight the US launched an all-out Invasion of Panama with overwhelming force controversially named “Operation Just Cause.”

The Invasion left Panama in chaos since the US invaded with no plan what to do afterward, a scenario that would be repeated in Iraq years later. The National Guard/police force was decimated, there was no water or food, thousands were left without housing and bodies were strewn about.

“The Panama Deception” is an Academy Award winning documentary released in 1989.  From Wikipedia …

The film is critical of the actions of the US military during the 1989 invasion of Panama by the United States, covering the conflicting reasons for the invasion and depicting the US media as biased. It also highlighted media bias, showing events that were unreported or misreported in the news. It was directed by Barbara Trent of the Empowerment Project and was narrated by actress Elizabeth Montgomery.

The film asserts that the U.S. government invaded Panama primarily to renegotiate the terms of the Torrijos–Carter Treaties. Another allegation made by the film is that the United States tested some form of laser or energy weapon during the invasion. The film also includes footage of mass graves uncovered after the US troops had withdrawn, burned down neighborhoods, as well as depictions of some of the 20,000 refugees who fled the fighting.

To this day there are very different opinions about the Invasion, including within those who served at the time in the US government and the US Army. I remember on one cruise discussing the Invasion in a lecture and on one side of the theater was a US Army Major who taught at the US Army War College. He had one, very definite and very strong opinion. On the other side of the theater, same cruise, was a retire US Army bird Colonel, whose roommate at West Point resigned as a US Army General in opposition to US policy in Panama.

So here’s “The Panama Deception” documentary. Watch it, check out the NSA documents that have become available for all to see on line, and make your own decision about the legitimacy and justice of “Operation Just Cause.” And, of course, feel free to comment below.

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