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Sunday, April 21 2019 @ 08:50 PM UTC

25 years ago: US invades Panama

History & ReferenceThe US invasion of Panama: On December 20, 1989, the US launched a full-scale invasion of Panama to paralyze the country’s military force and oust strongman Manuel Noriega. The invasion, dubbed “Operation Just Cause,” involved almost 28,000 US troops and 300 aircraft from the Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force. The simultaneous strike on 27 targets was designed to immediately paralyze the Panamanian Defense Forces. The so-called “surgical strikes” were aimed at isolating Noriega and allowing US forces to capture him.

The US administration of George H.W. Bush had prepared the invasion for months. After the fiasco of the failed US-led anti-Noriega coup in October, both military and political preparations went ahead under the direction of Defense Secretary Dick Cheney.

Noriega had been a CIA operative as intelligence chief for the previous ruler of Panama, General Omar Torrijos. He was widely suspected of engineering the death of Torrijos in a mysterious 1981 plane crash, at the behest of the US. Torrijos signed the agreement with US President Carter in 1977 providing for the transfer of the Canal Zone to Panama in the year 2000.

As head of state since 1983, Noriega carried out the interests of the US State Department, particularly in funneling funds to the counterrevolutionary Contra forces seeking to overthrow the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

As Noriega’s drug corruption and state terror against opponents became a public embarrassment, the US conspired in his overthrow. US military provocation inside Panama became the pretext for the US invasion when on December 14, Noriega called for the arrest of two top US officers, charging them with “constant harassment to the communities using troops and warlike equipment.” A Pentagon spokesman flatly rejected the action, declaring that “all agencies and instrumentalities of the US government are immune from the jurisdiction of Panama.”

Late on the first day of the invasion, the US installed Guillermo Endara as president of Panama, even though Noriega was not finally captured until the next month. The casualties of the assault were vastly underestimated by the Pentagon at some 500 deaths, while independent reports estimate 2,000 to 4,000 deaths and some 15,000 people displaced.

Editor's Comment: All Americans living in Panama should take special precautions to maintain a low profile as we approach the 25th anniversary of Operation Just Cause. While the vast majority of Panamanians will publicly denounce while privately applauding the overthrow of Manual Noriega, as with any controversial cause, there are politicians and operatives who could possibly seek to make some sort of a statement on this date. Plan to stay at home, avoid crowds or demonstrations, and to give a day or two for people to return to their normal lives.

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