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The US Invades Panama


    The invasion of Panama in 1989 was known as Operation JUST CAUSE. Its key objectives were the capture of Manuel Noriega and the establishment of a democratic government. Noriega was the Panamanian leader who US officials had indicted on drug trafficking charges.1 With the transfer of the Canal Zone from US to Panama approaching, the US government wanted to make sure Panama was in the hands of people they could control. Many believe that Noriega's illegal operations were known long before, but it had not been in the interest of the US to get rid of him. However, when he suddenly withdrew his support, the US pressed charges.2   

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     First, a military coup was tried but failed. On December 20, 1989, following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, an aerial bombardment burst upon Panama's sleeping cities. In this surprise and forceful attack, the US military hit 27 targets in densely populated areas. Thousands of Panamanians, especially those in poor slum areas, were killed, injured, or lost their homes. This was unlike a typical military action where civilian areas were avoided.  At the time, it was the largest US military action since the Viet Nam War.

    Media coverage of the invasion was marked by significant misrepresentation.  Destruction caused by the military was underreported.   The US media tended to interview upper middle class, English-speaking Panamanian whose lives had not been disrupted and destroyed by the attack and siege of the country.3  According to them, the operation was a success and of great benefit to Panama.  The US government was happy that the rich white elite was back in control.  It has been overthrown by Omar Torrijo, Noriega's predecessor. This small group of people was much more ready to cooperate with the US officials in their best interests.

    Upon his capture, Manuel Noriega was sentenced to 40 years in a US federal prison for drug racketeering, money laundering and drug trafficing.





Edited by: Evelyn Wills
Researched by: Magdalena Paruszkiewicz
Written by: Polina Liberman
March 27, 2000

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