Panama: families mark 20 years since US invasion

Relatives of people who were killed when the US military invaded Panama in 1989 marked the 20th anniversary of the intervention on Dec. 20 with a protest outside the old US embassy in Panama City, burning effigies of US president Barack Obama and Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli. The Association of Relatives of the Fallen is calling for a Truth Commission to investigate the events of December 1989, including possible war crimes. The protesters said they have brought this demand to four Panamanian governments without success and are now trying to get action from right-wing president Martinelli, who took office on July 1.

Some 26,000 elite US troops invaded Panamanian cities and installations in the early morning of Dec. 20, 1989; they were joined by 12,000 soldiers from the more than 100 bases the US still maintained in the Canal Zone at the time. The invasion, codenamed “Operation Just Cause,” was ordered by then-president George H.W. Bush without a declaration of war and without approval from the United Nations; the pretext was that the US needed to end drug trafficking by the regime of Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, who for most of his career had been a paid informant of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The operation, following the “overkill” strategy of Gen. Colin Powell, then the head of the US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, included bombing civilian areas in Panama City and Colón. Official sources say 427 people were killed in the invasion, but relatives and social organizations put the number at 4,000. Local media said 14,000 homes were destroyed and estimated the material damage at $1.5 billion.

The protesters noted that Martinelli had agreed to give the US access to as many as 11 new Panamanian bases, allegedly to fight narcotrafficking under the US-funded Mérida Initiative. The first of these bases opened on Dec. 1 on the Pacific island of Chapera. (Prensa Latina, DPA, Dec. 20; La Jornada, Mexico, Dec. 21)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 27

See our last post on Panama.