Commemorating “Operation Just Cause”

December 20, 2011

It has been 22 years since the invasion of Panama, codenamed “Operation Just Cause” took place. On December 20, 1989, 28,000 US troops and more than 300 aircraft (under then Defense Secretary Dick Cheney) invaded the small Central American country and overwhelmed the Panama Defense Force (PDF) and its 3,000 soldiers.

23 US soldiers lost their lives and about 300 Panamanian soldiers died. Estimates of civilian death vary between 2,000 and 6,000. About 20,000 people lost their homes, the El Chorrillo fire alone displaced 2,700 families.

The working class neighborhood El Chorrillo burnt to the ground in the invasion and was subsequently named “Little Hiroshima” by the population. San Miguelito, a working-class suburb of 200,000 people, was also devastated, pounded by AC-130 Spectre gunships, AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and Lockheed F-117A.

Many of the dead civilians were hastily dumped into mass graves. Witnesses reported that US troops used flame-throwers to incinerate the corpses and that many bodies were thrown into the sea. There was a mass burial on Christmas Day.

A report by former US Attorney-General Ramsey Clark estimates over 4,000 deaths and concludes that “neither Panamanian nor US governments provided a careful accounting of non-lethal injuries” and that “relief efforts were inadequate to meet the basic needs of thousands of civilians made homeless by the invasion”.

A Human Rights Watch report in 1991 stated, that even with uncertainties about the true scale of civilian casualties, the figures were troublesome because “the ratios suggest that the rule of proportionality and the duty to minimize harm to civilians were not faithfully observed by the invading U.S. forces.”

Why did the USA invade?

The USA had seized Panama from Colombia in 1903. They colonized the Canal Zone (an area of 8.1 km on each side of the canal) and packed it with military bases. The “Panama Canal Department” was for decades the military command center for gathering intelligence and suppressing insurgencies in Latin America until it was succeeded by USSOUTHCOM in the 60s.

General Noriega was an officer handpicked and trained by the USA. He became a CIA operative in 1967 and attended the notorious School of the Americas. When the Panamanian leader Omar Torrijos fell out of favor (and then fell out of the sky in a 1981 plane crash), Manuel Noriega was hoisted into power with US backing.

Under Noriega, US military operations expanded in Panama. Bush Senior personally met with Noriega in 1967 (when he was head of the CIA) and in 1983 (when he was vice president). In the early 80s, Noriega helped set up the CIAs “drugs-for-guns” trade that used cocaine trafficking to finance their secret Contra war against Nicaragua. During the Reagan administration, Noriega got personal CIA and Pentagon payments of nearly 200,000 US$ a year. When Noriega stole the 1984 Panamanian election, Reagan’s Secretary of State George Schultz praised him for “initiating the process of democracy.”

But at this time he USA had already decided to change control over the Panama Canal Zone from direct US military occupation to control through a Panamanian puppet government and Noriega looked less and less to be the right man for this job. Just ten days before much of the administration of the canal was scheduled to go over to Panama (on January 1, 1990) the USA invaded Panama to get rid of Noriega.

The invasion represented a tightening of the grip on Panama and all of Latin America. The collapse of the Soviet Union had left America as the worlds only superpower and the invasion in Panama was one of the first unrestrained moves to push the global imperialistic agenda.


Thank you to Rosemarie Jackowski for posting this on Common Dreams and reminding us about this significant event in Americas history:


Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men…American Style

It was a quiet and gentle night
Filled with joy and childhood’s delight
Some families recited a solemn prayer
While seasonal music filled the night air
Anticipation filled every girl and boy
Who eagerly awaited a holiday toy
It was a time for celebrating Peace on Earth
A time to honor every child’s birth

Meanwhile, in Washington plans were underway
For a holocaust on that very day
The year was 1989, the twentieth of December
A day of infamy, that the world will always remember

Suddenly the silent night air was pierced with a strange vibration
But still the children played with eager anticipation
The strange vibration grew louder, just like approaching thunder
Could it be an airplane, one could only listen and wonder
Suddenly explosions were everywhere
It looked as if bombs were bursting in air
To the sleepy village that was preparing for Santa Claus
The President had sent Operation Just Cause

All hope and joy gave way to fright
Fear and horror filled this historic night
A demonic order from the Commander-in-chief
Brought death and destruction and endless grief
Planes dropping death right out of the sky
Left a stunned world to question, “WHY?”
Dante’s inferno replaced the tiny village
Destruction was everywhere, nothing left to pillage

The village was wiped right off the map
While our national conscience took a long winter’s nap
The president’s planes had accomplished their mission well
They transformed the peaceful village into an instant Hell

When the massacre ended thousands lie mangled and dead
Unarmed civilians and babies snuggled in their bed
Then soldiers came, like robotic slaves
They bulldozed the bodies into mass graves
Hoping that the world wouldn’t see enough to remember
The holocaust that happened on the twentieth of December

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