On the night of Dec. 20, 1989, the U.S. invaded Panama with tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of military aircraft to carry out an arrest warrant for President Manuel Noriega, bombing the neighborhoods of El Chorrillo, Corozal, Arco Iris, Colon and Chepo indiscriminately.
“In a single night, U.S. troops killed 100 times more Panamanians than in over 21 years of military rule. In a single week, there were 100 times more political prisoners than there were during the five years of the Noriega regime,” according to the authors of “The Truth About the Invasion."
El Chorrillo, which became known as "Little Hiroshima," was destroyed. Human rights groups estimated thousands of civilians were killed and tens of thousands displaced. In the first 12 hours of the U.S. invasion, the University of Panama's seismograph registered 442 major explosions, which amounted to about one bomb dropped every two minutes.
Soon after the imperialist troops left, bulldozers shoveled bodies into mass graves. "Buried like dogs," said the mother of one of the civilian dead, according to Mother Jones.
The short-lived, but devastating invasion, which ended on Jan. 31, 1990, was the first major military operation by the U.S. since the Vietnam war which the Vietnamese won in 1975.
The U.S. claimed that "Operation Just Cause" was part of its war on drugs to capture drug-trafficker Noriega, who had fallen out of favor with the U.S. after being a CIA operative and repressing the Panamanian people.
But according to Panamanian author Olmedo Beluche, "It would be naive to accept a priori the arguments of former President George H. W. Bush ... that it was to bring us “democracy” and punish the “narco-dictator” Manuel A. Noriega. Believing that argument is as childish as assuming that Iraq was invaded in 2003 for the nonexistent 'weapons of mass destruction,' as President George W. Bush claimed at the time. Both son and father are proven liars and criminals."
Beluche explained that the real reason for the U.S. invasion was to impose a political system that would carry out the neoliberal policies which were being instituted at the time by compliant governments in Mexico, Peru and Argentina, among others.
A few months after the invasion in July 1990, a willing new president, Guillermo Endara, signed the Grant Treaty, allotting for millions of dollars in "aid" in exchange for harsh liberalization and privatization overseen by the IMF and the World Bank.
Although the U.S. was soon to cede control of the Panama Canal to the Panamanian people, its interest in the crucial trade route was also seen as a major factor for the invasion.
Noriega's falling out with the U.S. led to his surrender on Jan. 3, 1990, when he was flown to Florida to face trial on eight counts of drug trafficking, racketeering, and money laundering. Eventually, he would serve 15 years in U.S. prison, one year in French jail and six years in Panamanian prison only being transferred to a hospital for surgery earlier this year, where he died today.