Friday, September 14, 2012

"The US Marines are invading Panama City!"

   If you are a youngster, you may not know that the United States military invaded Panama City only 20 years ago, in 1989.

        Yep. THIS Panama City. MY Panama City.  Thousands of Panamanian citizens were killed.

   For those of you old enough to remember, President H.W. Bush announced that we were invading Panama to oust President Noriega. His rationale was that Noriega was a drug trafficker and he mistreated his citizens.

 So 5 days before Christmas (!) the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force invaded and bombed Panama City. And not just the outskirts, or some military base outside of town.

 There were Christmas decorations up all over the city, including countless nativity scenes, lovingly placed. Christmas music was most certainly playing as the soldiers attacked and the bombs dropped.

This map shows the main targets of the U.S. Military during the invasion. Panama City is at the bottom of the map. 

This photo was taken yesterday from Espiritu. The land just beyond the trees was bombed by Apache helicopters. Ancon hill, in the distance, was bombed as well.  This is a highly populated area.

An American Apache helicopter

An American tank claims victory over a Panama City laundromat

    In the years leading up to 1989, President Noriega was a known drug trafficker, and many say he was on the CIA payroll for his cooperation in such matters. So, what changed in 1989?

  Not coincidentally, 10 days after the Christmas invasion the US was poised to begin returning control of the  Panama Canal to the Panamanian government. (The US had maintained control since it was built in 1914).

 Many claim that the US and other governments worried that Noriega would limit access to the Canal once he had full control, and that this was the real reason we invaded and removed the President from power.

            Chris and I climbed Ancon Hill (which was bombed), and took this photo of old town and El Chorillo, both of which were invaded and bombed during the invasion, causing destruction and death of civilians. This area was nearly destroyed, and has not recovered. 20 years later, it is very poor and a dangerous, drug-infested neighborhood.

The streets of Panama City during Operation Just Cause

     Interestingly, after the invasion of the city from several fronts, Noriega was finally found, taking refuge in the Vatican Embassy.   Thus began the next phase of the invasion, called "Operation Nifty Package." (No, I'm not making that up.)

  During this phase the military surrounded the Embassy and tried to get Noriega to come out. Of interest, they began blaring rock music 24 hours a day to move things along.

  Legend has it that they played The Clash's version of "I Fought The Law" on a loop at full volume.

The Clash onstage, breaking stuff

    Anyway, eventually Noriega came out holding a  Holy Bible (he WAS in the Vatican Embassy, after all) and was promptly thrown to the ground by several large Marines and taken away.

  But the damage was done.

  Anyway, Noriega went away, another guy took his place and the turnover of the canal from the US to Panamanian hands went off without a hitch 10 days later.

 You might note a slight anti-war tone to this post.  But the weird thing is, I'm not really anti-war. I understand that there are times when it is necessary. What bothers me is when political leaders mislead the public about the real reasons we send our best and brightest into harms way.

 For instance, in this case, if President Bush had come on TV and explained that the Panama Canal is of absolute vital importance not only to the US, but to the world -- and that Noriega was threatening to withold it's use from us -- well, I probably would have agreed that yes, this is pretty important.

 But it does sadden and worry me that the world views us as aggressors and a country to be feared.

                I took this photo of a video game ad in a Panama City Mall. Note the American flag at the right edge of the image. So, this guy with the knives, arrows, guns and whatever-the-hell kind of scary hatchet thing in his left hand is an invading American soldier? An American "Assassin", as the game implies?

          It makes me sad that this type of video game (selling in Panama, don't forget) just perpetuates that image.  Anyway...the mystery continues.

    OK, anyway, I guess I should thank President Bush for making our upcoming crossing of the Panama Canal possible. This will hopefully happen in the next few days. Until then, keep calm and carry on!

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