In 1989, the United States invaded Panama on an operation called ‘Operation Just Cause’. The invasion occurred during George Bush’s administration, a decade after the ratification of the Torrijos-Carter Treaties which ratified that Panama would gain full control of the Canal by the year 2000. During the invasion, de facto dictator Manuel Noriega was deposed.
The invasion came after a long history of American military interventions in Panama. The US had a large number of military bases in Panama, kept there in order to protect the Canal. In 1977, US president Jimmy Carter and de facto Panamanian leader Omar Torrijos signed a treaty stating that by the year 2000, Panama would have full control of the Canal, granted that the US remained open for American ships.
The US had also maintained a close relation to Noriega, whom they employed as aid in stopping the spread of communist ideologies throughout Central America – he helped prevent the propagation of Sandinismo and the FMLN – and also worked for the DEA but was accepting money from drug traffickers, which along with his resistance to stepping down from power, soon had the US turn against him. Not threatened by extradition, Noriega continued in power and even declared the 1989 election null, with some of his party supporters violently beating Guillermo Endara, the rival candidate.
Noriega remained in power and accused the United States of being behind the irregularities during the last election. In 1989, he foiled a coup attempt, point by which president George Bush, realized he had to take action in the face of what was turning his government’s anti-drug policies into a joke. On December 15, the Panamanian general assembly passed a resolution declaring that the United States had committed acts of war against them, tension increased when the next day, four unarmed US marines, were attacked by Panamanian Defense Force soldiers and civilians, who murdered one of them.
On the 19th, president Bush ordered the execution Panamanian Invasion which was set to begin at 01:00 on the 20th. Protection of human rights, American lives and respect for the Torrijos-Carter Treaties, were used as the main justifications for the invasion. Over 27 thousand US troops and 300 aircraft were deployed to Panama, in what was called Operation Just Cause. During the first stages of the operation, several of Noriega’s key military bases were disabled and a few hours after the invasion began, Guillermo Endara was sworn in as president.
Noriega escaped and a $1 million reward was offered for his capture, eventually he sought refuge in the headquarters of the Vatican diplomatic mission in Panama City, where he was subjected to harsh psychological pressure that led to his surrendered on January 3, 1990. He was immediately put on a plane to the US. On September 16, 1992 he was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
The invasion caused a stir as the international community showed outrage at the United States’ actions. Some feared that it would announce the way in which the US would intervene in Latin American conflicts and the General Assembly of the U.N. passed a resolution deploring the invasion and asking that American troops be withdrawn. Overall, 20,000 people lost their homes during the invasion and some claim that over 3,000 Panamanians (including civilians) lost their lives. To commemorate the first anniversary, thousands of Panamanians marched in the streets to condemn American intervention. In 2007, the country’s National Assembly passed a resolution to turn December 20th into a national day of mourning. Said resolution was vetoed by President Torrijos.