Chapter 5: The Post-Cold War Era Segment 9/15
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4. Operation Just Cause: the Reasons
The reasons for the invasion were not difficult to discern. Manuel Noriega had been working happily with U.S. intelligence from the 1950s, right through the tenure of George Bush as CIA director and later Drug Czar for the Reagan administration. His relations with U.S. intelligence began when he reported on leftist tendencies among fellow students, officers, and instructors, at the Military Academy. These services became contractual in 1966 or 1967, according to U.S. intelligence officials. The spy network he organized "would serve two clients," Frederick Kempe reports: "the Panamian government, by monitoring political opponents in the region, and the U.S., by tracking the growing Communist influence in the unions organized at United Fruit Co.'s banana plantations..." (an appropriate concern for the U.S. government, it is assumed without comment). After various vicissitudes, he was recognized as a kindred spirit by the Reagan administration, and was put back on the U.S. payroll with payments from the CIA and DIA averaging nearly $200,000 a year.48 His assistance in stealing the 1984 elections has already been noted. He also played a supportive role in the U.S. war against Nicaragua and was considered by the DEA to be a valuable asset in the war against drugs.
By 1985-6, however, the U.S. was beginning to reassess his role and finally decided to remove him. A largely upper and middle class "civic opposition" developed, leading to street protests that were brutally suppressed by the Panamanian military under the command of the U.S. favorite, Colonel Herrera Hassan. A program of economic warfare was undertaken, designed to minimize the impact on the U.S. business community, a GAO official testified before Congress.49
One black mark against Noriega was his support for the Contadora peace process for Central America, to which the U.S. was strongly opposed. His commitment to the war against Nicaragua was in question, and when the Iran-contra affair broke, his usefulness was at an end. On New Year's Day 1990, administration of the Panama Canal was to pass largely into Panamanian hands, and a few years later the rest was to follow, according to the Canal Treaty. A major oil pipeline is 60% owned by Panama. Clearly, traditional U.S. clients had to be restored to power, and there was not much time to spare. With January 1 approaching, the London Economist noted, "the timing was vital" and a new government had to be installed.50
Further gains from the invasion were to tighten the stranglehold on Nicaragua and Cuba, which, the government and media complain, had been making use of the free and open Panamanian economy to evade the illegal U.S. trade sanctions and embargo (yet another condemnation of the embargo by the U.N. while the U.S. invaded Panama, with only the U.S. and Israel voting against, was too insignificant a matter even to merit report). These intentions were signalled symbolically by the contemptuous violations of diplomatic immunity, including the break-in at the Nicaraguan Embassy and repeated detention of Cuban Embassy personnel -- all grossly illegal, but that arouses no concern in a lawless state apart from the danger of a precedent from which the U.S. might suffer; one never knows when the next Somoza or Marcos might seek shelter in a U.S. Embassy. Even the vulgar display by the U.S. military outside the Vatican Embassy, with rock music blaring and other childish antics, was generally considered good clean fun -- and by the military, "a very imaginative use of psychological operations" (Col. Ted Sahlin of the Kennedy Special Warfare Center). White House spokesman Fitzwater was "certainly glad to see the American sense of whimsy come forward in this situation" -- which, as conceded on all sides, was part of a pattern of gross violation of Federal and international law on diplomatic privilege. The press adhered to its fabled canons of objectivity, for example, when TV crews in a hotel overlooking the Vatican Embassy displayed a pineapple cut in half outside their room, or when National Public Radio amused its elite intellectual audience with an interview with a fruit and vegetable dealer who was asked whether Noriega's pock-marked face really did look like a pineapple.51
Seven months later, Iraqi troops surrounded the U.S. and other Embassies in an effort to compel the countries participating in the blockade against Iraq to withdraw their missions. "They have not made any moves against the embassy or intruded in any fashion, but they are nonetheless present," the White House spokesman announced. The media were outraged. The Times editors wrote that "Saddam Hussein now lashes out against diplomacy itself." The editors proclaimed further, for the first time, that the Iraqi leaders are now "becoming war criminals in the classic Nuremberg sense," and should be tried under the Nuremberg Principles, which hold that "a crime against world law is liable to punishment," including heads of states and those who obey their orders. It would be too much to expect the editors to recall that the state they hail as "the symbol of human decency," on invading West Beirut in September 1982 in violation of a cease-fire and a unanimous U.N. Security Council resolution, at once broke into the Soviet Embassy grounds, seizing the consulate building and holding it for two days, a gratuitous provocation (the Embassy had also been repeatedly shelled during Israel's bombardment of civilian targets in Beirut).52 But they might, perhaps, have been able to dredge out of memory some events in Panama City a few months earlier.
The invasion restored to power the traditional White European elite that had been displaced by General Torrijos in his 1968 coup. Under the heading "Quayle Gets Warm Welcome in Panama," Times correspondent Robert Pear notes at the end of an upbeat report that "pro-American sentiment is expressed more forcefully by affluent and middle-class Panamanians than by those with lower income," the Black and Mestizo majority. He reports further that the Vice-President did not visit the poor neighborhoods. Rita Beamish reports for AP, however, that "before leaving Panama City, Quayle took a driving tour of the impoverished Chorrillo neighborhood... As his motorcade slowly drove by the area, onlookers gathered in groups and peered out windows, watching in stony silence. Their reaction was in stark contrast to the enthusiastic cheering Sunday from a well-dressed congregation at a Roman Catholic church Quayle attended in another neighborhood," prominently featured on TV.53
The "stark contrast" remained unnoticed. Times reporter Larry Rohter and others found general support and approval for the U.S. ventures among those who had suffered from the economic warfare and were ruined by the invasion.
The few reporters who strayed from the beaten track discovered the expected pattern. Diego Ribadeneira reports a demonstration protesting the arrest of two leaders of the telecommunications union by U.S. soldiers. "Most political activists and labor leaders" are "on a list of several hundred people whom the Endara government seeks to detain," he continues. A senior official in the U.S. Embassy professed to have no knowledge of the reasons: "We weren't given any details, just that the Endara government wanted us to get them. They're bad guys of some sort, I guess."54
So they are, like political activists and labor leaders throughout the region, and elsewhere, if they fail to toe the line.
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48 Frederick Kempe, WSJ, Oct. 18, 1989.
49 Paul Blustein and Steven Mufson, WP weekly, Dec. 25, 1989. Also Steve Ropp, Current History, Jan. 1990.
50 Martha Hamilton, WP Weekly, Dec. 25; Economist, Dec. 23, 1989.
51 Mark Uhlig, "Managua Economy Hinges on Panama," NYT, Dec. 28, 1989; Gerald Seib and John Fialka, WSJ, Jan. 4, 1990; NYT, Dec. 30; Diego Ribadeneira, BG, Dec. 30, 1989; NPR, reported by Blase Bonpane, referring to Linda Wertheimer on "All Things Considered." U.N. vote condemning the trade embargo, passed 82 to 2 (U.S. and Israel), Dec. 22, 1989, not reported in the New York Times; noted in Mesoamerica (Costa Rica), Jan. 1990.
52 See Fateful Triangle, 362, 450.
53 Robert Pear, NYT, Jan. 29; Rita Beamish, AP, Jan. 29, 1990.
54 "Resentment of US spreads in Panama City," BG, Jan. 1, 1990. KEYWORDS terrorist democracy elections cia mossad bnd nsa covert operation 911 mi6 inside job what really happened wtc pentagon joint chiefs of staff jcs centcom laser hologram usa mi5 undercover agent female sex exploitation perception deception power anarchy green social democratic participation japanese spy black-op false flag gladio terror.Stumble It!