This Day In History: USA Invades Panama (1989)

On this day in history, the US invades Panama in order to overthrow the dictator Manuel Noriega. He had been indicted in the US on charges of drug trafficking and human rights abuses in Panama. The invasion came after Noriega ordered attacks on American citizens in Panama City. This was the last straw for the Federal government and President George Bush senior ordered the invasion of Panama. American forces were already stationed in the Panama Canal Zone and extra troops were flown into the country from bases in central America. Noriega had made plans to defend his country from a US attack and had established a militia. The American used overwhelming force and they quickly ended the Panamanian defense forces (PDF) resistance. There was some opposition from some hardline Noriega supporters. The fighting lasted three days and during the fighting, two dozen Americans service personnel and three civilians were killed and several hundred Panamanian soldiers and civilians died.

Noriega had not always been American enemy number one. In 1970 he had been recruited by the CIA and was used by them in anti-Communist operations in his own country and in the Central America region. However, Noriega was always greedy and became involved in the drugs trade and when the CIA found that this was the case he was removed from their payroll.  Then there was a communist revolution in Nicaragua and he was once more recruited by the CIA in 1979. In 1983 Noriega was able to become the military dictator of Panama and at first he was very friendly to the Americans. He allowed Panama to be sued as a training base for anti-communist fighters. The US Senate also praised Noriega for his efforts in the fight against communism.  Noriega was still up to his old tricks and once more became heavily involved in the drug trade and money laundering. Furthermore, Noriega was also a double-agent and was passing on information to the Cubans. The Americans discovered this and the immediately disowned him and in 1988 he was indicted by a Federal Jury for his role in drug smuggling and other crimes.

A US Personal Carrier in Panama City (1989)

Under international pressure, Noriega was forced to call an election and when his rival won the election he simply annulled the election and remained as the country’s dictator. President Bush ordered more troops to be sent to the Panama Canal Zone in order to put pressure on Noriega. On December the 16th an off-duty marine leaving the zone was shot dead by a Panamanian soldier. Outraged President Bush ordered the invasion and it was called ‘Operation Just Cause’.

After the defeat of his forces, Noriega was forced to seek sanctuary in the Papal Nuncio’s  residence but he was eventually forced to surrender. He was later arrested by DEA officials and taken to America where he was found guilty and sentenced to 40 years in prison in Florida.

Noriega being taken by DEA agents to Florida, from Panama