THE UNITED STATES MARCHES THROUGH CENTRAL AMERICA
AN IMPOVERISHED LAND
REAGAN INVADES GRENADA
SUPPORTING REPRESSION IN EL SALVADOR
OPERATION "UN-JUST CAUSE" IN PANAMA
AN IMPOVERISHED LAND
AN IMPOVERISHED LAND
A high proportion of poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, and malnutrition exists in most Central American countries. While American multinational corporations have been exploiting this area of the world, the United States government has virtually ignored these inherent problems.
The Pan-American Health Organization estimated that of 850,000 children born every year in Central America, 100,000 will die before they reach age five, and two-thirds of the remaining ones will be undernourished, resulting in severe physical or mental development problems. The exception has been Nicaragua. In the decade of Sandinista rule in the 1980s, the mortality rate dropped from 128 to 62 deaths for every 1,000 births. Health care is not provided to 75 percent of Guatemalans, 60 percent of Salvadorans, and 35 percent of Hondurans. Each year in Guatemala 20,000 people die of hunger, and 1,000 children die of measles before they reach four months of age. Since the return of a right wing dictatorship to Nicaragua in 1990, the country's health care programs have been drastically reduced, and consequently the mortality rate has once again climbed.
The World Health Organization revealed that 15 million Central Americans, approximately 60 percent of the population, live in poverty. Of that number 9.7 million live in "extreme poverty." The Inter-American Development Bank reported that the 1990 per capita income rate dropped in Guatemala to below its 1971 level; in El Salvador to below its 1971 level; in Honduras to below its 1973 level; in Nicaragua to below its 1960 level; in Costa Rica to below its 1974 level; and in Panama to below its 1982 level. In the Central American countries, land ownership by a relatively small proportion of the population has led to an immense disparity in income and wealth. Less than half of all farmers own land. Forty-nine percent are tenant farmers, and the remaining 6.4 percent have mixed tenure agreements. Seventy-eight percent of all the farms account for 60 percent of the entire rural population, but this area consists of only 11 percent of all the farmlands. Most farms grow crops -- not to feed the populous -- but to export them for profit. Large corporate farms consist of 85 percent of all the arable land. Beef is the fourth largest commodity behind coffee, cotton, and bananas. The displacement of small family farms by the expanding banana industry has driven much of the population into poverty.
Because of low wages low taxes, nonexistent work benefits, weak labor unions, and nonexistent occupational and environmental laws, American corporate profit rates in the Latin American countries Third World have been 50 percent greater than in developed countries. Citibank, one of the largest multinational banks, has earned about 75 percent of its profits from overseas operations. While profit margins at home sometimes have had a sluggish growth, earnings in the Third World have continued to rise dramatically.
In Latin America approximately half the manufacturing assets are owned or controlled by foreign companies and primarily by the United States. Even in instances when the multinationals have only a minority interest, they often retain a veto control. When a Latin American nation totally owns an enterprise, American multinationals benefit by monopolies and superior technology.
The Third World nations have found it expedient to borrow heavily from Western banks and from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which is controlled by the United States and other Western member-nations. In addition, its sister organization is the World Bank, an international consortium of bankers and economists who spend billions of dollars -- much of it from American taxpayers -- to finance development projects. These have served to prop up repressive right wing regimes and to subsidize American multinational corporations in the Third World.
The Latin American dictatorships cannot default on these loans even though their debt has continued to escalate. If they were to default, they would run the risk of being unable to qualify for short-term credit in the future. They risk having their overseas accounts frozen, their overseas assets seized, and their export markets closed. Thus, to avoid walking away from the IMF or the World Bank, they have continued to borrow. To qualify for more loans, a country must agree to the IMF's restructuring terms which includes cutting back on domestic consumption while producing cash crops for export in order to pay off more of the debt. Therefore, the already poverty-stricken peasants have been hurt even more by more cuts in food subsidies, housing, and other human services. These countries may even be forced to devalue their currency, freeze wages, and raise prices, so that their people will work
even harder while consuming less. In addition, the poor nations must offer large tax concessions to foreign companies and eliminate subsidies to locally-owned and state-owned enterprises. The debt- ridden Third World countries have added to the profits of American multinational corporations, while the status of their working poor has deteriorated.
As the United States has financially subsidized Latin-American capitalist dictatorships, it also has coerced these countries to purchase American goods at American prices and to transport these products on American ships. Therefore, the net result of American foreign aid has been to benefit the wealthy at the expense of the poor.
When a Latin American country refuses to comply with the wishes of the United States, it frequently brings a quick response from the CIA. When the democratically elected Allende government in Chile initiated reforms that benefitted the working class and discouraged American multinational investments, American aid was cut from every element except the Chilean military. When the Contras went to war against the democratic Sandinista government, the United States dumped sorghum and frozen chickens onto the Nicaraguan market to undercut cooperative farms and undermine land reform.
In Guatemala the loss of life due to the CIA-sponsored 35-year-old conflict was estimated at 100,000 by 1994, while an additional 60,000 others disappeared. Some 440 villages, with peasants suspected of sympathizing with the guerrillas, have been destroyed and their residents massacred, except for the ones who managed to escape. Almost a million people have fled the country and another million have been forced from their homes.
REAGAN INVADES GRENADA
"Grenadian leader Maurice Bishop sought the help of Cuba
in building an airport, which he claimed was for tourist trade,
but which looked suspiciously suitable for military aircraft,
including Soviet-built long range bombers."
- President Ronald Reagan, October 27, 1983
There have been two legitimate forces in Central America. First and foremost, the United States has overlooked their affairs for more than a century. Second, the oligarchy and military have controlled repressive regimes and have associated themselves with the interests of American multinational corporations. In most of Central America there have been right wing death squads which have dealt with any dissidents who dared to speak out.
Under Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, a series of egalitarian reforms were instituted. These included free elementary and secondary education, public health clinics, distribution of free food to the poor, and personal home necessities for the poverty-stricken. Additionally, the government took unused land and developed it into cooperative farms. American multinationals were hurt when cash crops were scrapped, and subsistence crops were grown to benefit the island's inhabitants.
In the early 1980s Reagan sent more than 1,000 American troops into the war-stricken country of Lebanon. None of the military personnel was allowed to discharge his weapons. In essence, the American marines in Beirut were sitting ducks. In 1983, 241 Americans were killed when a truck, driven by Hezbollah rightists on a suicide mission, exploded under the marines' barracks. This turned out to be one of the most embarrassing and damaging incidents to Reagan's foreign policy.
In order to divert attention away from the Middle East, Reagan countered two days later by sending forces to invade the tiny 133 square mile island of Grenada, inhabited by only 110,000 people, in the southern Caribbean. Although it took weeks to conquer Grenada, the result was positive for Reagan -- his popularity rebounded in the polls.
Reagan gave several reasons for intervening. First, he was able to convince some Caribbean islands that Grenada was a threat to the Western Hemisphere. Only six island nations, which were part of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, were persuaded by Reagan to denounce Grenadian socialist prime minister Maurice Bishop. Second, the Reagan administration insisted that the thousands of Cubans on this tiny island were completing a 10,000 foot runway for Soviet bombers. According to Reagan, Grenada would turn communist and then a sea of red would continue up Central America to the United States.
Bishop stated that they were building the runway to allow large commercial planes to land, since Grenada was a tourist island. Of the 784 Cubans who were acknowledged to be in Grenada, Bishop said that 636 were construction workers, 44 doctors and teachers, and 43 military personnel.
Third, Reagan claimed that American students were in danger at Grenada's Saint George Medical School. Administration officials, such as Alvin Snyder, knew that they were not in danger since the Cuban-backed government had offered to airlift them out before the American invasion. Snyder headed the television area of the United Stations Information Agency (USIA) and stated that Reagan went ahead with the assault to show that American forces could fight and win. After the American invasion, the school's administrator testified that no one was in danger and that the students did not want to evacuate. Meanwhile, Americans were told that their lives were in danger and that they were being liberated by the American military.
The invasion was a fiasco as marine, army, and navy brass failed to communicate with one another. Soldiers were given antiquated tourist maps to navigate their way around the island. It took two weeks to eradicate the last of the Cubans. A mental hospital was bombed by American planes, and dozens of civilians were killed.
After the Cubans were driven out, the Reagan administration hand-picked a candidate and called for free elections. Almost immediately the social programs were abolished, and unemployment and inflation increased. The United States then finished the same runway for the same purpose the Cubans had claimed -- for commercial jets.
SUPPORTING REPRESSION IN EL SALVADOR
El Salvador has been a blueprint of the repressive right wing regimes which has controlled Central American countries. El Salvador's National Guard served as a private security force for the elite landowners, particularly the Fourteen Families which controlled most of the nation's wealth. When peasant uprisings got out of hand, the landlords organized bands of vigilantes to assist the National Guard. At the same time that Augusto Sandino of Nicaragua was murdered by the repressive Somoza regime, and Farabundo Marti emerged as the father of El Salvador's liberal movement. While he was a college student, Marti was exiled in 1920 and eventually became one of the founders of the Central America Socialist Party. He worked with Sandino in Nicaragua, serving for two years as his secretary and personal adviser. Finally in 1930 Marti returned to El Salvador which was ripe for revolution. Two years later a popular uprising erupted, and 10,000 peasants were killed by the repressive government. As the crisis worsened and unemployment soared, the small but growing working class movement developed within the Regional Federation of Salvadoran Workers (FRTS). The leaders of various local unions within the FRTS met and formed the Salvadoran Communist Party (PCS).
Because of the El Salvador economic crisis, the weakened oligarchy sought the assistance of the army. Tens of thousands of acres of land, which once belonged to Salvadoran immigrants, was expropriated in the 1930s, and 300,000 Salvadorans were forced to settle in Honduras. In the 1970s trade unions were outlawed, and American multinational corporations gained a stronger foothold by exporting cash crops on throughout the world. Peasants were forced to work for a salary of only four dollars a day.
In 1977 Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador emerged as the country's most outspoken critic of military rule and economic injustice, while Amnesty International and the Human Rights Commission of the Organization of American States also castigated the repressive regime. Two years later, the same year that the Sandinistas brought democracy to Nicaragua, violence broke out again. In 1979 a war of extermination was implemented against any progressive elements in El Salvador. The next year approximately 10,000 civilians, who were considered a threat to the state, were killed by government soldiers.
Before the decade was over, the numbers reached over 80,000. In one instance, the national police and guardsmen opened fire on a crowd on the steps of San Salvador's cathedral, and 24 civilians were killed. This was the bloodiest period of repression under Romero as government killed 406 people in the first six months of that year. Yet the United States was sending military aid to El Salvador at a rate of almost one million per day.
According to the Archdiocese of San Salvador, in a two year period 32,000 people were killed by the military's "search and destroy" missions. By 1981 some 800,000 refugees, one in five Salvadorans, had fled the country. The military repeatedly terrorized religious, peasant, and labor groups. The San Salvador university was occupied and shut down, and all opposition newspapers were driven out by 1981. Villages supporting the peasants were attacked and hit by fragmentation bombs and napalm.
As a result a broad left-center organization, the FMLN, was formed in 1980. This coalition consisted of radicals, Marxists, social democrats, and some Christian Democrats. With the success of the new Sandinista revolution next door, the United States increased aid in the amount of $5.7 million to El Salvador for transportation, communication, and intelligence equipment. However, Archbishop Romero criticized President Carter and asked for a halt in the flow of arms.
In March 1980 Archbishop Romero of San Salvador was killed by a right-wing hit squad, while he was officiating a mass in San Salvador. A political activist and a proponent of liberation theology, Romero had criticized the government's death squads. Salvadoran Colonel Ricardo Lau was paid $120,000 to plan the assassination. It was carried out by two of Somoza's National Guardsmen and by two Salvadoran soldiers. The next year, Lau's diary was captured. This was recorded in his diary which was dated March 31, 1980. In 1981 American ambassador Robert White revealed that Lau's diary contained "the names of people in the United States and Guatemala City who are actively funding the (El Salvador) death squads." One name was that of Roberto D'Aubuisson, the leader of the far right ARENA Party. Nevertheless, Reagan chose to conceal Lau's and D'Aubuisson's names, and three months later the president invited D'Aubuisson to be "
an honored guest at our (the United States) embassy."
More evidence that the ARENA Party and D'Aubuisson orchestrated the assassination came with the confession of Roberto Santivanez, a high official in the Salvadoran government. He stated that the Romero assassination was carried out "under the protection of General Garcia and Colonel Carranza."
The trial took place almost four years later, despite the fact that the killers were immediately identified. Two of the three judges, fearing for their lives, took themselves off the case. The only defense of the five killers was that they took "orders from above." Yet no further investigation took place into the hierarchy of the Salvadoran government and military. No officers were ever indicted.
Later the same year in December, 143 civilians were murdered at El Mozote. The Salvadoran government ruled that they were killed in a clash between the government and leftist guerrillas. Forensic teams in November 1992 ruled out this claim. Human rights groups claimed that at least 800 civilians were murdered by government troops over a period of three days. Almost all 143 skeletons exhumed were those of children. Ballistic evidence points to the fact that they were herded into a church office, killed by gunfire, and that the parish then was burned. This event was virtually ignored by the American government.
In 1980 four American religious women were abducted in San Salvador and taken a short distance where they were murdered. No military officer was ever prosecuted, and five low ranking soldiers were convicted four years later and sentenced to serve 30 years in prison. According to the United Nations Truth Commission, high ranking military officers knew that the soldiers were ordered to commit the murders and were consequently involved in the cover-up. In 1998 they were paroled as a result of the technicalities in the country's penal code system.
In the 1984 presidential election the United States announced its support for the right wing junta. Christian Democrat Jose Napoleon Duarte "was approved by the United States" to be El Salvador's next "president." Originally known as a populist, he had been earlier exiled to Venezuela but brought back by the United States to be "elected." Parties from the left rallied around the FMLN and boycotted the elections. The FMLN cited that the elections were illegitimate and feared reprisals from the right. Duarte was easily elected and continued along the path of his predecessors by supporting the oligarchy. He continued to cater to American business interests in El Salvador as well as to the country's wealthy landowners.
Throughout the election year, the United States government campaigned for Duarte both overtly and covertly. Repeatedly in the 1980s the American media quoted numerous United States senators, representatives, and Presidents as saying that no Marxist countries ever allowed free elections. Salvadoran elections have always been a charade, and this 1984 election was no exception. Duarte received over half a million dollars in aid from the CIA. Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina supported D'Aubuisson who went on to head the National Assembly. The White House referred to D'Aubuisson as a "moderate" and a "centrist." Reagan stated that El Salvador was "the real model for supporting the push toward democracy in our sphere." In 1984 Reagan vetoed a bill which would have made human rights a criterion for future aid to El Salvador. In 1982 he certified that "the government of El Salvador is making a concerted and significant effort to comply with internationally recognized human rights and is achieving substantial control over all elements of the armed forces so as to bring to an end the indiscriminate torture and murder of Salvadoran citizens."
In the 1980s the Roman Catholic Church and human rights groups described how Salvadoran security forces instilled a fear in its people by carrying out state terrorism. In November 1989 six Jesuit priests and two housekeepers were murdered at the Jesuit University in San Salvador by right wing military officers. The United States responded by declaring a moratorium on American aid. One Jesuit, Father Ignacio Martin-Baro, delivered a speech entitled "The Psychological Consequences of Political Terrorism" just months before he was killed. First, he stressed that the most important type is state terrorism and that it is "terrorizing the whole population through systematic actions carried out by the forces of the state. Second, he stated that such terrorism was an essential part of a "government-imposed sociopolitical project" designed to protect the elite.
However, Bush chose January 15, 1991 as the date to restore $42.5 million in aid. On January 2 the FMLN had shot down an American helicopter and killed two American crew members. Two weeks later, El Salvador's only non government newspaper was destroyed. On January 16, 1991 15 peasants were massacred in the city of El Zapote on the outskirts of San Salvador.
The Catholic church's human rights organization charged the military with the crime and stated that it was the worst human rights abuse since the murder of the six Jesuit priests and two housekeepers in 1990. On January 29 the American government rewarded El Salvador with three jets and six helicopters. On February 1, 1991 18 journalists were detained by the government for three hours.
In March 1991 National Assembly elections, the left ran candidates for the first time. Voting areas did not allow for secret ballots. Ten inch high partitions divided voting desks, allowing government officials to observe. Peasants who dared to vote for candidates of the left were intimidated. Polling places were set up only in cities, making it difficult or impossible for the majority of the population to vote. Even within the cities, some people told election monitors that they had to walk three hours to the polling places. The result was a low 47 percent voter turnout. The National Assembly required cards for proof of registration; however, this was never carried out. The far-right ARENA Party was responsible for voting lists. Yet many names did not appear on computerized lists, and consequently these people could not vote. In addition, the polling places were surrounded by police and soldiers with automatic weapons, further intimidating many voters.
In the early 1990s negotiations began between the FMLN and the Salvadoran government. A small percentage of FMLN members were given seats in the National Assembly in return for the disarmament of the rebels. By 1993 only 40 percent of the 8,000 soldiers were disarmed, but their size diminished so much that they wielded virtually no power.
Since the 1960s the standard of living among Salvadorans continued to drop, and repression continued to be a part of daily life. In the 1960s and 1970s alone, the number of landless peasants increased from 11 percent to 40 percent. Today a mere 2 percent of El Salvador's population owns almost all arable land. At one time 90 percent of the countryside was forest, but much was cleared to allow for export or cash crops, farms, pastures, and charcoal production. Landlessness rose from 15.6 percent of the rural population in the 1960s to 65 percent by the 1990s. Over two-thirds of the population live in extreme poverty.
In the latter half of 1983, 104 civilians died at the hands of what is usually attributed to death squads. El Salvador's death squads killed more than 50,000 people in the 1980s, according to human rights groups. That is one in every 150 Salvadorans, more than twice the number killed in battle by government troops and leftist guerrillas. In the 1980s an average of over four political killings occurred daily. The primary targets were refugee workers, trade unionists, professors, and students.
EL SALVADOR AFTER ITS CIVIL WAR. The civil war lasted 12 years and took the lives of 75,000 Salvadorans. In these years, an estimated 540,000 civilians fled into exile. Another 250,000 became displaced or were forced into resettlement camps by the military. All this occurred in a small repressive country of only four million people.
After being recognized by the Salvadoran government, the FMLN gradually made gains by reorganizing at the ground level and working to get members elected to the legislature. In the March 1997 elections the FMLN won 56 or 262 mayoral elections. This included a mayoral victory in the second largest city. In addition, the FMLN began to compete with the extreme right in local governments halls by gaining control of 10 city halls. At the national level the FMLN won 39 of 84 congressional seats.
Still today El Salvador is marked by extreme differences in income. Seven hundred thousand families -- 3.5 million of the country's five million people -- live on one dollar or less a day. On the other hand, 518 families earn over $300 a day or $10,000 a month.
American multinational corporations still thrive in El Salvador. Some include United States Steel, Texas Instruments, Alcoa, Westinghouse, Phelps-Dodge, American Standard, Pillsbury, United Brands, Standard Fruit, Del Monte, Proctor and Gamble, Chase Manhattan, Bank of America, First National Bank, Standard Oil of New Jersey, Texaco, and 25 other major American corporations.
OPERATION "UN-JUST" CAUSE IN PANAMA
Interest in Panama dates back to the early sixteenth century when Balboa crossed the isthmus and discovered the South Sea which was later renamed the Pacific Ocean. Rather than sailing an additional 6,000 miles for six to eight weeks around Cape Horn to reach the Pacific coast from Europe, settlers could easily cross the Panamanian mountains by mule train to access the West coast. With the departure of the Spanish from Central America in the 1820s and with the discovery of gold in California two decades later, Great Britain and the United States signed the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, whereby neither signatory would lay sovereignty to Panama.
In the 1880s Ferdinand DeLesseps, who had completed the Suez Canal two decades earlier, planned to build a canal across either Panama or Nicaragua. However, his attempt was thwarted when diseases such as malaria and yellow fever set in. When the Spanish-American War erupted in 1898, the United States found most of its fleet on the Pacific coast and unable to reach the Caribbean until the 114-day war concluded. Since the British withdrew its claim to Panama as a result of the Hay- Pauncefote Treaty in 1901 and since with the failure of the French company to build a canal, the United States stood alone to pry the colony of Panama away from Colombia. However, the Colombia congress rejected a treaty to lease the Canal Zone to the United States, so an American sponsored supported revolution allowed Panama to gain sovereignty. Philippe Bunau-Varilla was placed in power on November 3, 1903, and this enabled the United States to hastily put together the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty. This gave the United States the exclusive right to lease the Canal Zone for $10 million and an additional $250,000 annually. Construction across the 90-mile wide isthmus began in 1903, and the canal was completed when World War I broke out in 1914.
"The Canal Zone is every bit as much American soil as it is
the land in the states that we carved out of the Gadsden and
Louisiana purchases, as is the state of Alaska."
- Ronald Reagan, March 17, 1976
In 1964 negotiations for a new treaty began after riots opposing the 1903 and 1955 treaties led to the death of 20 Panamanians and four United States soldiers. In 1967, preliminary agreements were reached, but in 1970 this was rejected by Panama. In February 1977 negotiations resumed once again, and within months Presidents Carter and Torrijos reached an agreement whereby: Panama would assume jurisdiction at noon on December 31, 1999; the United States would pay Panama $50-70 million per year from tolls; the United States would maintain control over all lands, waters, and installations until December 31, 1999 at 12:00 noon; a new United States agency would replace the Panama Canal Company for the rest of the century; Panama would receive up to $200 million in Export-Import Bank credits; all United States citizens would remain on the job until retirement; the times for withdrawal of United States troops and the disposal of American bases were up to the United States; and in time of war the United States would have priority to the canal.
President Carter showed a positive sign that American neoimperialism was not an issue in Panama. In reality, the United States still had the same rights to the canal, one which the United States never owned but only leased. Additionally, carriers, large tankers, and other larger war ships were too large to pass through the antiquated canal. Even with the canal being returned to Panama, the United States still has priority to access it in the event of international crisis.
Manuel Noriega was first recruited by the United States in 1959 while he was attending a right wing military academy in Peru. In 1967 he was placed on the CIA payroll, and the next year he was able to take command of Panama's secret police, known as the G-2, with the help of the United States Army's 470th Military Intelligence Group. The CIA was able to use him as a listening post for much of Latin America.
In 1976 Noriega and CIA Director Bush met for the first time in Washington D.C. Bush denied that they had met but at a later date he recanted his story and admitted that they had an encounter. Others at the meeting said that it was the third time that Bush and Noriega were together.
Bush increased Noriega's pay to $110,000 annually However, Bush was replaced by a new CIA director in 1977, and Noriega was dropped from the CIA payroll by incoming President Carter. In order to push for the Panama Canal Treaty, Carter chose to ignore Noriega's involvement in drug trafficking. In 1981 President Reagan was quick to place Noriega back into the hands of the CIA with a higher per annum salary of $185,000. At one point Noriega collected $200,000. The CIA first deposited Noriega's salary in the Bank for Credit and Commerce International. In later years this same bank pleaded guilty to money laundering in regards to drug trafficking.
While Noriega working for the CIA in the 1980s, he supplied pilots to smuggle drugs to the Contras in Costa Rica under the command of Eden Pastora. He even contributed $100,000 to the Contras on the southern front. Noriega charged $100,000 per plane to use Panama as a conduit in running drugs from Colombia to the United States. Within years, his fee was doubled to $200,000. One pilot, Floyd Carlton, was paid $400 per kilogram to fly drugs from Colombia, stopping in Panama, and continuing to the United States. Then the drug business went sour for Carlton when a $3 million shipment of cocaine disappeared.
The Reagan administration ignored charges that the Noriega regime acted as a conduit for smuggling drugs into the United States. Instead the principle issue revolved around using Panama as a staging area for Contras. In 1985 CIA director Casey asked Noriega for the use of Panamanian military bases for the training of Contra troops. When Noriega declined, North met with him in London and further tried to convince him to aid the Contras. North asked Noriega for logistical support in striking Nicaraguan economic targets such as oil refineries and communication systems. In addition North again requested that Panamanian training facilities be used in order to train commandos in hit-and-run tactics. North also offered to use a dummy company, Amalgamated Commercial Enterprises, to store contra weapons. This was the same front which was used by Syrian arms and drug dealer Manzer al-Kasser who was working with the Medellin cartel in Colombia.
However, Noriega refused to allow Panama to become a staging ground for contra activities, and subsequently he found himself betrayed by the CIA in 1986. Three years later the one-time ally of the United States found himself under attack by President Bush who earlier had kept him on the CIA payroll. In 1990 Bush was looking for excuses to deploy troops to Panama. In December 1990 it
was revealed that four United States Army soldiers, known as the "Hard Chargers," drove through a Panama City roadblock controlled by Panamanian soldiers. The Hard Chargers were a group of American soldiers who would frequently hassle Panama's forces at roadblocks. When they were stopped by Panamanian soldiers, they claimed that they were lost, yelled obscenities at the Panamanian soldiers, and quickly sped off. Panamanian soldiers opened fire, and an American lieutenant was killed. Immediately, the Pentagon denied this occurred. However, the other three American soldiers confirmed independently of one another that the Americans were not lost, as they had claimed, and that they deliberately went to various checkpoints to hassle troops, swearing and making obscene gestures, and then would speeding off. Four days later Bush called for the American invasion and stated that the killing was the "trigger to the decision."
Along with this as justification for the American invasion, Bush stated that the United States must protect the canal. However, it was never in danger, since part of the provisions of the 1977 treaty was for the United States to turn over 414 bases to Panama by the year 2000. Furthermore, Bush claimed for the first time that Noriega was a dictator and that his aim was to overthrow "21 years of dictatorship," going back to 1968 when General Torillos overthrew the government in a military coup.
In the invasion the United States landed 24,000 troops landed and dropped 422 bombs. Up to 4,000 were killed, mainly a result of American bombings. Two 1,000 pound bombs were dropped in the El
Chorillo neighborhood, and new weapons such as the F-17 stealth fighter were experimentally used for the first time. Hundreds were maimed and killed, as their homes were set on fire, and 20,000 to 50,000 civilians were left homeless. Among the 7,000 people arrested were university professors, labor leaders, government officials, political organizers, journalists, and military personnel. 15,000 boxes of Panamanian government documents were stolen. On April 15, 1990 General Maxwell Thurman stated, "there's an enormous quantity of documents. We have them under our custodianship, and I'm satisfied with our custodianship."
Since the media were locked out of Operation Just Cause, Americans had to rely on military information. Obviously, there were discrepancies, and the differences were staggering. The statistics released by the Panamanian government stated there was proof that only 68 Panamanian military died and 27 were wounded. The United States government sources stated originally that the total death toll was 84, as stated by General Stiner on January 24, 1990. Subsequently, this was revised to 516 of whom 314 were soldiers and 202 were civilians. Many of the dead civilians were Dignity Battalion members who were killed in the looting that followed the invasion.
For the first 72 hours after the invasion, the neighborhood of El Chorillo around Noriega headquarters was closed to Red Cross workers. The Central American Human Rights Commission in Costa Rica reported that the United States. military piled up 30 bodies, soaked them in gasoline, and set fire. A Spanish priest admitted burning six bodies so they could be eaten by dogs. Soldiers were seen placing bodies and explosives in plastic bags and taken to sea.
Many Panamanians continued to believe that the official death count was up to 4,000. Members of the 193rd Infantry Brigade told that they were hired to load body bags, "hundreds and hundreds of them" onto cargo planes bound for a secret burial at the large American air base in Honduras. A mass grave was at the Jardin de Paz cemetery where the bodies of hundreds of "liberated" Panamanians were tossed into a pit and covered up. A woman mourning her husband stated that he was buried there somewhere and, thrown into the pit "like a dog." Survivors could only guess where their loved ones lay beneath the 100 by 18-foot rectangle of bare earth. Panamanians claimed that American officers at military headquarters, killed a soldier and two civilians which included a one-year-old girl. Other soldiers, unknown to one another, confirmed that these allegations were true. Roberto Troncoso, president of the Panamanian Committee for Human Rights, said: "There are no mass graves, no hidden cemeteries. Yet the photograph accompanying your article depicts just such a mass grave." Fourteen mass graves were uncovered. In late April and early May, one such grave was exhumed at Jardin de Paz in Panama, and 124 bodies were removed.
The Independent Commission of Inquiry on the United States Invasion of Panama was headed by Attorney General Ramsey Clark. After months of on-site investigations with civilians, medical personnel, political and union leaders, United States military leaders, several human rights organizations, religious leaders and others, it was determined that up to 4,000 Panamanians were killed.
The Linking Committee was established by the United States government. This was the official arm for inquiries into missing or killed Panamanians. This committee merely told citizens whether or not they had relatives on the "official list" of dead or detained persons. The Red Cross was not allowed into the devastated El Chorrillo area nor was it allowed to investigate. Nevertheless, 1,500 to 1,600 names of missing people were on their lists.
Two television stations were taken over by United States troops, two radio stations were destroyed, and all opposition newspapers were shut down. Nearly every American television and radio station justified the American invasion and covered up what really took place. On September 30, 1990 CBS's 60 Minutes aired a program which acknowledged that there was a widespread loss of life. This was the first time that the American public was made aware of the fact that the government's statistics were highly exaggerated.
There was an estimated $2 billion in physical damage afflicted by the American military. The United States government allocated a mere $420 million in aid to "rebuild Panama's infrastructure." However, $108 million or 25 percent went to "reactivate the banking system and increase credit." Fifty-eight percent or $244 million went to reduce Panama's foreign debt -- principally foreign banks and almost all to American banks. Seventeen percent went for administration of justice, natural resources, conservation, private sector training, public administration, police training ($12 million alone), restructuring the nation's judiciary ($17 million alone) -- and improving the canal ($10 million alone). Only $3 million of the $420 million went for housing.
In the May 1990 elections the United States poured in $10 million to get Guillermo Endara elected.
This amount would be equivalent to that of a foreign country funneling $1 billion to an American candidate to get him or her elected president of the United States. Endara was the incorporating attorney and treasurer of several companies which were linked to laundering drug money. These fronts included Enterprises Ramadan, Pilea, and Hassid Enterprises which purchased Miami houses, condominiums, and housing tracts. Motores Marinos de Panama was the parent company of KS and W Offshore Drilling whose officials were convicted of money laundering and racketeering in 1990. Its property, valued at $20 million in Florida, was seized by the government. Southern Farms in Florida received drug shipments from Colombia. Finally Copan Marine Services helped launder Falcon-Magluta drug money, and in 1989 its president's $340,000 condominium was seized. Needless to say, Endara claimed ignorance to any of his six companies dealing in the laundering of drug money. Endara continued to rule Panama with an iron-fist.
A Panamanian professor of international law stated that under the Endara regime: "All the colonels, lieutenant colonels, and majors came from Noriega years. The present chief of bodyguards to Ricardo Arias Calderon, a vice-president and the minister of Government Justice, is Major Clarence Green, one of Noriega's infamous dobermans. " Drug trafficking after Noriega not only continued, but it continued to rise in America's "new democracy." A year after the American invasion, 13,000 pounds of cocaine with a wholesale value of $153 million, were seized. The White House estimated that drug trafficking and money laundering doubled between 1990 and 1991 under Endara.
Two hundred and fifty thousand Panamanians of the country's two million people lost their jobs by 1993. Unemployment was 11 percent before the invasion and jumped 35 percent by 1991. In the city of Colon itself, unemployment climbed to 55 percent. The Council on Hemispheric Affairs reported that the number of poor rose from 40 percent before the invasion to 54 percent by 1991.
After Noriega was kidnapped by the American military and imprisoned in Miami, federal prosecutors worked quickly for his trial. Noriega's case finally reached court in late 1991 and was billed "the drug trial of the century." There was unsurmountable evidence which linked Noriega to the CIA and to drug trafficking. This became a very delicate issue to the prosecution, since the Department of Justice had to take care not to link Noriega to the covert and illegal activities carried out by the CIA. Prosecutors could not allow the cooperation between Noriega and the CIA concerning drug trafficking in the 1970s and 1980s to surface in court. However, the fact that Noriega was on the CIA payroll -- that he received between $10 million and $15 million while president of Panama -- could not be refuted. This was a harmless piece of evidence since it did not link the CIA directly to drug
After the American invasion, it was reported that the Army seized a 50 pound stash of cocaine in one of Noriega's offices. On closer examination, this turned out to be a flour-like substance used in cooking. Furthermore, none of the documents, which were seized in Noriega's headquarters, contained any evidence to link Noriega to drug trafficking. It soon became clear to the federal prosecutors that they would have to rely on oral testimony, and the only witnesses were the ones who had been convicted of drug trafficking. Obviously, their credibility created a gigantic problem for the prosecution. The FBI combed through federal penitentiaries and came up with more than 60 witnesses. In the mean time the American government froze Noriega's assets which were valued at over $20 million. This made it difficult for him to obtain any high level attorneys. In addition the government taped all his telephone conversations as well as obtaining a secret list of the defense witnesses.
The prosecution witnesses consisted of convicted felons who were promised reduced sentences and money in return for their testimony. Carlos Lehder, a follower of Adolph Hitler and convicted of running cocaine from Latin America to Florida, had his sentence of life-plus-130-years reduced and was moved to Marion penitentiary where he was provided a third floor room with a view and a television.
A key prosecution witness was Jose Blandon who had been a former aide to Noriega. A few days before Noriega's indictment in February 1989, Blandon testified before a grand jury that Cuba's Fidel Castro and Noriega had met in regard to Panama's connection with the Medellin cartel. Blandon stated that Noriega had cooperated with the DEA in Panama's province of Damien. According to Damien they successfully raided a cocaine laboratory, seized the narcotics, and took several dozen prisoners. Blandon went on to testify that Noriega gave the Medellin cartel $4 million in return for allowing its members to fly cocaine through Panama into the United States and to allow cocaine laboratories to continue operations in Panama. If this is true, it obviously would have linked Noriega directly to drug trafficking, and it was this piece of evidence which was the prosecution's most potent weapon in convicting him. There were many inconsistencies in Blandon's sworn testimony.
First, there was a handwritten letter from Noriega indicating that Castro had absolutely no knowledge of a possible Medellin-Noriega conspiracy. The letter was discovered in his family safe which was seized after the American invasion. Consequently, it would have been impossible for Noriega to "plant" the letter, since he had no access to his safe after the American invasion began. Second, those who were captured at the Medellin laboratory in Damien were taken into custody six weeks before Noriega's meeting with Castro. Third, Blandon's credibility was very questionable, since he was under investigation by the FBI for allegedly copying and distributing conversations between Noriega and his attorneys after he was abducted by the American government. Fourth, even DEA officials claimed that no cocaine was found at the Damien site.
Another prosecution witness was Steven Kalish who testified that he had paid Noriega $300,000 in bribes. Since he was a convicted drug trafficker himself and had earlier perjured himself in court, his credibility was also in question. There was ample evidence linking the Medellin payoff to Panamanian Colonel Julian Melo and not to Noriega. Medellin cartel representative Jorge Ochoa wanted Melo to use his influence to use Panama as a conduit in shipping narcotics northward to the United States. Kalish claims that he met with Ochoa and worked out cartel operations in Panama. He stated that the cartel would "correct the wrong information they have received about you (Noriega) ever having complicity in this affair;" that is, no cocaine manufacturing and shipping would occur in Panama, so that the country's banks could continue to act as safe havens for the Medellin cartel's money. Kalish's testimony pointed out the contradictions made by Blandon who had claimed that Castro acted as a mediator, and it also pointed out that Noriega knew nothing about cocaine laboratories in Panama.
More testimony came from Gabriel Taboada, a Colombian drug dealer who was serving a 21- year sentence for cocaine smuggling. He testified how he was paid to export luxury cars to the United States despite the fact that there was a legal ban to do so. He was paid $50,000 to ship 47 luxury cars into the United States illegally with diplomatic plates. Taboada stated that Medellin cartel officials had brought a suitcase filled with $500,000 in 100-dollar bills into Noriega's office. He also claimed that Noriega promised to find a way to smuggle in luxury cars. However, there were many lapses and inconsistencies in Taboada's testimony.
Dates did not make sense and key details were often missing. Luis del Cid was an officer in the Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF) and was considered one of Noriega's "errand boys." He testified that he gave numerous envelopes and suitcases filled with cartel money to Noriega. When cross-examined, del Cid admitted that he never looked to see what was inside. Another questionable prosecution witness was Floyd Carlton, a convicted cartel pilot. He testified that the Medellin cartel paid Noriega $600,000 for permission to fly three plane loads of cocaine through Panama.
Despite the testimony from convicted felons, much of which was vague and inconclusive as well as being filled with inconsistencies, Noriega was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment, while his successor continued to rule over a repressive and oppressive regime in Panama.