In December 1989, under the first Pres. Bush, the United States invaded Panama and deposed the thuggish leader, Manuel Noriega. I was a reporter for the Miami Herald at the time and flew to Costa Rica to cover the invasion (flights to Panama were shut down during the invasion).
I crossed the border into Panama right before Christmas on a bus filled with other journalists. As we drove into the northwest Panamanian city of David, people surrounded our bus and cheered. They apparently thought we were part of the invasion force, and the people hated Noriega, and they were ecstatic to see the U.S. get rid of him. We watched as U.S. planes and helicopters landed in David and peacefully took control of the western part of the country. I went with a U.S. general to inspect a barn where Noriega allies had stored thousands of AK-47s.
I then took a taxi to Panama City, stopping along the way at one of Noriega’s homes, which had been attacked by U.S. special forces looking for Noriega. It was a massive mansion, left empty as Noriega fled. I roamed around the house, looking at pictures of Noriega skiing in the Alps with his family, riding horses and boating, an intimate portrait of a wealthy dictator in his personal moments.
Noriega found his way to the Vatican Embassy, where he holed up for several days. Eventually, he surrendered to the U.S. military. He has spent all of his time since then in jails, first in the U.S., then in France and finally back in Panama, where he is incarcerated today, a sad, sick aging tyrant.
I thought of Panama over the weekend as I considered the Russian invasion of Ukraine. U.S. Sect of State Kerry claimed that Russia was acting in a 19th century fashion, invading sovereign countries on trumped-up charges. The hypocrisy of Kerry, who voted for the invasion of Iraq before voting against it, claiming that Russia is acting in a unique way, is absolutely laughable. The United States is launching drone strikes unilaterally in several Middle Eastern countries and is currently occupying Afghanistan. The United States has unilaterally invaded many countries over the years, including the invasion I witnessed with my own eyes, Panama. And by the way, at least 1,000 civilians were killed during the Panamanian invasion, many of them in the fire shown in the picture on this post, which took place in the slums of Panama City and may have been the result of a U.S. bomb.