US Seizes Panamanian Leader

US Marines in Panama City

When Panamanian strongman, General Manuel Noreiga, clamped down on the limited democracy existing in Panama, the US intervened and ousted the Noriega-led government. Noreiga was arrested and brought to the United States to face charges of drug trafficking.

The United States signed an agreement with Panama in 1977 to turn the Canal to the full control of the Panamanians by 2000. After the signing of the agreement, the United States maintained close relations with the Panamanians. Panama’s strongman leader General Noriega had been a US intelligence asset, and the US had strong ties with him. However, Noriega was also known to have links to drug smugglers. The US initially looked the other way. Relations, however, deteriorated, and the US tried to convince Noriega to step down.

In May 1989 elections were held in Panama. An alliance of parties opposed to Noriega won the election by overwhelming margins. Noriega declared the election null and void. The US called on him to accept the will of the people. In the meantime, it reinforced US troops in the Canal Zone. In October 1989 Noriega foiled a coup attempt.

On December 15th the Noriega dominated National Assembly declared that a state of war existed between the United States and Panama. The next day December 16, 1989, four US serviceman were stopped on the way to dinner in Panama City. When they feared for their lives and attempted to flee, they were fired upon. The US driver Marine First Lieutenant Robert Paz was killed, and another officer was wounded.

President Bush then ordered the US invasion of Panama. The goals to protect Americans, restore democracy and combat drug trafficking. The name of the operation Operation Just Cause.

The invasion began at 1 AM December 20th. By the end of the day, the 27 initial goals of the force were met. It took until January 3rd for Noriega to surrender to US troops and the last of the US objectives were reached. Twenty -Three US troops were killed, and 325 were wounded. 314 Panamanian soldiers were killed and 1,908 captured as many as Panamanian civilians were killed as well.