The brutal military operation resulted in at least 3,000 civilian and military victims. Many of the bodies remained unidentified after being burnt and piled up in the streets.This is an invasion scarcely remembered by Americans. But Latin Americans have concrete interests in remembering it as one of a series of now centuries-long US interventions in their region of the world.
The U.S. has never compensated the survivors impacted in the invasion or the families of the victims.
Panama had a separate truth commission that investigated abuses committed under the military dictatorships of Generals Omar Torrijos and Manuel Noriega between 1968 and 1989, which found that the regimes were guilty of torture and “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” of victims.
The commission will produce Panama’s first “truth report” specifically focused on the 1989 invasion.
Jacobin's Belen Fernandez writes about this development in The truth behind US' Operation Just Cause in Panama Aljazeera English 01/31/2016:
In typical fashion, the gringos managed to kill a whole lot of birds with the Just Cause stone. In addition to capturing Noriega - who was driven out of his refuge at the Vatican embassy in Panama by US troops blasting rock music in the direction of the compound - the US also reasserted its power in the area and conducted a trial run of military equipment for upcoming action in the Middle East.Hernandez links to a FAIR article from 1990, reporting how the "quality" press was generally all too happy to echo the Pentagon's spin on the invasion; our old friend Dark Lord Dick Cheney was Secretary of Defense at the time:
As for the human beings killed by the same stone, Panama is now launching a truth commission to determine just what happened 26 years ago. ...
The uniqueness of the Panamanian case ... is that [Operation] Just Cause was not a proxy war or an example of behind-the-scenes manoeuvres by the US. Instead, it was a straightforward assault, evidence of the US being "mesmerised with firepower", as one of the US commanders of the operation later put it: "We have all these new gadgets, laser-guided missiles and stealth fighters, and we are just dying to use that stuff."
A “public opinion poll” in a country under martial law, conducted by an agency obviously sanctioned by the invading forces, can be expected to come up with such results. Most reporters, traveling as they did with the U.S. military, found little to contradict this picture. Less than 40 hours after the invasion began, Sam Donaldson and Judd Rose transported us to Panama via ABC‘s Prime Time Live (12/21/90). “There were people who applauded us as we went by in a military convoy,” said Rose. “The military have been very good to us [in escorting reporters beyond the Canal Zone],” added Donaldson.This is one way that the Internet, good online journalism, blogs, Twitter and other social media have made a significant difference. In 1989, it could take days or weeks for reports like those just cited from Newsday and the Miami Herald that would disrupt the official narrative to circulate, now the netroots spread that information far more quickly and in ways that can significantly affect the real-time public perception of a military operation like that.
While this kind of “Canal Zone journalism” dominated television, a few independent print journalists struck out on their own. Peter Eisner of Newsday’s Latin America bureau, for example, reported (12/28/89) that Panamanians were cursing U.S. soldiers under their breath as troops searched the home of a neighbor–a civilian–for weapons. One Panamanian pointed out a man speaking to U.S. soldiers as a “sapo” (a toad–slang for “dirty informer”) and suggested that denouncing people to the U.S. forces was a way of settling old scores. A doctor living on the street said that “liberals will be laying low for a while, and they’re probably justified” because of what would happen to those who speak out. All of Eisner’s sources feared having their names printed.
The same day’s Miami Herald ran articles about Panamanian citizen reactions, including concern over the hundreds of dead civilians: “Neighbors saw six U.S. truck loads bringing dozens of bodies” to a mass grave. As a mother watched the body of her soldier son lowered into a grave, her “voice rose over the crowd’s silence: ‘Damn the Americans.'”