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The administration of President George H. W. Bush, in a fit of neoconservative interventionism, set forth on an endeavor to eliminate the Panamanian military dictator General Manuel Noriega, a merciless political leader who was accused of being involved with an international money laundering and drug trafficking scheme. On December 20, 1989, the United States launched Operation Just Cause, an invasion of Panama intended to remove Gen. Noriega from office and to arrest him on charges of supposed involvement with Floridian drug smuggling. Bush had claimed the invasion was justified due to its necessity in keeping the estimated 35,000 American citizens in Panama, most of which were servicepeople stationed there (“As president, I have no higher obligation then to safeguard the lives of American citizens”), and because it was a mission in promotion of democracy and human rights (“The Panamanian people want democracy, peace, and the chance for a better life in dignity and freedom. The people of the United States seek only to support them in pursuit of these noble goals”). These reasons, convincing and heart-felt as they may seem, were complete and utter lies, if not in theory, then certainly, at least, in practice. El Chorrillo, a neighborhood in Panama City, which was populated by an impoverished proletariat, and also thought to be the hiding location of Noriega (it wasn’t), was burned to the ground, earning it the nickname Pequeño Hiroshima (Little Hiroshima). Most of the civilian casualties of the operation were hastily buried in mass graves or had their bodies disposed of flaringly by way of American flamethrowers.  The Central American Human Rights Commission (CODEHUCA) estimates that between 2,500 and 3,000 unarmed non-combatants were tragically killed indiscriminately, an obvious rebuke of President Bush’s assertion that Operation Just Cause was an attempt to protect the people of Panama. As for his contention that the purpose of this military maneuver in Panama was to “safeguard the lives of American citizens”, this idea came from the fact that one American soldier had been killed by fighters of the Panama Defense Force. Such initiation of belligerence obviously cannot be considered just, but it is useful to understand that this killing was likely brought about as a result of Americans running military exercises through the streets of Panama City, one in which killed an innocent schoolteacher – unambiguously an United States-led provocation against the working-class of Panama.

The real reasoning for the invasion, Noriega suspected, was twofold. General Noriega explained that Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, in cooperation with Deputy National Security Advisor John Poindexter (who served under President Ronald Reagan), had attempted to recruit him to aid the United States in waging war against both the Sandinista National Liberation Front (an insurrectionary democratic socialist political party in Nicaragua) and against rebel organizations fighting in the Salvadoran Civil War (such as the syndicalist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front and the communist National Resistance Armed Forces), to which Noriega had politely declined. “The second ‘no'”, Noriega briefly narrated, “was [John] Poindexter; when Poindexter was saying, ‘We need Panama as a spearhead against Nicaragua.’ So that the United States can go ahead and carry out an invasion. But Noriega said, ‘no.’ Now I became unfriendly”. Manuel Noriega claimed to believe that these were the actual motivations that caused President George H. W. Bush and the United States Department of Justice to seek to arrest him, what would seem to be a grand sort of conspiracy theory indeed.

In the end, Noriega (who for the end of his hiding took refuge in the Holy See’s Panamanian embassy, spending those days reading the Bible), following numerous ruthless attacks on the citizens of Panama (such as 442 major bomb blasts in only the first 12 hours of the operations) was eventually captured in early 1990 and was later extradited to the United States, where he was tried in April 1992 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, a federal court in Miami. In his court case, though he insisted his innocence, he was sentenced to forty years of prison on eight counts of drug trafficking, money laundering, and racketeering.

Whether or not the sentenced Noriega had truly been guilty of the charges, there were, in fact, numerous backroom deals made by the US judicial system that gave way to much potentially unfair legal treatment against the convict. The United States Department of Justice had co-conspired with a Colombian drug trafficking organization (which was also known for trafficking arms and committing murder), the Cali Cartel, to remove Noriega from his seat of authority (and to afterwards have him arrested), as multiple documents suggest. One such example of this is embodied in the story of Ricardo Bilonick, Panama’s former ambassador-at-large. He, despite not having been a witness of any of Noriega’s accused crimes, was jointly offered rewards for doing so, $1,250,000 ($2,138,300, inflation-adjusted to 2016 USD) from the Cali Cartel, and a reduction in both his drug sentence (from 20 years to 2 years) and the sentence of a Cali Cartel associate, Luis Santa Cruz Echevery. Bilonick was very vital to the United States’ side of the court case, testifying to having given $10,000,000 (~$24,100,000, inflation-adjusted to 2016 USD) in bribe money to Noriega, paid in increments between 1982 and 1984, in  exchange for the ability to fly out between an estimated 15 and 20 tons of cocaine. The authenticity of this story is, according to many primary sources, absolutely false, that is, unless you chose to ignore it all in order to subscribe to the fixed narrative of the Justice Dept. While the actions of the Panamanian dictator certainly cannot be irreproachable, the suborning of dangerous drug traffickers by the federal government in order to falsely testify a court of law is certainly far from being ignorable.

The corruption of the United States government in regards to the trial of the Panamanian dictator is best summed up by its target himself, General Manuel Noriega, “Why, after being the man the U.S. could count on, did I become the enemy? Because I said no to Panama being a staging base for Salvadoran death squads and the Nicaraguan Contras [guerilla fighters opposing the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua]…They found something horrible to call me – a drug dealer. How do you deal with one who defies you? Destroy him. Plus you factor in a gutless man of weak character, a hypocrite, a liar, a George Bush”. The capture of Noriega, which Bush repeatedly prided himself upon was not the success it had been thoroughly portrayed as being, but rather a dirty display of unprincipled corporate deals conducted behind closed doors.