United States Invasion of Panama began on December 20, 1989.
United States Invasion of Panama began on December 20, 1989. Photographer's Hand 1st Class Elliott/National Archives

The United States invasion of Panama, dubbed 'Operation Just Cause' by the U.S. Military, was announced by then-President George H.W. Bush on December 20, 1989, alleging concerns related to human rights and control of drug trafficking. U.S. troops successfully defeated the Panamanian army in a single day.

It took them an additional 14 days to capture Manuel Noriega, the former head of the Panamanian government.He surrendered on January 3, 1990, and was extradited to Miami to stand trial. Noriega remained in prison for the remainder of his life, facing charges that ranged from the murder of hundreds of opponents to organized crime and drug trafficking.

The military operation saw the deployment of over 27,000 troops and more than 300 aircraft from the United States, which successfully secured control of key military facilities and strategic locations, including Panama City's commercial airport. It is estimated that Panama had around 12,000 soldiers scattered throughout the country.

Why did the United States Invade Panama?

U.S. soldiers on the second day of 'Operation Just Cause'.
U.S. soldiers on the second day of 'Operation Just Cause'. Photographer's Hand 1st Class Elliott/National Archives

Washington announced the invasion a few days after Panamanian forces killed an American serviceman. President Bush asserted that the objective of the invasion was to address drug trafficking and safeguard Panamanian democracy.

This stance was emphasized by the fact that, during that period, Noriega was confronted with allegations of manipulating the 1989 election. The country had spent 21 years under a series of military dictatorships before that.

Over the years, the legality of the United States' invasion of Panama has been questioned on numerous occasions and has been linked to historical interests in the Isthmus of Panama. On December 29, 1989, the U.N. General Assembly voted 75 to 20, with 40 abstentions, to condemn the invasion as "a flagrant violation of international law."

The Panama government initiated in 2016 an investigation into the U.S. invasion, which is still ongoing. Human rights organizations have consistently suggested that the actual number of Panamanian victims might surpass the official toll of 300. The number of American soldiers who lost their lives in the assault was 23.

Manuel Noriega's life after 'Operation Just Cause'

Manuel Noriega
Panamanian military dictator, Manuel Noriega, died in 2017 at 83 years old. Wikipedia

Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, who died in 2017 at age 83, had once had a close relationship with Washington. Noriega was a U.S. intelligence asset in the region and a paid informant for the CIA.

Over the years, Noriega attempted to shift the narrative, alleging that the United States had collaborated closely with him.

While in custody, he said : "Every action taken by the Republic of Panama under my leadership was known. Panama was an open book."

Noriega ended up asking for forgiveness for his ruling in 2015. He died of a brain tumor a few months later.

The United States invasion of Panama and 'Operation Just Cause,' as the U.S. Military continues to call it, succeeded in establishing a democratic system after over two decades of dictatorships. However, the excessive use of force, as well as restrictions on the press covering the war, were severely questioned.

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