Thursday, July 20, 2006


This is my last blog on JUST CAUSE. I spent a while in conversation with a respected Panamanian journalist at the offices of the leading Panamanian newspaper. Have no doubts: Noriega is a vile man. A group of Defense Force officers arrested him on 3 October, 1989. The officers telephoned the US Embassy. The Embassy refused support. The officers were at a loss as to how to act. A majority of the group fled to the Canal Zone. Noriega persuaded the remainder to release him. Noriega had nine of this group shot the following day. The US invaded Panama on December 20, 1989. The JUST CAUSE was to arrest Noriega. A minimum of 1000 Panamanian civilians were killed in the invasion. The city was ransacked.
The journalist said of the US soldiers that they were country boys, young, ill educated and inexperienced, that they often fired from panic. The blame for the killing of civilians and for the ransacking of the airport by US soldiers lay with incompetent officers.
For Panamanians, the invasion remains an essential ingredient in Panamanian/US relations. I suspect it is considered of very little importance in the US and that few North Americans recall or ever knew the details.
Let me give the last word to the Panamanian journalist: The gringos have never thought of us as equals or important.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


I ride to the Fiscal wharf this morning. The wharf is roofed to protect cargo. It is a slum and it stinks. Oswaldo is a big black immigration official with a big kind heart. He has elected himself my transport counsel. We walk down the wharf. The boat that can take me to Jaque lies along side. It is forty feet long. The hull is of rough planks. The deck planks are rougher. Dockers are manhandling sections of mahogany tree trunk from a small hold forward. A wheelhouse/cabin sits on the after deck. A paint can passed by the boat a few years back and forgot to stop. Even a casual inspection gives pause for consideration: as in, What keeps it afloat?.
I enquire of Oswaldo if there is another boat.
"Next month, maybe," Oswaldo says.
I say, "Oh..."
I repeat the Oh.
Then, "This maybe-boat, how is it?"
"The same," says Oswaldo in whom I sense compassion.
"Oh," I say.
The captain of the hulk inspects the Honda and quotes the fare. Oswaldo expects me to negotiate. Negotiating is tough when the alternative is a maybe. I agree the fare. I have betrayed Oswaldo.
Oswaldo, a football fan, watched the penalty shootout between Portugal and England. He believes English fotballers are short on courage. Not negotiating places me in the same catagory.
I am not doing well.


I met with a retired police captain this afternoon. He was born in Casco Viejo and lives there now in a house that belonged to his father. He was a lieutenant of police at the time of the invasion. The US Army arrested him and held him in jail without charge for five months. The US Army arrested all the officers of the police force and of the Defense Force. The city was undefended and was ransacked. Is this a familiar scenario?


Panama City is splendid at providing contrasts. The old quarter of Casco Viejo marks the west end of tthe shore, the ruins of Pananma Viejo mark the east. I entered the city thru a hinterland of slum tenements as grim as any outside Havana. My hotel is in a mid market visitor district for both foreign tourists and Panamanians in from the Provinces. Internet cafes abound, restaurants are reasonable, street walkers appear at night. Turn left up a block and you find a trafic-congested streets of sidewalk stalls and super saver stores. I bought three light-weight short sleeve shirts at $3.95 a piece and a pair of chinos for $9.95. Turn right and you head into a land of pristine highrise cathedrals. Money is God in this BMW banker territory of dark suits, polished shoes and respectable ties. Cops are the street walkers. They linger at every entrance and on most intersections. Sidewalks are swept, shrubs are barbered, grass dividers shaved and watered. Even the poor are neatly dressed - money, however dirty, demands clean servants. Panama is a laundry for dirty money.

Sunday, July 16, 2006


Just Because was the Pentagon joke name for Operation Just Cause. George H W Bush was the US President. US Army estimated Panamanian deaths at 516 while an Army internal memo put the figure at over a thousand. An independent Commission of Inquiry put the figure at between 1000 and 4000. Some 15,000 civillians were displaced - most were working class. Wide spread looting bankrupted many businesses - insurance companies refused to pay, naming the invasion an act of war. A great museum was ransacked. This was to arrest one man. Shades of Iraq.
Hugh Thomas (though a Protestant, a good historian) writes of Cortes's conquest of Mexico: To a good general, history is as important as geography.
US Generals and the Bush family either disagree or are too lazy to do their homework.