Panama: US Neo-Imperialism and the 1989 Invasion! (3.5.2023)

American Hegemonism and Double Standards – the 1989 American Invasion of Panama! 

On December 20th, 1989, in the name of protecting American nationals, protecting democratic elections and combating drug trafficking – the United States launched a military invasion of Panama, code-named “Operation Justice Army”. The 15-day war – which killed and wounded thousands, overthrew Panama’s military Dictator – Noriega – and installed the Pro-American – Ndara – government. This action triggered strong condemnation (and controversy) from the international community. What were the reasons and intentions behind the US invasion of Panama?  

Reason: Control of the Panama Canal – Fight Against Noriega 

Panama is a small country located to the South of Central America. Its most important geographical feature is the Panama Canal that runs through its territory. This artificial waterway – connecting the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean – is one of the most important shipping lanes in the world and has great influence on global trade and strategy. The United States is the largest shareholder and user of this canal. 

As early as 1903, the United States supported Panama’s ‘Independence’ from Colombia – and signed the ‘Haydon-Varira Treaty’ and this agreement obtained permanent control (and lease rights) of the canal area – deliberately establishing multiple US military bases in the vicinity. In 1977, the ‘Panama Canal Treaty’ was signed between President Carter and General Torrijos (the de facto supreme leader of Panama at the time) – which stipulated that the United States would return the Canal to Panama in 2000 – and gradually withdraw its military bases. 

However, in 1983, Torrijos was forced to retire by his subordinate (the US-backed) – Noriega – through a coup! Noriega became the Commander-in-Chief of the National Defence Forces. Noriega was originally employed by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for a long time – tasked with providing intelligence – but he took a tough stand after he took office, demanding that the United States abide by the treaty and return the sovereignty of the Canal whilst withdrawing ALL military installations! In opposition to these self-determining demands – the US accused Noriega of participating in drug trafficking activities and colluding with anti-American forces in Cuba and Nicaragua! 

In May 1989, during a presidential election full of suspicions of fraud – Noriega announced the victory of his Party and denied that the US-backed Presidential candidate – Ndala – (jointly elected by the opposition), had won the election. In September of the same year, the United States imposed economic sanctions on Panama. In response, on December 15th, 1989, Noriega declared a State of War with the United States and appointed himself as the political and military ‘Highest Authority’. 

Consequence – The US Military Quickly Captures Strategic Points 

At 1 am on the morning oof December 20th (local time), 1989 – the United States began its military invasion of Panama. A total of 27,684 US troops – and more than 300 aircraft participated in the operation. These US invasion forces faced the Panamanian National Defence Forces – totaling around 16,000 soldiers. 

The primary objective of the US military operations was to capture strategic installations – such as the Headquarters of the Panamanian National Defence Forces, Torrijos Airport, Lunace Prison, Rejato Airport, Petilla Airport, Balboa Port, Fort Amador, Coco Kosolo and others. The attack on the Headquarters of the Panamanian National Defence Forces by US Forces sparked several fires that destroyed most of the adjoining (and densely populated) residential areas of downtown Panama. According to eyewitnesses, the fires were deliberately set by American soldiers in order to force Panamanian National Defence Forces soldiers out of their hiding places. 

The US Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines participated in Operation Justice Division. Ground forces consisted of the 6th Infantry Regiment of the 5th Infantry Division, the 18th Airborne Regiment, the 82nd Airborne Division, the 16th Military Police Brigade, the 7th Infantry Division, the 75th Ranger Regiment, a Joint Special Operations Team, the Missouri National Guard, the 1183rd Military Police Company, the 193rd Infantry Brigade, the 805th Infantry Regiment, the 539th Engineer Battalion and the 2nd Light Armoured Reconnaissance Battalion. 

The Panama Defence Forces shot down two US Special Operations helicopters and forced an AH-6 Light Scout Helicopter to crash into the Panama Canal. The actions of the US military resulted in the death of at least 200 Panamanian civilians and more than 300 soldiers. 

Within hours of the start of the fighting – an interim Government Office was established in the US-controlled Rodman Naval Station – and Ndara was announced as the new President! The European Community and other Latin American governments (except Cuba) and the United Nations General Assembly (but not the Security Council) immediately recognised and supported the legitimacy of this action. 

Impact: US Fails to Meet Expectations 

The original purpose of the US invasion of Panama was to keep US-control over the Panama Canal. Noriega was originally a Dictator supported by the CIA and was called an ‘American hooligan’ by former US President Bush. However, after he came to power, he took a tough stance and demanded that the United States abide by the ‘Panama Canal Treaty’ and return the sovereignty of the Panama Canal and withdraw the US troops stationed in the Panama Canal. 

The United States planned to overthrow Noriega and support the Pro-American Ndara in order to renegotiate the ownership of the Panama Canal. However, after the United States invaded Panama, Panama’s anti-American sentiment was high, and the Panamanian people had a strong desire to recover the Canal Zone. The Meendala government also complied with public opinion and demanded that the United States return the Panama Canal. 

Finally, on December 31st, 1999, the US government had to abide by the ‘Panama Canal Treaty’ and return all land, buildings, military bases, infrastructure and all management rights of the Panama Canal to Panama. The conflict between Panama and the United States finally ended peacefully. 

Evaluation: The invasion was Questioned and Criticized 

Although Operation Justice Division is considered a successful military operation – it has also been questioned and criticized from various quarters. Some considered the invasion a violation of International Law and the Panama Canal Treaty as an illegal interference and aggression against a Sovereign State. 

The United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 44/240 – condemning the invasion and calling for an immediate cessation of force and the withdrawal of all foreign troops. The Resolution passed with 75 votes in favour, 20 against and 40 abstentions. The Security Council also tried to adopt a Resolution of similar content (No. 668) – but it was vetoed by the three permanent members of the United States, the United Kingdom and France. 

In addition, the invasion also triggered a humanitarian crisis and heavy losses. According to different sources, an estimated 250 to 3,500 civilians were killed or went missing in the fighting and thousands more were injured or made homeless. The US underestimated the number of civilian deaths and failed to conduct a comprehensive and transparent investigation. The invasion caused about US$1.5 billion to US$2 billion in property damage – and seriously affected local economic activities and social order. 

Conclusion: The Invasion Exposed US Hegemony 

The US invasion of Panama, while ostensibly to protect US citizens, restore democracy – and fight drugs – was in fact to preserve US interests and influence in the Panama Canal Zone and eliminate a disobedient Puppet Regime. This action exposed the hegemony and double standards practiced by the United States, violated international law and humanitarian principles, caused huge casualties and property losses to Panama and aroused strong condemnation from countries in Latin America and the world. 

This action also provides us with some enlightenment: First, we should not believe in the slogan of justice and democracy as pursued by the United States – and we must be alert to the interests and purposes hidden behind it. The second is not to rely on the United States (or any other big country) as we must uphold our own sovereignty and dignity; the third is to strengthen solidarity and cooperation with other developing countries to jointly safeguard multilateralism, fairness and justice. 

NOTE: US Military Casualties in Panama = 23 Killed – 325 Wounded by Enemy Action – with 2 Killed – 19 Wounded by ‘Friendly Fire’

Chinese Language Source: 









1989年5月,在一场充满舞弊嫌疑的总统选举中,诺列加宣布自己所属政党获胜,并否认反对派联合推举之总统候选人恩达拉获得选举胜利 。同年9月,美国对巴拿马实行经济制裁;12月15日,诺列加宣布与美进入战争状态,并自任“最高领导人”。 










最终在1999年12月31日, 美国政府不得不遵守《巴拿马运河条约》将巴拿马运河 所有土地、建筑、军事基地、基础设施和所有的管理权都交还给巴拿马 ,巴美间的冲突终于和平结束。 


虽然正义之师作战被认为是一次成功的军事行动,但也受到了来自各方面的质疑和批评。一些人认为这次入侵违反了 国际法 和 巴拿马运河条约 ,是一次对一个主权国家的非法干涉和侵略。 

联合国大会 通过了第44/240号决议 ,谴责这次入侵,并要求立即停止武力行动并撤出所有外来部队。该决议以75票赞成、20票反对、40票弃权通过。安理会也试图通过类似内容的决议(第668号),但被 美国、 英国和法国三个常任理事国否决。 

此外,这次入侵也引发了人道主义危机和重大损失。根据不同来源,估计有250至3,500名平民在战斗中死亡或失踪,数千人受伤或无家可归。 美方对平民死亡数字进行了低估,并没有进行全面和透明的调查。 入侵造成了约15亿至20亿 美元 的财产损失,并严重影响了当地经济活动和社会秩序。 



这次行动也给我们提供了一些启示:一是不能轻信美国的正义和民主的口号,要警惕其背后隐藏的利益和目的; 二是不能过分依赖美国或任何一个大国,要坚持自己的主权和尊严;三是要加强与其他发展中国家的团结合作,共同维护多边主义和公平正义。