Months 2 and 6: Two Panamanian Interviews

Month 2: Panama isn’t ‘In’ Anymore


The Deafening Silence

What does this all mean? What are we leading up to? The February 14th article claiming ‘Last Invasion Forces Pulled Out’ besides being a major distortion of the truth, was the last article on the Panama invasion in the New York Times owned Santa Barbara News Press, except a mention by Bush one month after it had already been accomplished that he had eliminated the American Trade embargo against Panama. Oh yes, they also mentioned that Panama was cooperating in the drug war to their satisfaction. What they didn’t mention was how happy they were that their man was running the Panama Canal and how much easier it made it for them to do international business now that Noriega was gone and out of their hair. They also never mention the fact that almost 14,000 American soldiers will still ‘continue duties in Panama’.

So what is happening in Panama? The following is a conversation held on February 22, 1990 (two months after the invasion) with a Panamanian, who wishes to remain anonymous due to the heavy presence of the American occupation troops (like speaking up in Austria or Poland after the Germans invaded.).

“I am a Panamanian middle-aged mother. My sons are grown & gone to the United States. I have always been pro-American because I speak English, which is the favored tongue. But we are very afraid. Everyone is losing their jobs. Anyone who was associated with Noriega in any way has lost his job, especially in the lower classes at the bottom of the ladder. The town has been destroyed. The jails have been destroyed, the criminals are loose, the soldiers are out. Someone broke into my house to steal my food. People are getting desperate, no work, no money, no food. They are turning to theft to get by. Things are very bad and we are very scared. We are just trying to get by. We aren’t rich people by any means, but we have been hurt so much by the trade embargo and now this war. The university has been closed down, newspapers have been taken over, radio and TV stations shut down. Don’t the people in the US. know about it. On the bright side, they have loosened the curfew at last.”

“What curfew?”

“Don’t you people up there know that we have been living under a military imposed curfew since the Canal Zonians invaded two months ago?”

“How has the curfew been relaxed?”

“For two months we couldn’t go out of our homes after 6PM when the sun goes down. Nobody out after dark. They have now relaxed the curfew to midnight. What a relief! But they have been burying bodies outside of the towns in secret graves at night. Four or five to a grave. They think nobody knows, but they can’t keep things too secret in a town like this because people talk.”

“What was it like when the Zonians invaded.”

“The night of the bombings was terrible. I was so afraid I wanted to run out and run away. It was in the middle of the night after we had gone to bed, but my husband convinced me to stay because he said it might be worse outside. The noise for the bombs was so terrible I had to hold my ears.”

What bombs?”

“Don’t your newspapers up there tell you anything. They used one of those Stealth Bombers to blow up the local jail where Noriega’s headquarters was. It set all the criminals free. The worst ones were held in that jail, you know. But we are looking forward to the University being opened up again, because the students might have a few things to say.”

“How are you doing?”

“We are fine. But a lot of our friends in El Chorrillo lost everything, including their lives. But at least we’re alive and we still have our jobs. I never liked Noriega, but things are the worst they’ve ever been. I’m afraid. Every day there is about 10 to 15 murders. People, when they get desperate, rob, steal, & kill. There are paid CIA informants & civilian agents everywhere. Who dares to complain?”

But we, Americans, don’t care about those dark-skinned people so far away. We are happy that things don’t cost quite so much and that our material standard of living is higher than our parents. We are appreciative of a brand new TV & VCR. We are also proud of our American sports tradition. We are far too happy rooting for our favorite team to be worried about national misery created by repressive American policies in South & Central America, the Middle East, the Far East, in fact nearly the whole world.

Month 6: ‘Happily ever after’?

A Conversation held in Mid-May 1990 – 6 months after the invasion.

Dim Dune: “Hey there! Innocencio! ?Que Paso?”

Innocencio: “Not so good. I just called Panama. It’s really bad down there.”

Dune: “Whadaya mean? I thought the Panamanians were ‘living happily ever after’ since the Americans overthrew Noriega.”

Innocencio: “Hardly. It’s the worst ever.”

Dune: “What’s happening? And why haven’t we heard anything about it?”

Innocencio: “Here is what my parents said:”


“There was an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Endara, already. Didn’t you hear about this in America?

No!? I guess that doesn’t really surprise us for our press is totally controlled now like yours. The press never talks about the daily murders of policeman. It never talks about the anarchy, about the chaos, about the graves outside of town filled with the bodies of Panamanians killed in the invasion. Our press is trying to make things sound good so that businessman will want to invest.

Actually it is exactly opposite. Businesses are closing down, packing up and going elsewhere, because there is no security now. Our apartment recently installed iron gates in front because of all the burglaries. Your mother wants to put an iron gate on our door, because nobody feels safe any more. There is no police force. The jail was destroyed in the attack, all the criminals are free.

Things have changed since you were here Innocencio. El Chorrillo is flat now. Flat. nothing’s there. No one has dared to try and build anything because at night the streets are back in the hands of the criminals. Everyone goes to bed at dark. There is no night life in Panama any more. Things have changed since you were here and since the Americans arrived.

Do you remember Panama Viejo, Old Panama, the ruins of our old colonial city? It’s flat too, destroyed by those new bombs dropped by the Stealth bombers, when they got confused. Also the old airport, Tocume, is flat, bombed out and gone. People are really scared. We are sharing to survive. We get an orange and everyone gets a bite.

Son, we’re doing the Endara dance. We used to do the Noriega dance, but now it is Endara. The issue is survival, not whose side you are on. We are simple, poor folk, just trying to make a living, not radical revolutionaries waging war. We are just trying to get along with everyone, but since the American invasion things have been worse than they have ever been.

Everyday there are protests in the streets, telling the Americans to go home. Every night there are murders, robberies, and killings. This is the way of life in Panama, now.

It’s terrible. Friends have been digging up these unmarked graves on the outskirts of the city to find their lost loved ones. It has been horrible. One friend found five bodies dumped into a grave, dumped and buried, no dignity or grace. The bodies had been so burned, they were unrecognizable. they had to identify them by their rings and such. One grave had 200 people dumped into it, formerly a big ditch. The newspapers don’t talk about such things. But we the people know because Panama City is a small, compact city and people talk. But son, we’re all doin’ the Endara, so we can survive.

The University is still closed, but people are still getting together for daily demonstrations. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I hope it will happen soon, because things can’t get much worse. The government is trying to find people loyal to Endara but can’t, so we have no police force. The former members of Noriega’s administration are holed up in foreign embassies like Noriega did, and might spend their lives there.

We must do the Endara or perish. Things have changed since the Americans came. One rabi-blanco [the rich whites that have come back into power with Endara] said, “It’s the price we must pay for freedom.”

I wonder how much he would value his freedom if his home had been destroyed, his relatives killed, if he was afraid to go out at night. I wonder how valuable this freedom he speaks about would be. Under Noriega, we were not bothered by the government dealings. There was order in the streets. We could go out to the nightclubs at night. We made a living and were not afraid. Things became very hard economically when the Americans placed an embargo upon us, but we still went out at night, ‘till all hours of the night to have fun and we felt safe. We thought things were bad then; we didn’t know how good we had it. At least the criminals were in jail. The Noriega police force was getting rich but at least there was order.

I don’t know what is going to happen next. But I’m going to keep doing the Endara until the next dance step comes into fashion.”

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