Manuel Noriega was Panamanian dictator who was the ultimate middleman of drugs, being both a physical intermediary. He was a general during Torrijos’ reign until the latter’s death in 1981, and became leader of the Panama Defense Forces in 1983.1 Noriega was protected by both the canal’s interests and his tacit support of Contra activity in neighboring Nicaragua during the 1980s. In turn, the Central Intelligence Agency determined him an asset and looked the other way in terms of his involvement in smuggling.
While US sanctions deteriorated the economy and savaged the average Panamanian citizen, Noriega survived under a shadow economy, his pockets lined with the drug money from US insatiable appetite for cocaine.2 After the US supported repeated failed coups by to Panama Defense Force underlings, Noriega was deposed by swift military intervention called Operation Just Cause.
Rosenberg3 aggregates the three given U.S. common wisdom rationales as to why the occurred, but one notable exclusion exists. In an unheralded masterpiece, Cramer4 dissects the intervention as strictly diversionary warfare. The untrained eye is a double-edged sword, but even prior to reading this takedown, a creeping feeling of agent provocateurs existed throughout the text of the official account. The critical impetus for invasion was US officers violating a roadblock of Panamanian forces, leading to the shooting death of a Lt. Paz.5
What was not listed in the account (but by Cramer) is that during the shooting, multiple provocations were being carried out in concert. The official account is the car’s occupants were going to a meal at the Marriott in Panama City. Perhaps they were tired of being harassed by said checkpoints and decided to ignore it despite imminent threat.
However, in less than 12 hours, the President was recommended to exercise one of four plans already in the hopper, called Blue Spoon.6 Not surprisingly, the official version of the decision-making process is riddled with the word “Cheney”at particularly critical junctures.
Panama, like Belize, does not have a rich historical vein to mine from a bilateral-US perspective until 1903, when the Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty was signed. This machination yielded a small portion of the canal land to the United States, rebuffing Colombia after settling accounts with the French.7 The floodgate of bounty did not necessarily open to Panama proper, largely boxed out of such windfalls. Many of the lavish investments were on American-controlled territory after all. The United States remained in control of the canal until the Carter–Torrijos treaty, sun-downing the ownership at 1999.8
The requisite story of the Panama Canal Treaty is a winding yarn; this is partially due to the complexities within Carter’s foreign policy itself and the extant hegemony existing within the State Department’s old guard and Carter’s appointees.9 If Operation Just Cause was a diversionary war, the secession of the Panama Canal was a diversionary treaty. Carter’s worldview was still smarting from Vietnam, and he may have felt continued presence an over-extension of the US into foreign soil— perhaps the Panama canal was a token target to temper these feelings.
The canal was a symbol of a time when the US dominated worldwide mercantile exchange. Republicans, maybe correctly, took the treaty as an opportunity to create a wedge issue against the Democrat Carter for the 1980 Presidential campaign. The modern history of the “driving a wedge” was developed less than 10 years earlier as a codified political strategy. Nixon and his braintrust developed it to attract opposition voters opposed to busing-based desegregation in schools.10
While modern wedge issues may have direct impact (especially anecdotally) on the American citizens daily life viz. abortion, immigration, stem cell research; the Panama Canal treaty opposition movement was particularly genius because affected almost no one in any aspect of American society. Further, this implementing this plan would have no remarkable downside to its initiators.
As it has been shown, the relationship between Panama and the United States coalesces around two decades, the 1900s and the 1980s. The majority of bilateral relations here appear to be otherwise uneventful, especially when taken from a holistic worldwide foreign policy perspective. Noriega was charged, deported and then repatriated to Panama to serve his prison term before dying in 2017.
1 Archibold, Randal. 2017. “Manuel Noriega, Dictator Ousted By U.S. In Panama, Dies At 83”. Nytimes.Com. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/30/world/americas/manuel-antonio-noriega-dead-panama.html?mtrref=en.wikipedia.org&gwh=5436BDBDC86582DA034CEFC5BDA40E82&gwt=pay.
2 Gilboa, Eytan. “The Panama Invasion Revisited: Lessons for the Use of Force in the Post Cold War Era.” Political Science Quarterly 110, no. 4 (1995): 539-62. doi:10.2307/2151883.
3 “Panama and Noriega: Our SOB. Scott Rosenberg – PDF.” Accessed October 15, 2017. http://docplayer.net/26026700-Panama-and-noriega-our-sob-scott-rosenberg.html.
4 Cramer, Jane Kellett. “‘Just Cause’ or Just Politics?: U.S. Panama Invasion and Standardizing Qualitative Tests for Diversionary War.” Armed Forces & Society 32, no. 2 (January 1, 2006): 178–201. https://doi.org/10.1177/0095327X05277899.
5 “Operation JUST CAUSE”. 2017. History.Army.Mil. https://history.army.mil/html/documents/Panama/JC.html.
6 Operation Jus
7 “BBC News – Timeline: Panama”. 2017. News.Bbc.Co.Uk. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/country_profiles/1229333.stm.
8 Zaretsky, Natasha. “Restraint or Retreat? The Debate over the Panama Canal Treaties and U.S. Nationalism after Vietnam*: Restraint or Retreat?” Diplomatic History 35, no. 3 (June 2011): 535–62. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-7709.2011.00962.x.
10 McMahon, Kevin J. Nixon’s Court: His Challenge to Judicial Liberalism and Its Political Consequences. University of Chicago Press, 2011. np. “The President [Nixon] also made it clear to Chief Justice Burger that he preferred that the court not issue a major busing decision in the fall of 1972.”