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Apr-16-2011 19:57printcommentsVideo

Air-Conditioned Vestiges of an Empire

A secret tunnel and dirty secrets about the real number of civilians killed during the U.S. invasion of Panama.

One end of the Tunnel
One end of the Tunnel

(PANAMA CITY) - When I told my father recently about my morning jogs up Ancón Hill—located in Panama City’s Quarry Heights, former headquarters of the U.S. Southern Command—he emailed back to say that his own father, director of intelligence for SOUTHCOM from 1971-76, used to receive visits from Manuel Noriega in the Ancón Hill “Tunnel” during the latter’s service as director of military intelligence under Omar Torrijos.

Not known for my attentiveness to scenery, I asked what tunnel. He responded: The thing dug into the side of the hill.

Indeed, ascending the hill the following morning, I noted a cement edifice on my left—one end of the U.S. bunker, abandoned in accordance with the withdrawal of SOUTHCOM from Quarry Heights in the late 1990s.

Located not far from the Tunnel is the former house of U.S. General Marc Cisneros, a key player in the 1989 U.S. war on Panama to dislodge Noriega, who had by this time risen to the position of dictator and whose decades of cooperation with the CIA failed to avert his demise via “Operation Just Cause”.

Perspective from a seven year old about "La Invasion", the US
invasion of Panama, codenamed Operation Just Cause.

The house is currently inhabited by a Panamanian woman who drew my attention to the whirring machinery 10 meters from her front door as an indication that the bunker continues to be air conditioned, and who asked me why, if nuclear holocaust were visited upon the region, U.S. military commanders would wish to prolong their existence three years inside a tunnel.

Aside from air conditioning, the Tunnel is reportedly equipped with other luxuries such as decontamination chambers, a church, and an SUV-sized paper shredder.

As for area residents with less access to protection from nuclear-themed destruction, these include the inhabitants of the impoverished neighborhood of El Chorillo, which according to FAIR was referred to as “Little Hiroshima” by ambulance drivers in the aftermath of the 1989 invasion. It is entirely possible that the civilian death toll of the concentrated U.S. assault outnumbered the civilian deaths accrued on 9/11; that the U.S. and its media have been able to claim only a few hundred Panamanian civilian deaths (while CBS reported that the families of the corpses were nonetheless exuberant about the toppling of Noriega) merely underscores the especial susceptibility of certain social strata to manipulations of the magnitude of their suffering in the interest of political expediency.

So that Operation Just Cause might live up to its name, the U.S. military reported that 50 pounds of cocaine had been discovered in a house regularly visited by Noriega at Fort Amador.

The weight was subsequently inflated to 110 pounds, before it was revealed that the material in question was in fact a stash of tamales wrapped in banana leaves. Undeterred by the seeming innocence of the apprehended comestibles, Defense Dept. spokeswoman Kathy Wood announced that they constituted “a substance they use in voodoo rituals.”

As FAIR notes: “Noriega’s involvement in drug trafficking was purportedly heaviest in the early 1980s when his relationship with the U.S. was especially close.”

Meanwhile, the justness of the delivery of Operation Just Cause has been called into question by General Cisneros himself, who had the following to say on the tenth anniversary of the invasion in 1999:

"I think we could have done it with less troops and less destruction. We made it look like we were battling Goliath… We are mesmerized with firepower. We have all these new gadgets, laser-guided missiles and stealth fighters, and we are just dying to use that stuff.”

This article was originally published by: Pulse Media.


Belén is co-editor at Pulse Media. Her articles also have appeared in CounterPunch, Narco News, Palestine Chronicle, Palestine Think Tank, Rebelión, Tlaxcala, The Electronic Intifada, Upside Down World, and Her book “Coffee with Hezbollah,” a humorous political travelogue chronicling her hitchhiking trip through Lebanon in the aftermath of the 2006 Israeli assault, is available at Amazon, Amazon UK, and Barnes and Noble.

Born in Washington, DC, in 1982, Belén earned her bachelor's degree with a concentration in political science from Columbia University in New York City. Her diverse background of worldwide experiences, created a fantastic writer; one whose work we are extremely happy to share with viewers. You can contact Belén at:

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Dr. Henry Kissinger April 18, 2011 11:30 am (Pacific time)

Killing a few Latin Americans does not really constitute a massive war crime. Trust me I know.

Editor: Even if you were Kissinger I still wouldn't include the link to your racist blog.  You are a hateful person and you can't judge any group of people from the actions of a few.  

Bob April 17, 2011 6:22 am (Pacific time)

Fanciful, polemical but really short of the true historical fact of the operation. The writer is bothered by the success of the operation.

Editor: Are you actually referring to 'Just Cause' as a successful operation?  It was a sickening abomination of power and will.  It is a stain on the American fabric that can never be erased.  It is one of the worst things the warmongers ever did but shadowed of course by much worse examples in Iraq and Afghanistan.  With the exception of Korea, every conflict the US has been involved in since WWII was wrong, wrong wrong.  I'm sure the 58k+ Americans killed in Vietnam would agree.  I'm sure the slaughtered civilians of Panama would agree.  I know how they feel in Baghdad and Kabul.  The US is on a level with the worst war criminals in history.  There is no difference in slaughter'; being in a concentration camp or on combat patrol or eating dinner in your family home- if you die you die and the loss is then a fact.  Everyone reading this needs to watch the second video posted here, it is a seven part YouTube piece by LinkTV with lots of footage of what really happened in Panama.  It traces the 1903 US insistence that Jim Crow law be adopted in Panama, that was the beginning.  This nation has bad ambitions throughout all of history.  James Carter is one of the few Presidents ever worth having.  We deserve what we get, though I doubt the future generations deserve it.  I am working on a historical review of Panama and I suspect Belen will have more treasures for us.  Sorry Bob, I grew up here like everyone else but I read the history books and I go to the sources that are not approved by the average mainstream US news network, and I am horrified by the past and the only decent thing we can do is confront the angry ghosts of our past and learn from these mistakes.  I don't think Americans can, but that is what needs to happen.  Thanks for writing. 

bobinpan April 17, 2011 6:17 am (Pacific time)

Unfortunately this article contains more polemics than facts. But then facts don't sell papers or gain hack reporters a reputation. Because a piece of an underground command center built during WW2 when the canal and its admin were a target is found it must point to US duplicity in Just Cause. There's some logic for you. Another fact that this writer fails to report is that Manuel Noriega's tenure as a CIA informant had been terminated 8 years before the invasion. His information resulted in the breaking of several Colombian narco trafficking operations. But his greed in getting more of the cash for himself caused his bosses to remove him. A case of police informant gone bad. The reporter calls this US duplicity.More skewed logic. Hidden civilian casualties? The civilian casualty count she refers to can be unknown. Days and weeks before this invasion there had been violent demonstrations in the streets of PTY. Lots of parties had severe axes to grind and revenge to take. The neighborhood of Chorillo is a murder and mayhem area even today. One can only imagine what happened when police and PDF thugs ran for the hills when the US came. Further, Panama is a very small country. If there had been as many civilian deaths as the Cuban president of the OAS at the time, and history impaired hack writers of the present claim...the people here would be demand to know who and where they are. No such demand exists.
face it. The invasion removed an evil dictator who had negated democratic elections, declared war on the US and whose troops had just killed three unarmed US servicemen. Noriega's PDF had skimmed millions from the populace and it was just another banana republic. Now look at it. The difference is stunning. Instead of the tired old liberal mantra of hating your government and seeing conspiracies where none exist, Panama can be said to be a nation building project that went right. Reporter's like this without historical sources have little credibility..

Editor: Bob, I already gave you a response and I was level with you, but I see you are getting personal now and that doesn't sit well with me.  This reporter has a lot of world experience and her eyes are open.  She is a published author and has hundreds and hundreds of published reports online and in the press.  I think the US role in Panama is utterly shameful with the exception of Pres. Carter's decision to give it back.  Your heroes, Reagan, Bush, North (I presume) were despicable men and their lies and ambitions for machoism led to countless suffering.  They will all fry in hell for it.  You want a real hero?  you like manly men?  Then throw your admiration behind activist Ken O'Keefe in Gaza.  How about our late friend Vittorio Arrigoni who was murdered last week... these are men who have no fear, no bad ambitions, only heart.  Peace is the goal on this earth and the United States has made sure it is not a possibility.  

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Sean Flynn was a photojournalist in Vietnam, taken captive in 1970 in Cambodia and never seen again.