BY CINDY JAQUITH
Below we reprint an excerpt from "Why the Panamanian people are fighting for national dignity," by Cindy Jaquith, which is found in the pamphlet, Panama: The truth about the U.S. invasion. It is copyright 1990 by Pathfinder Press and reprinted by permission.
"General Thurman, with the way things are going, don't you think it's optimistic to say U.S. troops will be out of Panama in one month?"
Ted Koppel, ABC Nightline
"Well, you'll recall when we went into Detroit. We said it would be for ten days and then it took us a while."
Gen. Maxwell Thurman
Head of U.S. Southern Command
Panama, December 22, 1989
Three days into the U.S. invasion of Panama - Washington's biggest military operation since the Vietnam War - Gen. Maxwell Thurman could think only of Detroit, where 4,700 U.S. paratroopers and 8,000 National Guardsmen invaded in 1967 to crush a rebellion by Blacks against police brutality.
The U.S. Army's occupation of Detroit left 43 Blacks dead, 2,000 wounded, 5,000 arrested, and 5,000 homeless.
The invasion of Panama by 26,000 U.S. troops has taken thousands of Panamanian lives and left thousands more homeless and wounded. Body bags of U.S. GIs have arrived in the United States, along with hundreds of wounded U.S. troops.
Washington says it has occupied this country of only 2.3 million people to "restore democracy." But the bombing of working-class neighborhoods in Panama City, the refusal to permit Red Cross workers to evacuate the wounded, and the rounding up of thousands of Panamanian youth reveal the real target of this operation.
The invading troops have met resistance from the Dignity Battalions. These are armed civilian units of Panamanian workers and peasants, many of them Black. The battalions have been branded "terrorists," "thugs," and "looters" by the likes of General Thurman. Cuban President Fidel Castro has praised them as "heroes of Our America who are fighting for the dignity, honor, and sovereignty of our peoples."...
The battle of the Panamanian people for freedom from U.S. tyranny stretches back to the beginning of this century. In 1903 the United States intervened in Panama to gain for itself rights to build the Panama Canal. A treaty was drawn up giving the U.S. government rights to the canal "in perpetuity," including the right to administer the over-500-square-mile Canal Zone, to run the Panama Canal Co., and to use U.S. soldiers to maintain "order" in other parts of Panama. Washington didn't even bother to ask the Panamanian government, which it had just installed, to sign the document.
Tens of thousands of workers from the Caribbean, most of them Black and English-speaking, migrated to Panama to work on the canal. Thousands died from the slavelike working conditions or from disease. Of those who survived, many stayed in the Canal Zone working for the U.S. Army or private U.S. companies once the canal was completed.
The decades following completion of the canal were marked by repeated struggles of Panamanians against U.S. domination of their economy and government and for an end to the occupation of the Canal Zone. Intertwined with the fight for Panamanian sovereignty was the struggle against the racist policies of the U.S. government. In the Canal Zone, which was subject to U.S. law, Washington had set up the same kind of Jim Crow system that existed at that time in the U.S. South.
Whites shopped at "gold" commissaries and lived in "gold" neighborhoods, while Blacks went to "silver" commissaries, drank out of "silver" water fountains, and could only find housing in "silver" neighborhoods.
The struggle against this discriminatory system was waged partly through the trade unions that grew up among canal workers. Many of the labor leaders who fought to end segregation were expelled from the zone....
The legal segregationist system in the zone began to fall apart, however, in the 1950s. With the first victories in the U.S. civil rights movement against "separate but equal" facilities, certain U.S. policies in the Canal Zone were no longer constitutional.
In 1959 the people of Cuba overthrew the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship, ending decades of U.S. domination. Working people throughout Latin America were inspired by the new Cuban government's resolute action to distribute land to poor peasants, nationalize U.S.-owned companies, drive out the gambling and prostitution houses, and defend the revolution arms in hand.
Labor and youth struggles in Panama, as in many other Latin American countries, began to intensify following the Cuban victory. Sugar and banana workers in Panama spearheaded a battle for a minimum wage in the early 1960s. There were urban protests against high rents. Panamanian students organized demonstrations against the U.S. occupation of the zone.
In 1964, U.S. students and parents refused to allow Panama's flag to be raised next to the U.S. one at Balboa High School in the zone. When a group of Panamanian students attempted to do so, they were attacked and the Panamanian flag was desecrated. Zone police and U.S. troops then opened fire on the crowd, setting off rebellions in the zone, Panama City, and Colón.
More than 20 Panamanians were shot dead and over 400 wounded. The bulk of the protesters were slain in Chorrillo, one of the poorest working-class neighborhoods in Panama City.
Twenty-five years later, when the U.S. military invaded on December 20, 1989, Chorrillo was the first neighborhood to be destroyed as U.S. bombers pounded the Defense Forces headquarters located in the heart of Chorrillo...
In 1967 Washington offered the Panamanian government a new canal treaty aimed at maintaining the U.S. presence with some cosmetic changes. Opposition to the treaty was so great that Panama's National Assembly was unable to ratify it.
The political crisis deepened with the 1968 presidential elections. Arnulfo Arias declared himself the winner, but eleven days after taking office, he was overthrown by a group of young officers in the country's National Guard led by Omar Torrijos, then a colonel...
In 1977 U.S. President James Carter was forced to sign historic treaties promising to relinquish Washington's control of the Panama Canal to Panama by the year 2000. The Torrijos- Carter treaties stipulated that total control of the canal and the administration of the zone would revert to Panama. The U.S. military bases - which numbered fourteen at the time - would be dismantled. Between 1977 and 2000, control would be turned over step-by-step to the Panamanian government.
On October 1, 1979, a quarter of a million Panamanians demonstrated to celebrate the formal turning over of the Canal Zone to Panama. U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale, who addressed the ceremony, was greeted by banners demanding "Yankees out of Panama!" and "Sovereignty or death!"..
In the fall of 1989 Washington made its last attempt to use Panamanians to overturn the legitimate government of Panama...
Two and a half months later, the biggest U.S. invading
force since Vietnam attacked a country whose working people
have fought long and hard for national dignity and self-
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