The Panama Deception

Part of the Global Perspectives on War and Peace Collection. A video documenting the role of the United States in the situation leading up to, during, and after the invasion of Panama in the late 1980s.

00:00:10Copy video clip URL Video begins. Clips of Panamanians describing the horror of the invasion are cut with clips of government and military officials speaking about what a success they thought it was.

00:01:37Copy video clip URL Titles over shots of Panama.

00:03:18Copy video clip URL Shots of Panama city the night of the invasion. Voiceovers describe the bombings and violence which lasted three days.

00:05:37Copy video clip URL “In many ways the invasion served as a testing ground for the Persian Gulf War one year later, it is also an indication of the kind of intervention the United States may undertake in the years to come.”

00:06:03Copy video clip URL TV news reporting on the invasion. Coverage focuses almost entirely on the capture of Colonel Noriega, issuing no criticism of U.S involvement.

00:08:00Copy video clip URL The narrator goes into a history of the United States’ relationship with Panama starting in 1903 when they supported Panama’s independence from Columbia, and began work on the canal.

00:10:57Copy video clip URL In 1968 Omar Torrijos takes power in Panama and becomes “immensely popular”. “For the first time in Panama you had the participation of non-oligarch people in our nation.” In 1978 Torrijos and Jimmy Carter sign agreements that require the U.S to withdraw its troops by 2000, relinquishing power of the Canal to Panama.

00:12:55Copy video clip URL Ronald Reagan in a 1976 campaign speech. “The Panama canal zone is sovereign United States territory, just as much as Alaska is, and the states carved from the Louisiana Purchase. We bought it, we paid for it, and General Torrijos should be told that we’re going to keep it.”

00:13:30Copy video clip URL In 1981 Omar Torrijos is killed in a plane crash, 8 months after Ronald Reagan in elected President. “Although his death was declared an accident, many suspect that he was assassinated.”

00:14:35Copy video clip URL Colonel Manuel Noriega takes power of the Panamanian military in 1983, “the CIA’s primary contact in Panama.” The video goes on to describe Noriega’s close relationship with the CIA and Vice President at the time, George Bush. “When Bush headed the CIA in 1976 he kept Noriega on the payroll, despite evidence that he was involved in drug trafficking.”

00:17:31Copy video clip URL Noriega helps supply arms to the U.S as they fight the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. “It is now undeniable that the same planes that were carrying arms from Panama into Costa Rica were also carrying drugs.” Peter Dale Scott, ” It’s no accident that the CIA became the most prominent defenders of Noriega against the drug charges, because that’s the sort of thing which CIA clients tend to do…” A list is then shown of past and present leaders supported by the CIA that were involved somehow in drug trafficking.

00:19:45Copy video clip URL Noriega begins to become uncooperative with the U.S.  In 1986 three of his main supporters and contacts leave the government because of their involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal.

00:21:44Copy video clip URL The U.S media begins to portray Noriega as a drug trafficker. He becomes more repressive in Panama, jailing protesters and opponents. Reagan calls for his removal.

00:22:45Copy video clip URL Noriega claims that the U.S “made a demand that the Panamanian government allow the U.S to expand their military presence in Panama and to renegotiate a treaty to allow them to keep control of 14 military bases there.” He refused and the U.S began actions towards having him removed.

00:24:50Copy video clip URL The 1989 national elections in Panama. “How can you call it a free election? The strategy, it was applied in Panama, applied in Nicaragua, applied to every government who disagreed with U.S foreign policy. They used economic sanctions to starved people to the polls, because people vote to get bread when they’re hungry. And I don’t think that’s democracy.”

00:26:00Copy video clip URL Riots begin during the elections, the U.S supported candidates are beaten in the streets. These bloody images are shown on the U.S news who claim that the candidates were attacked by Noriega’s goons.

00:28:33Copy video clip URL With U.S support, members of the Panamanian military try to overthrow Noriega, the attempt fails and Bush denies and U.S involvement.

00:30:30Copy video clip URL More U.S troops are flown in. Footage of Panamanians arguing with troops, “go home” written in chalk on their tanks.

00:32:00Copy video clip URL Weeks before the invasion. Sabina Virgo, “Provocations of the Panamanian people by U.S troops were very frequent.  One of their intents in my opinion, was to create an international incident.  To have the troops just hassle the Panamanians until an incident resulted, and from that incident the U.S could then say that they were entering Panama for the protection of American life, which was exactly what happened.”

00:33:18Copy video clip URL A U.S marine is killed. Four days later, U.S troops invade Panama. 27 targets are attacked, many in poorer, densely populated areas.

00:37:00Copy video clip URL Ashton Bancroft, the president of a Refugee Committee, speaks about his experience during the invasion. He, and another woman whose name is protected, say that U.S troops began systematically burning buildings, to prevent Panamanian soldiers from having places to hide. A representative from the Pentagon denies these claims.

00:40:05Copy video clip URL “The Pentagon used Panama for newly developed hi-tech weapons. The stealth helicopter, apache helicopter, and laser guided missiles…as well as experimental and unknown weaponry.”  Ramsey Clark, former U.S Attorney General, “There was a use beyond any conceivable necessity of just sheer firepower… an excessive use of force beyond any possible justification”

00:42:39Copy video clip URL Footage of dead on the streets. “We walked among the dead, and saw tanks run over our dead. We saw whole families crushed in their cars by the tanks.” People begin reporting that Panamanian soldiers are being executed by U.S troops, the Pentagon representative again denies that these reports are true.

00:44:44Copy video clip URL Rafaeil Olivardia describes his experience in a detention camp. Saying he witnessed the execution of 8 Panamanian soldiers.

00:46:02Copy video clip URL The narrator describes how severely media access was limited by the U.S military. A Panamanian photographer describes he was forced to expose film after he took photos of dead bodies in the street.  A Spanish photographer is shot by soldiers. Panamanian stations and newspapers are occupied and shut down by the U.S.

00:50:33Copy video clip URL Footage of people entering temporary detention camps.  A woman is told she cannot go back and look for her children.

00:53:19Copy video clip URL Anyone opposed to the U.S supported regime are arrested or taken in detention centers.  Different organizations are ransacked and shut down.  Balbina Herrera, a member of the national assembly, described how her house was searched 26 times by U.S troops.

00:56:59Copy video clip URL Footage of bombed out areas of Panama. Poorest neighborhoods were hit hardest.

00:58:26Copy video clip URL An airplane hangar houses people who are now homeless.  The camera crew tries to interview refugees and is told to leave by U.S troops.  A crowd forms and eventually the soldiers back down.

01:01:51Copy video clip URL Roberto Duran, World Boxing Champion, describes how he sometimes buys food and clothes for people because no one is helping them.  Bancroft, “With Noriega we used to eat three meals a day, now we are not even eating one!”

01:02:51Copy video clip URL The reported number of people that were killed in Panama fluctuates greatly depending on the source. The U.N claims 2500, but some claim as high as 4000 deaths. The U.S media reported about 250 civilian deaths. Some U.S footage of Panamanians saying how happy they were that the U.S had invaded.

01:09:20Copy video clip URL Reports begin to surface of mass graves being dug up.  Footage of bodies being dug out of a pit.  “Although the Pentagon insists that only 516 Panamanians were killed, they do concede that 75 percent of them were civilians.”

01:12:55Copy video clip URL “The invasion was overwhelmingly condemned in the international community.” “The four biggest papers in this country endorsed the Panama invasion.  The UN voted by an overwhelming majority that the invasion was a flagrant violation of international law.”  The vote was 75 to 20, and the media barely reported on it.

01:17:30Copy video clip URL Professor Robert Matthews, “The excuse that the invasion was to protect American lives is always given, the fact is that the 35,000 American citizens there and none of them were in any danger, I was there before the invasion.  There seemed to be no evidence and I don’t think the administration has even bothered to give any evidence to that statement.”

01:18:50Copy video clip URL Footage of demonstrations against the new U.S supported government. “President Endara tries to minimize the significance of the military occupation in Panama.”

01:21:00Copy video clip URL The U.S claims another reason for the invasion had to do with preventing the drug flow into the U.S. “The involvement of the Panamanian economy as a whole, in drug running, arms running, various questionable banking practices in fact involves most of the Panamanian elite, involves most of the people who now run this new U.S approved Panamanian government.”

01:24:20Copy video clip URL “The elimination of the PDF means the extension of the U.S as the only military force in our nation.”  Herrera, “What they really want is to stay in Panama after the year 2000, and that’s what they have achieved. To destroy the PDF, to impose a government complacent with U.S interests…”

01:27:40Copy video clip URL Text: “In 1991, President Endara proposed a constitutional amendment that would forever abolish Panama’s right to have an army…a law was passed by the U.S to ensure continued U.S military presence because Panama was no longer capable of defending the canal.”

01:28:10Copy video clip URL Credits



  1. Maureen says:

    Thank you for providing this documentary video!! I should have known, but I was so ignorant. Who are we???

  2. Karl Koser says:


    Who are WE, indeed….

    Thank you,

    Kjk. 03/18/2023

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