An eye-opening history of the tangled, racially freighted dealings of the American government with its sometime client state of Panama over a hundred years.
The American invasion of Panama on December 20, 1989, was the most violent event in that country’s history for nearly a century—though, remarked one media scholar at the time, “If you just looked at television, the most violent thing American troops did in Panama was play rock music.” That was far from all they did, writes Caribbeanist Lindsay-Poland; untold hundreds of Panamanians died in the American attack on Panama City, including many poor people unfortunate enough to have sheltered in the shadows of the capital’s official buildings. And, he continues, that was far from the first crime America inflicted on the small but strategically important Central American nation, populated, wrote Harper’s Weekly in 1902, by an ethnically mixed people with “negro blood enough to make them lazy, and Spanish blood sufficient to make them mean.” There, in the supposedly savage tropics, American troops tested and stockpiled biological and chemical weapons, including enough Agent Orange to burn up good portions of the rainforest; there, for the first time, the US Air Force deployed the F117A stealth bomber, “which is invisible to radar, although Panama had no radar defenses,” and managed to miss its target all the same; there, after withdrawing from the Panama Canal in December 1999, the American military left enough toxic waste to poison the land for generations to come—and has since done nothing to assist in the cleanup. All is of a piece, Lindsay-Poland concludes, with the long pattern of US foreign policy in the Third World, in which “the United States has sought to exercise imperial control without confronting the messy aspects of that control.”
Sure, Manuel Noriega was a bad guy. But, to judge by this persuasive account, Panama has seen plenty worse—most of them with Washington addresses.