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In this context, we may turn to the Panama invasion, inaugurating the "post-Cold War era." After floating various trial balloons, the White House settled on the need to "protect American lives" as the reason for the invasion. There had been "literally hundreds of cases of harassment and abuse of Americans" in recent months by Noriega's forces, the White House announced -- though, curiously, no warning to American travellers to stay away from Panama. A U.S. soldier was killed after his car had driven "through a military roadblock near a sensitive military area" (New York Times). Panamanian officials alleged that the U.S. officers had fired at a military headquarters, wounding a soldier and two civilians, including a 1-year-old girl; a wounded Panamanian soldier in a military hospital confirmed this account to U.S. reporters.20
But what tipped the scales was the threat to the wife of an officer who had been arrested and beaten. Bush "often has difficulty in emotionally charged situations," the New York Times reported, "but his deep feelings clearly came through" when he spoke of this incident, proclaiming in his best Ollie North rendition that "this President" is not going to stand by while American womanhood is threatened.21
The press did not explain why "this President" refused even to issue a protest when, a few weeks earlier, an American nun, Diana Ortiz, had been kidnapped, tortured, and sexually abused by the Guatemalan police -- or why the media did not find the story worth reporting when it appeared on the wires on November 6, and have ignored repeated calls for an investigation by religious leaders and congressional representatives. Nor were Bush's "deep feelings" contrasted with the response of "this president" to the treatment of American women and other religious and humanitarian workers in El Salvador a few weeks later, a small footnote to the brutal government actions praised by James Baker at a November 29 press conference as "absolutely appropriate" -- a comment given little notice, perhaps regarded as not too useful right after the assassination of the Jesuit priests.22
The murder of Sisters Maureen Courtney (from Milwaukee) and Teresa Rosales by U.S.-organized terrorists in Nicaragua on January 1, a few days after Bush had impressed the media with his "deep feelings," also passed quietly, and no call for action to protect American womanhood. The same had been true when Sister Mary McKay was severely wounded by gunmen firing from a pickup truck in San Salvador four days after inflammatory condemnations of the political opposition by the U.S. Embassy. The murder of Ben Linder by contras in 1987 also aroused no call for the protection of American lives, even after the head of operations for the contras, Fermin Cardenas, stated in a deposition that contra commander Enrique Berm£dez had ordered Linder killed to sabotage a small dam project on which he was working in a remote village -- another fact that somehow escaped notice.23
Another pretext offered was our commitment to democracy, deeply offended when Noriega stole the 1989 election that had been won by the U.S.-backed candidate, Guillermo Endara, now placed in office by the invasion. An obvious test comes to mind: what happened in the preceding election in 1984, when Noriega was still our thug? The answer is that Noriega stole the election with considerably more violence than in 1989, with two killed and forty wounded when troops fired at a protest demonstration. These actions successfully barred the victory of Arnulfo Arias in favor of Nicolas Ardito Barletta, since known as "fraudito" in Panama. Washington opposed Arias, who it feared "would bring an undesirable ultranationalist brand of politics to power" (State Department official), preferring Barletta, a former student of Secretary of State George Shultz whose campaign received U.S. government funds, according to U.S. Ambassador Everett Briggs. Shultz was sent down to legitimate the fraud, praising the election as "initiating the process of democracy"; U.S. approval was symbolized by President Reagan's congratulatory message to Barletta, seven hours before his victory had been certified.24
The media looked the other way, uninterested in the report of fraud by ex-congressman Father Robert Drinan, speaking for foreign observers monitoring the election. There was no criticism of the election in leading journals (New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, and others), though they changed tune quickly and began to publish editorial attacks on Noriega's failure to meet our lofty democratic standards as soon as the Reagan administration gave the signal by turning against him.25
The U.S.-backed candidate of 1989, Guillermo Endara, was close to Arias and remained his spokesman in Panama until his death in 1988 in self-imposed exile. Endara had served as Arias's Minister of Planning in 1968, and "used to speak, almost dreamily, of the day when Arias would return `as a sign of providence' to lead the country" (AP). The Washington Post now comments that Endara was chosen to run in 1989 "largely because of his close ties to the late legendary Panamanian politician Arnulfo Arias, who was ousted from the presidency by the military three times since the 1940s" -- accurate, but a bit selective. The media once again politely looked the other way when, during the invasion, Endara denounced the "fraud of 1984." And they do not ask why our "yearning for democracy" was awakened only after Noriega had become a nuisance to Washington rather than an asset.26
Perhaps the reason for Noriega's fall from grace was his gangsterism and corruption. We can quickly dismiss this idea. Noriega was known to be a thug when he was a U.S. ally, and remained so with no relevant change as the government (hence the media) turned against him. Furthermore, he does not approach the criminality of people the U.S. cheerfully supports. The 1988 Americas Watch report on Human Rights in Panama details abuses, but nothing remotely comparable to the record of U.S. clients in the region, or elsewhere, even the lesser criminals such as Honduras. But facts did not disfigure the media crusade. Ted Koppel's version, quoted above, was standard fare. His ABC colleague Peter Jennings denounced Noriega as "one of the more odious creatures with whom the United States has had a relationship," while CBS's Dan Rather placed him "at the top of the list of the world's drug thieves and scums." Others followed suit.27
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20 Marlin Fitzwater, cited by John Mashek, BG, Dec. 20, 1989; Elaine Sciolino, NYT, Jan. 4, 1990; Ian Ball, Daily Telegraph (London), Dec. 21; Eloy Aguilar, AP, Dec. 18; Lindsey Gruson, NYT, Dec. 20, 1989.
21 Andrew Rosenthal, NYT, Dec. 22, 1989.
22 AP, Nov. 6, Dec. 2, 1989; Jan. 6, 1980. AP, Miami Herald, Nov. 7, 1989. Patti McSherry, In These Times, Dec. 20, 1989. Rita Beamish, AP, Nov. 29, 1989.
23 AP, NYT, Jan. 3; Mark Uhlig, NYT, Jan. 4, Oswaldo Bonilla, BG, Jan. 4. AP, Jan. 3, 4, and Miami Herald, Jan. 6, citing the testimony of two peasants who had been kidnapped by the contras and witnessed the ambush. Reuters, BG, Jan. 24; Don Podesta, WP weekly, Jan. 22; Mark Uhlig, NYT, Jan. 28, 1990. The last three finally report the evidence that had been available at once about the witnesses, along with other information implicating the contras. Links, Fall, 1989. AP, Feb. 1, 1990, reporting the Linder family's court suit in Miami.
24 CAR, 1984, vol. XI, no. 33; Seymour Hersh, NYT, June 22, 1986; Alfonso Chardy, Miami Herald, Feb. 29, March 3, 1988; Edward Cody, WP weekly, Jan. 8, 1990. John Weeks, "Panama: The roots of current political instability," Third World Quarterly, July 1987; COHA "News and Analysis," April 5, 1988.
25 Ken Silverstein, Columbia Journalism Review, May/June 1988.
26 Julia Preston, WP weekly, Dec. 25; AP, Dec. 20, BG, Dec. 21, 1989.
27 Cited in "Talk of the Town," New Yorker, Jan. 8, 1990.