A Conspiracy of Silence

A Review of The U.S. Invasion of Panama
by the Independent Commission of Inquiry
South End Press, 1991
133 pages; $10.00

February 1991; pages 3, 19; Volume 2, No. 4

Few books are as well-timed as this concise compilation of testimony from Panamanians who suffered from and struggled against the U.S. bombing and invasion of their country fourteen months ago. Prepared by the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the U.S. invasion of Panama, the text includes the voices from Panama, remarks by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and by former CIA agent Philip Agee as well as additional documentation on the U.S. invasion in December of 1989.

Breaking what Clark refers to as a "conspiracy of silence" on the part of the U.S. government and the U.S. media, the book documents the human suffering, political repression and the conditions of occupation in the wake of the bombing in Panama.

Disputed Death Toll

Olga Mejia is president of the National Human Rights Commission of Panama (CONADEHUPA). She offers her testimony "in the name of Gregory Brown, a six year old black child who is buried in a plastic bag in a common grave in the Mount Hope Cemetary in [the Panamanian city of] Colon." Mejia reports that 1,249 were declared dead and 214 are still missing.

But as Mejia also makes clear, the exact number is less important than the fact that even one of her "compatriots" are missing or dead. The invasion, according to Mejia, is a "crime against humanity."

An Orgy of Applause

The invasion of Panama provided a grim precedent for the role the U.S. media is currently playing in the U.S. bombing of Iraq. According to the Inquiry's Project Directors, Gavrielle Gemma and Teresa Gutierrez, the media joined in with the U.S. executive branch and Congress to applaud rather than investigate the brutal conduct and aftermath of the invasion. Eighteen thousand residents on the community of El Corrillo in Panama remain homeless. Anti-invasion journalists and labor organizers languish in Panamanian jails.

And to date, not one Congressional hearing of investigation has been launched into the affair. Reparations to those victimized by the invasion have been nonexistent.

Gemma and Gutierrez do point to the hard work of exceptional reporters during the U.S. invasion. Special mention is made of radio correspondent Robert Knight, whose program Undercurrents "relentlessly pursued the truth." Undercurrents is produced by Pacifica Radio (whose news program is now available on Austin radio station, KAZI-88.7 FM, at 6:00pm each evening.

Words of Resistence

The book puts distance between itself and conventional human rights reports by emphasizing the struggle of the Panamanian people against the U.S. invasion and the racism that shaped its brutality.

Edilma Icaza, representative of the Indigenous Peoples of Panama, begins her testimony, "I want to relive the night of December 20, the invasion, with you." She goes on to explain, "I used to have a job. They fired me on January 1 [1990]. They fired my husband, my eldest son and my daughter because they said we were part of the previous government ... we are still fighting [and] in the name of my dead brothers and sisters, we must carry on this fight together..."

U.S. Occupation Army?

[The following news story comes to the Polemicist from the Panama City newspaper, El Periodico, dated January 23, 1991.] An accredited source has informed this newspaper than an irregular army comprised of several hundred people has been detected in Costa Rica. The armed movement has not been linked to any opposition group up to now. It has leaked out, however, that the group is the same one that attempted to enter the country in December 1990.

The massive presence of U.S. soldiers in Chirqui province - an estimated 4,000 soldiers - confirms the information available on the insurgent group. The Panamanian Government and the U.S. Embassy have not been able to explain why there is such a large contingent of heavily-armed soldiers. The excuse for their presence in Chirqui is that the soldiers are going to build a couple of roads in Tole and Gualaca. These troops, however, carry very little construction equipment.

The U.S. soldiers have taken control of the Enrique Malek Airport, Cerro San Cristobal, Paso Canoas border area, and the city of David. Actions to repel the foreign army's presence take place in the areas every day.

A group of bootblacks spat at the U.S. soldiers Cervantes Park, while another Chiriqui resident burned the U.S. flag in front of the occupation army's soldiers. The Chiriqui resident was applauded and praised for his courage by the people who were present, and they shared a case of beer with him.

Trustworthy sources assured El Periodico that the U.S. Government is trying to control a situation that could bring violence to the country and has given instructions in this respect by the Panamanian authorities.

To this end, a high-level Bush Adminstration official arrived in [Panama] early this month. This official also met with Panamanian Colonel Eduardo Herrera Hassan, who is currently imprisoned but might be set free in the coming days.