History's Blotter: U.S. Invades Panama
It was the largest US military invasion since the Vietnam War, and some have called it the most costly drug arrest in history. On December 20, 1989, more than 27,000 US troops invaded Panama.
“[Noriega’s capture] will send a clear signal that the United States is serious in its determination that those charged with promoting the distribution of drugs cannot escape the scrutiny of justice.” —President George H. W. Bush
The goals were clear—protect US citizens and property, neutralize and restructure the Panamanian Defense Force, restore a democratically-elected government, and capture Dictator Manuel Noriega.
Noriega had been working on both sides of the fence, purportedly feeding information to the CIA and the DEA while allowing drug traffickers to use Panama as a shipping route to the US. Deepening tensions between the US and Noriega became public in 1988 when the US Federal Court indicted him on drug-trafficking charges.
Noriega eluded capture until January 3, 1990. He had sought sanctuary in the Vatican Embassy in Panama, but the deafening music played 24/7 by US forces eventually drove him to surrender. Noriega was tried and convicted in the US, extradited to France in 2010 where he had been convicted of money laundering, and eventually extradited back to Panama where he will be spending the rest of his life in prison for murder, corruption, and embezzlement.
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