Columns

Manuel Noriega's Last Days Memorialized In Leaked U.S. Embassy Documents

One week before his ouster, Panama strongman Manuel Noriega was preparing to crack down on his opponents and rally his troops, according to Prudence Bushnell, at the time U.S. Ambassador to Panama.

Bushnell's analysis is among the first set of U.S. Embassy documents released by Wikileaks

on Nov. 28, detailing her version of Noriega's last days in power.

Bushnell intimated Panamanians would welcome U.S. intervention.


On December 13, 1989,  Bushnell painted a grim picture for Uncle

Sam's interests in the Central American nation. It was a telegram to

her boss -- then-State Department Secretary George P. Schultz -- seven

days before U.S. armed forces invaded Panama.

"The Panama crisis continues to grind on with no clear end in sight,"

Bushnell relayed. "Noriega tenaciously holds on to power, intimidating

his opponents and firing up his supporters with slogans calling for

retribution against 'Panamanian traitors and their U.S. masters,' should

anything happen to him."

"Nevertheless, recent press reports of an alleged U.S. covert action plan against Noriega have once again raised the hopes of some Panamanians that this may be the beginning of his end," Bushnell noted.

"Noriega himself is apparently attaching some credibility to the press reports. He has reacted nervously by stepping up the harassment of the opposition and increasing the size, training, activity, and armament of his 'dignity battalions.' The opposition leadership is concerned over the new 'eye-for-an-eye' para-military campaign."

The ambassador concluded that the only way Noriega would lose power was through a successful coup. "Given the broad political realities in this country, the only hope for a first step in crisis resolution is another coup," Bushnell surmised. "Waiting for that to happen is the main political prospect for Panama in 1990."

As history shows, the U.S. couldn't wait. American armed forces bum-rushed Noriega on December 20, 1989.

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.