Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Invading Panama!

Commander K.
Invades Panama
Welcome to the Jungle!
In America Invades (www.americainvades.com) English historian Stuart Laycock and I documented American Fighting in Panama from Marines, to Canal building to...Watermelons.  Here is the Panama chapter...

"John Quincy Adams, our sixth president, recognized the strategic importance of Panama in the 1820s and even helped to set up an isthmian canal company. Though, obviously, a lot of time was yet to pass and a lot of Frenchmen were going to be disappointed before a Panama Canal was finally built.
John Quincy Adams
However, even without a canal, people were using the isthmus to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. With the finding of gold in California, for instance, many Americans crossed overland through Panama on their way to and from the gold fields (For more detail on William Walker's invasion of Central America see...https://americanconservativeinlondon.blogspot.com/2020/02/costa-rica-invaded.html).

And, as an indication of our major interest in the strategic isthmus, in 1846, we signed with Colombia, which was then the national power in Panama, the Mallarino-Bidlack Treaty. We got free travel for our citizens across the isthmus, and in return, we guaranteed the neutrality of the area and Colombian sovereignty over it. Our strategic interest in the isthmus, and the deeply divided nature of politics in Panama for much of the nineteenth century were going to keep our military very busy over the coming decades.

Worth Fighting For?

Almost as soon as the ink on the treaty was dry, in 1847, New York businessmen started the Panama Railroad Company. The Panama Railway, financed by Americans, was opened in 1855.
And already, by 1856, our troops were being deployed in Panama. In that year, the Watermelon War broke out, though it was really more of a Watermelon Riot, which was triggered by an intoxicated American railroad traveler who took a slice of watermelon from a Panamanian fruit merchant and refused payment. Fifteen Americans were killed in Panama City, and we sent our troops in to restore order and protect American citizens.

In 1860, the USS Saint Mary’s, a twenty-two-gun sloop of war, sent sailors and marines ashore in order to protect the Panama Railway from insurgents.

Our troops were deployed again in 1865, this time to protect Americans during a revolution.

In 1873, more of the same, really, as local groups clashed and American troops moved in to protect Americans.

And all the while, people had been thinking about the possibility of a canal between the Atlantic and the Pacific. After the US Civil War, the United States tried twice (1867 and 1884) to build a canal through Nicaragua.

Ferdinand de Lesseps
In 1880, Frenchman Ferdinand de Lesseps, who had tackled the Suez Canal, began building a Panama canal. By 1889, however, the venture was out of money, and construction stopped with the canal incomplete (over 20,000 workers had been killed by malaria and yellow fever).

Pedro Prestan
Meanwhile, in 1885, Pedro Prestan led a revolt in Panama, which formed part of Columbia at the time. The rebels burned the American consulate in Colon and destroyed considerable property. A force of six USN warships and the full East Coast complement of US marines (about two thousand) were dispatched to Panama where the Columbians requested their intervention against the rebels. A derby-wearing Prestan was hanged in front of a large crowd.
Panama Canal

In 1901, we sent in troops once again to keep transport owing and protect American property, and it was about now that America also began a serious push to build a Panama canal. Soon after, the US government began to think it would be easier to build such a canal through an independent Panama, rather than continuing to deal with the Colombian government.

Teddy Roosevelt (3rd from left)
Mount Rushmore, South Dakota
Consequently, in 1903 when Panama revolted against Columbia, this time the United States, led by Teddy Roosevelt, sided with the Panamanian rebels. TR dispatched two USN ships (Nashville and Dixie) in support of the rebels. A battalion of marines commanded by Major John Lejeune landed at Colon. A bribe of eight thousand dollars was paid to the Colombian commander to hasten his exit from Panama. TR would later (in 1911) claim, “I took the Canal Zone.” Surely it was Teddy Roosevelt who provided the inspiration for the palindrome, “a man, a plan, a canal, Panama.” The US government recognized the new Panamanian nation and negotiated a treaty to control the Canal Zone. The treaty gave the United States extensive rights in the Canal Zone that extended about five miles on either side of the canal and some rights in Panama outside the Canal Zone and was to be a source of some tension between Panama and the United States in the years ahead.

Major John Lejeune
And the years ahead were also to see more deployments of US troops.

For instance, in 1918, US marines were sent to Chiriqui Province to quell local disturbances.

In 1925, US troops were used, at the request of the Panamanian government, to disperse a mob of rent rioters.

The outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 and rising tensions around the world only increased the strategic importance of the canal. Matters were complicated by the fact that, for the early part of the war, Panama was ruled by the fascist-leaning Arias. However, he was handily toppled in October 1941, before Pearl Harbor. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, fears of subversion or a Japanese naval strike intensified, and indeed, both Germans and Japanese developed plans to attack the canal. In response, we organized a deal with the Panamanian government to allow us to occupy additional sites to protect the canal.

In 1977, the Torrijos-Carter Treaty was signed that provided for the return of the Panama Canal Zone to Panama in 1999...
George H. W. Bush
Houston Airport
In 1983, Manuel Noriega, a cocaine kingpin, became the president of Panama. He had also been the CIA’s man in Panama from the 1960s until 1988 when he was indicted in Florida. President Reagan and George H. W. Bush had tried to dislodge him by covert means and failed. It would take an invasion to remove this former American friend from power in Panama.

On December 16, 1989, an off-duty US marine was shot and killed at a Panamanian Defence Forces roadblock. A line had been crossed.

In December 1989, only a month after the Berlin Wall fell, President George H. W. Bush launched Operation Just Cause to drive Manuel Noriega from power. A force of twenty-five thousand troops overwhelmed the Noriega’s Panamanian Defence Force. Twenty-three Americans were killed in the fighting. The Panamanian strongman sought refuge in the Vatican embassy where US soldiers blasted him with rock ’n’ roll hits, such as “The End” by the Doors, “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns ’n’ Roses, and “All I Want Is You” by U-2, among others. Noriega was extradited to Miami where he was convicted of drug trafficking, racketeering, and money laundering.

Commander K. at Panama Canal
In more recent years, we have maintained assorted military links with Panama, for instance, taking part in joint exercises. US warships still travel through the Panama Canal. The Missouri National Guard is partnered with Panama."  (Source: Panama, chapter of America Invades,  www.americainvades.com)

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