Hidden History: The 1989 US Invasion of Panama

Invasion

(Spanish with English subtitles)

Directed by Abner Benaim (2014)

Film Review

This is a Panamanian documentary about the 1989 US invasion of Panama killing an estimated 1,000 civilians.

In addition to reenacting aspects of the invasion, the filmmakers interview a range of people affected by it, including residents of low income areas of Panama City shelled and firebombed by US forces, Noriega aids who arranged for him to seek sanctuary in the Vatican embassy, a former staff person from the embassy, and wealthy Panamanians who supported the invasion.

The most moving accounts are those of civilians whose family members were killed or seriously injured in the US assault. Most US and Panamanian young people have little knowledge of the invasion because it isn’t taught in school. Low income Panamanians over 40 supported Noriega’s nationalist ambitions and opposed the US invasion. Wealthier residents accepted the US pretext of ridding the country of a corrupt dictator. Most people interviewed were fully aware of Noriega’s longstanding collaboration with the CIA and DEA in their drug running operations.

Despite their political opposition to the invasion, many low income Panama City residents used the chaos it generated to massively loot the city’s retail outlets.

For me, the high point of the film was seeing the massive speakers (the size of a pickup bed) the US military used to psychologically torture Vatican embassy personnel with loud, non-stop heavy metal music.

 

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