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Manuel Noreiga was the strong man in Panama during the 1980s. At first, he was an ally of the United States; but later he intensified his contacts to to the Eastern Bloc and was heavily involved in drug trafficking. In 1989 U.S. President George Bush decided for an invasion of Panama and the capture of Noreiga.






  • Date
  • 20 Dec 1989 – 31 Jan 1990
  • Location
  • Panama, Middle America
  • Event
  • U.S. Invasion of Panama


Parties & Persons Involved

  • United States of America
    • George H.W. Bush (1924 – )
  • Panama
    • Manuel Noriega (1934 – ) 


Background & Prehistory

  • 1914: The Panama Canal is opened & the Canal zone is placed under U.S. control
  • 07 Sep 1977: The U.S. & Panama agree that the control over the Canal zone is transferred to Panama in the year 2000 under the condition that U.S. ships can use the Canal without any restrictions (Torrijos-Carter Treaties)
  • Aug 1983: Manuel Noriega promotes himself to general & is with it de facto head of Panama
  • Noriega supports the U.S. / CIA in Latin America but is also involved in trafficking drugs, esp. in connection with the Medellin Cartel
  • Feb 1988: Noriega is indicted in the U.S. because of drug offences
  • 1988: Noriega seeks support from the eastern bloc
  • 1st U.S. plans for an invasion
  • Mar – Apr 1989: The U.S. increase their military presence in the Canal zone
  • May 1989: The parties of the opposition win the election in Panama
  • Noriega does not recognise the result of the election & continues his dictatorship
  • 15 Dec 1989: The Panamanian parliament declares the the U.S. have effected a state of war
  • 16 Dec 1989: Panamanian soldiers & civilians take 4 U.S. officers under fire & kill one
  • 17 Dec 1989: President Bush orders the invasion for 20 Dec



Operation Just Cause

  • 20 Dec 1989 – 01:00 hrs: Operation Just Cause commences
  • Air strikes against strategic targets
  • U.S. ground forces quickly take strategic positions
  • In some places the fighting continues for several weeks
  • 20 Dec 1989: Guillermo Endara, the winner of the presidential election, is sworn into office
  • 31 Jan 1990: President Bush declares that operation Just Cause has ended


The Capture of Noreiga / Operation Nifty Package

  • 20 Dec 1989: Seal Team 4 begins operation Nifty Package to take Noriega prisoner
  • 24 Dec 1989: Noriega flees to the embassy of the Holy See
  • 27 – 30 Dec 1989: Psychological warfare to wear down Noriega, i.e. loud rock music around the clock
  • 03 Jan 1990: Noriega surrender to the U.S. forces


Consequences & Impact

  • The UN general assembly condemns the U.S. invasion with 75 to 20 votes & 40 abstentions
  • American countries condemn the U.S. invasion: Peru even withdraws her ambassador
  • Broad support for the invasion in the U.S. & Panama (the latter is partially disputed)
  • Noriega is brought to the U.S. & convicted by before a U.S. court for drug trafficking (later also indictments in France & Panama)
  • Approx. 20,000 Panamanians lose their homes during the invasion
  • Destructions during the invasion harm the Panamanian economy (19 July 1990: 60 companies bring the U.S. to court)
  • Panama becomes a democracy (but with limited freedom of the press)