In a recent exchange on Facebook, a Cuban man criticised another man in the United States for calling for an invasion of Cuba, in the heat of recent events on the island.
“No invasion, my friend, humanitarian intervention so that the dictatorship does not murder (?) anyone else. And send food and medicine at the time of the collapse. The military yes, to support those shipments… everything is peaceful, they (the government) surrender and flee, and they have no choice. Even the Democrats support it”.
Answer: “Do you know what a humanitarian intervention is? The Panamanians received this on 20 December 1989 with the same excuse and they are still looking for their dead. Is that what you are asking for?” He was speaking of the “humanitarian intervention”, which, under the military code name Operation Just Cause, dropped 442 bombs in the first 12 hours.
Its aims were to end the supposed dictatorship, restore democracy and bring wellbeing to the people.
The martyred neighbourhood of El Chorrillo, in the middle of the Panamanian capital, was partly destroyed by artillery and “surgical operations” from helicopters; the civilian dead piled up in the streets, without allowing their relatives to rescue them, while tanks rolled over them.
That Dantesque image is just a glimpse of the horrors experienced by the families of that community, the suburb of San Miguelito and the Caribbean city of Colón, although there were other attacks on economic, civilian and military targets such as ports and airports.
It might seem coincidental that the military invasion, disguised as a “humanitarian intervention”, had its origins in the US city of Miami and that Jorge Mas Canosa, a Cuban-born terrorist and founder of the paramilitary organisation Cuban-American Foundation, was involved in its conception and promotion.
In 2019, US lawyer Sylvan Holtzman broke his silence and confessed to being a promoter of bringing together the “ideologues” of the massacre, which he does not regret, because in his words: “there is almost always a price to pay in human lives for freedom and democracy”. The testimony, published by La Estrella de Panamá newspaper in the 19 December 2019 edition, acknowledged that the “seed” of the invasion was planted in the collusion of Mas Canosa, then Democratic Senator Lawton Chiles and Panamanian banker Carlos Rodríguez.
Just Cause was the largest mobilisation of the US military since the Vietnam War, with the participation of 26,000 troops, testing sophisticated weapons such as the F-117 stealth aircraft, machine guns of 1,700 rounds per minute, highly destructive white phosphorous bullets and laser beam weaponry, among others.
In those dark days, a yellow-painted school minibus sped down a central avenue towards a military checkpoint of the occupants, while the guard shouted through a megaphone for it to stop, but those in the vehicle did not hear him, said Adis Urieta, an eyewitness to the event.
An armoured combat vehicle fired at the burning vehicle, which somersaulted across the street, while soldiers stood by with astonished indifference and watched it burn until it was completely consumed by flames, he told the newspaper.
His brother managed to get close to the mass of charred remains and thought he saw three or four people inside; minutes later, several soldiers put the bodies in bags and took them somewhere.
A few days later, at a forum for relatives searching for people missing from the invasion, a man told how three men left his house for the hospital in a yellow school bus with his pregnant daughter and were never heard from again. In Panama, according to several analysts, the invaders handed over power to the economic elite and democracy is a myth shared among them. The people laid the dead and stood by as spectators.
We must give the benefit of the doubt to those who confusedly posted SOS CUBA on their Facebook profiles, calling for “humanitarian intervention” against their country without thinking of consequences such as those described here. (PL)