Whose Declaration of War?

Against the Current, No. 25, March/April 1990

Donald W. Bray and Marjorie Woodford Bray

FROM THE FIRST day of the invasion, the mainstream U.S. press has made a point of reminding us that it was General Noriega and the Panamanian National Legislative Assembly, with their “declaration of war” two days before the invasion, who initiated hostilities and consequently precipitated the Bush administration’s response.

But Panama’s declaration was simply a belated recognition of the war that the United States had been waging against Panama for almost two years. To call the recognition of this hostile situation a “declaration of war” was, in the words of an information officer of the Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF) on the night of the invasion “Infantile.”

The U.S. war commenced in earnest with the 1987, freezing of the National Bank of Panama’s assets in an effort to make it impossible for the Panamanian government to settle international accounts. In the ensuing months, the war accelerated with Washington’s refusal to turn over the Canal tolls or the taxes, including health premiums, collected from Panamanians working for the U.S. government; its insistence that U.S. corporations follow suit or face criminal sanctions; and its declaration that flag-of-convenience ships of Panamanian registry would no longer be allowed to call at U.S. ports.

The combination of these measures delivered a crippling blow to an economy based upon its position as an international financial center; the gross national product subsequently declined 44 percent, reducing living standards to their 1972 level. Half the Panamanian population fell into poverty.

In addition to these economic assaults, the Bush administration dramatically increased U.S. troop strength following the aborted May elections and conducted frequent military maneuvers into Panamanian territory. Both measures demonstrated a flagrant disregard for procedures developed under the 1978 Carter-Torrijos treaty.

Many of these maneuvers blocked streets and challenged personnel at Panamanian military facilities in Panama City and in outlying areas. Accompanied by helicopters and armed personnel carriers, large numbers of GIs threatened women soldiers on guard duty at their barracks in Gamboa.

March-April 1990, ATC 25

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