mark hertsgaard

Independent Journalist & Author


The Panama Deception


Welcome to Spotlight, Link TV’s weekly series of investigative reports from
around the world. I’m Mark Hertsgaard in San Francisco, and this episode the
spotlight is on President Bush’s invasion of Panama.


No, not Geoge W. Bush. It was his father, George Bush senior, who ordered
U.S. forces into Panama, back in 1989. But the parallels to his son’s
invasion of Iraq in 2003 are too striking to ignore.

In both cases, a small distant nation was attacked not because it had harmed
the United States but because it was ruled by a nasty dictator Washington
wanted out. But both Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Manuel Noriega in Panama were
in fact long—time allies of the US government, even though US officials knew
about Saddam’s chemical weapons use and Noriega’s drug trafficking.

Both president Bushes justified their invasions as victories for democracy.
But the rest of the world condemned them as illegal bullying that punished
innocent civilians. Americans heard little of such criticism, however, thanks
to U.S. news organizations that accepted military censorship and favored
cheerleading over independent analysis.

We’ll be back afterwards with an update. For now, from The Empowerment
Project in the United States, here is Barbara Trent’s Oscar-winning
documentary, The Panama Deception, on Link TV, your connection to the world.


You’re watching Spotlight on Link TV. I’m Mark Hertsgaard.

Happily enough, some of the darker predictions made in the documentary you
just watched have not been borne out by more recent events. U.S. military
forces did leave Panama, at the end of 1999. And the politicians who came to
power in the wake of the U.S. invasion did not last long.

Today, Panama’s president is Martin Torrijos—yes, the son of Omar Torrijos,
the strongman who ran Panama in 1979, when Jimmy Carter pledged to return the
Canal Zone to Panamanian sovereignty. Martin Torrijos favors Washington’s
agenda on some issues, including international trade, but he is no puppet. He
has, for example, restored diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Most striking of all are the benefits Panama has gained from running the Canal
itself. Since taking control in 1999, Panama’s government has earned $2.2
billion in operating fees. That is more than Panama earned during the entire
85 previous years when the U.S. owned the canal—and it suggests why some in
Washington tried to hold on to the canal for so long.

If you want to find out more about these issues, check out the resources
listed at the end of this program. You can also find those resources at our
Following those listings you’ll see a clip from next
week’s program. Until then, this is Mark Hertsgaard in San Francisco for
Spotlight. Thanks for joining us.



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About Mark

Independent journalist Mark Hertsgaard is the author of seven books that have been translated into sixteen languages, including Bravehearts: Whistle Blowing in the Age of Snowden; HOT: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth; and A Day in the Life: The Music and Artistry of the Beatles. He has reported from twenty-five countries about politics, culture and the environment for leading outlets, including The Guardian, Der Spiegel, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Time, Mother Jones, NPR, the BBC and The Nation, where is the environment correspondent. He lives in San Francisco.