Adventures with a Big Red Chair
Adventures with a Big Red Chair
When Barbara started to think about the number of military forces being sent to that small Central American country, she knew that the US must have had another agenda, and she knew that Americans had the right to know why their military was being sent. She made a few phone calls, gathered a crew of filmmakers, and flew to Central America in order to document a firsthand account of what was really going on in Panama. What she and her crew discovered there, most Americans are still too sheltered or too afraid to learn.
Twelve years ago, the United States killed at least 2,500 innocent people in Panama, and the American public knew nothing about it. Residential neighborhoods were burned, families were crushed in their cars by tanks, and tens of thousands of impoverished Panamanians were left homeless in the streets. All of this happened during the four days of brutal violence that the world now remembers as "Operation Just Cause", the 1989 US invasion of Panama.
I imagine that after reading such shocking facts you are feeling overwhelmed with questions. Why did the US invade Panama? Why were so many civilians affected? Why didn't Americans know what was happening?
First things first....
The US and Panama share a long and tumultuous history that began at the turn of the previous century, when the US conspired to create the independent nation of Panama and sponsored the construction of the Panama Canal. You can read the trek dispatch about the US conspiracy to create Panama and the tumultuous history between the two countries here!!!
In 1984, however, Noriega became increasingly unpopular in the US. He upset US government officials after he hosted a conference of international leaders that called for an end to US involvement in Central America. Despite having received payments from the US government, Noriega refused to support foreign interests in maintaining control of the Panama Canal.
In response, the US State Department began to threaten Noriega with drug trafficking charges if he would not allow the US to expand its military presence in the area. Noriega ignored the threats, which persuaded the US to begin systematic efforts to overthrow his government.
When it became clear the opposition was winning the election and the US strategy was working, Noriega seized ballot boxes and halted the elections. The streets of Panama erupted in violence. Citizens protesting the ballot seizure were violently attacked and brutally beaten by Noriega supporters.
Part of the reason why Americans did not know what was really happening was because most journalists were only permitted to visit places that were approved by the US military. Others, not affiliated with large media corporations, were stopped, detained, and sometimes shot. Cameras were stolen and film was destroyed.
When I asked Barbara Trent about the experience of releasing the documentary, she was not surprised by the silencing response of the American media. "Our media is owned by a few corporations," she said, "print media, radio, TV. They all share the same views. They have the same voices." The large corporations that own US news sources, like PBS, also have a vested interest in protecting their connections with the US government. A lot of times the American public is kept in the dark about US foreign policy because the new media is corporate, not democratic. Because the most immediate links to information are not in the hands of individuals, "a lot of people think we do not need to know what is going on.
"But that's not right," Barbara continued. "We should be aware of what our government does abroad." The American public was told that their troops were going into Panama to restore democracy, but military actions there contradicted those principles. The US government and the media let the American public, in whose name the invasion was carried out, be misled. Had Barbara Trent and her crew not distrusted the news and forged their own paths to information, the deception of the US public by its government would have gone unnoticed.
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