Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega is nearly forgotten, languishing in a steamy jungle prison near the interoceanic canal while the country enjoys democracy and economic prosperity a quarter-century after the strongman was toppled by a U.S. military invasion.
The U.S. intervention known as Just Cause began 25 years ago on Saturday, on Dec. 20, 1989, and ended with Noriega's surrender to American drug agents on Jan. 3.
Much has changed in Panama since then, with six consecutive presidents democratically elected in the nation of 3.5 million people. Its economy has become one of the fastest growing in Latin America, rising at an average rate of about 8 percent annually amid a multi-million-dollar real estate and construction boom. The United States peacefully transferred full control of the canal to Panama in 1999.
On Saturday, President Juan Carlos Varela became the first Panamanian leader to attend a ceremony to remember victims of the invasion. He announced the government would form a commission to consider demands put forth by their families, such as declaring the date a national day of mourning.Panama has clearly come a long way since the US invasion 25 years ago that led to the removal of former strongman Manuel Noriega and the country's transition to democracy. But their remain wounds from the invasion that have not been addressed and wounds from the political and economic development of the last two plus decades that has not benefited all Panamanians equally enough.
You can read what I wrote for Al Jazeera about Panama in A forgotten invasion, a forgotten dictator (2011) and Chipping away at democracy in Nicaragua and Panama (2012) as well as what Orlando Perez wrote on Panama has come a long way Mr. Biden (2013).