San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

U.S. Embassy letter hinted at Panama invasion

The U.S. government yesterday attempted to distance itself from a series of leaked documents – including private correspondences from former embassy staffers in Central America – suggesting that there is more to U.S. foreign policy than meets the eye.

“I will not comment on or confirm what are alleged to be stolen State Department cables. But I can say that the United States deeply regrets the disclosure of any information that was intended to be confidential, including private discussions between counterparts or our diplomats’ personal assessments and observations,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday.

“I want to make clear that our official foreign policy is not set through these messages, but here in Washington. Our policy is a matter of public record, as reflected in our statements and our actions around the world.”

Clinton’s comments came in response to a series of documents dumped into cyber space by infamous Internet whistle-blower WikiLeaks.

One of the documents, a letter authored by a former staffer at the U.S. Embassy in Panama and sent to the U.S. Secretary of State on Dec. 13, 1989, hinted at a possible uprising that could lead to the overthrow of General Manuel Noriega. A week after the letter was sent, U.S. troops invaded Panama, leading to Noriega’s eventual capture on Jan. 3, 1990.

The embassy letter was made public on Sunday night on the WikiLeaks website, which also said it would publish more than 250,000 confidential U.S. embassy cables sent between 1966 and early 2010. Calling the document release “Cablegate,”

WikiLeaks says it will release confidential missives between the U.S. State Department in Washington D.C. and 274 international U.S. embassies.

In October, WikiLeaks gained notoriety when it released 391,832 U.S. military files and soldier accounts of the Iraqi war, know as the Iraq War Logs.

Of the cables released thus far, only two involve Central America: the 1989 Panama and a letter from the U.S. Embassy in Honduras during the 2009 ousting of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya.
 The Panama letter, titled “Panamanians Hope for A Successful Coup; Noriega Plans For A New Year in Power,” was also sent to the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica. It outlined 21 points that explained the political atmosphere in Panama, saying that, “When another action to remove Noriega will take place is uncertain, but waiting for that possibility is the main prospect for Panama in 1990.”

“The political tension in Panama, increased by recent press revelations and U.S. sanctions announcements, will likely ebb in early 1990, absent some major event,” the letter stated.

“Noriega is showing no signs that he has any intention of leaving voluntarily. Given broad political realities in this country, the only hope for a first step in crisis resolution is another coup. Waiting for that to happen is the main political prospect for Panama in 1990.”

Two days after the letter was sent, Noriega named himself President of Panama and declared war against the United States On Dec. 20, opposition leader Guillermo Endara was sworn in as Panama’s new President. Later that day, the U.S. took control of the Presidential Palace, Torrijos International Airport, and the Panamanian Defense Force headquarters (TT, Dec. 22, 1989).

On Dec. 29, 1989, the U.N. Security Council called the invasion a flagrant violation of international law.
Noriega’s capture led to a 15-year sentence in a Miami prison.

North Korea, Iran and Guantanamo Bay are also mentioned in the missives.
For more on this story, see the Dec. 3 print edition of The Tico Times

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