No one can imagine what a war is like unless they witness one. The invasion on Panama, “Operation Just Cause” Dec. 20, 1989 was the most frightening experience of my life. The noise of weapons of all kinds was unbelievable. You hear noises you had never heard in your life. We wondered and feared what would happen to us. We thought for sure something would hit our home. I feel compassion for the people who live in a war atmosphere around the world.
Everyone has their own story to tell about “Operation Just Cause”. Some were in different situations and in a different part of Panama. Here I tell my story exactly as I witnessed it together with my family at home.
MY STORY OF “JUST CAUSE”
BY: CELINA BARKEMA VARGAS
The days, months, and years before the invasion (Just Cause) were very tense ones. There were riots, protests, curfews, killings, strikes, banks closed, schools closed, electricity cut-offs, very old money circulating (paper bills). No one would cash checks, people were leaving the country, and many more things.
They were very hard years that affected the old and young. For over more than twenty times, we were warned to stock up on groceries. To have water in containers and to have candles and flashlights on hand. Many times I spent whatever money I had to stock up on groceries and nothing would happen. On December 19th I made up a grocery list which included Christmas dinner. I had planned to buy the groceries the next day. I was practically out of everything. That night the invasion began. Afterwards I couldn’t buy a thing for the next five to seven days. So we and others had to share and made do with whatever we had. If there was no bread, we made homemade biscuits. Soups were made out of anything we had … lots of bare rice.
On Tuesday night, Dec. 19, 1989 at around 9:45 p.m. something I heard on the news left me wondering. On NBC news they had said that there was a lot of movement going on at the U.S. military bases in Panama. That the U.S. military looked as if they were ready to strike.
I translated what I had heard to Tino, my husband, and said to him, “I bet there’s going to be an invasion.” I told him that tomorrow I was going to get a few of my things together just in case we have to leave quickly. Tino stayed watching T.V. I went to bed at around 11:30 p.m. I was in a deep sleep when I began to hear loud booms. They were about two seconds apart. I opened my eyes, sat up in bed and looked at the clock. It was 12:45 a.m. I ran to the living room where Tino had fallen asleep in front of the T.V. He was just awakening to the noises. We ran out to the balcony. Out in the distance to the front of us we saw a brightness and knew that the booms were coming from that direction, which was Chorillo area.
The neighbors one by one began to come out of their houses. Everyone was asking each other what was going on. You could see the lights in everyone’s houses turning on. The booming sounds became louder and faster and were coming from all directions.
I ran into the house to call Jenny on the phone. Freddy, her son answered. He said to me he wasn’t sure what was going on and I said to him, this is an invasion. He said to me, “well I guess this is it. They’re finally doing it.” We hung up.
Suddenly I began to feel an overwhelming chill all through my body and my heart began to beat quickly. I sat down and tried to take control of myself as images of war went through my head. I thought for sure we were all going to die because the booming sounds were getting closer to us. I said a prayer asking God for protection. Suddenly the chill and fear went away. I felt I could accept death now. It was a strange feeling – as if it didn’t matter anymore. I felt calm, at least for awhile.
I turned the radio on to a Panama government station, “Radio Nacional”. I heard music for about 3 minutes then it was interrupted by an announcement saying that Panama was being invaded. They alerted the Dignity Battalion and the CODEPADI. They were calling for everyone to go to the streets and defend their patria (country) against the Yankee invasores (invaders).
I then went and turned the T.V. on to the Southern Command Station (SCN). There was just a movie on. Now that confused me, I thought to myself, “what is going on?” On channel 2, a Panama station, a movie too, then suddenly a fuzzy image interrupted the movie, then a blackout on the screen. Afterwards, a seal of the United States Department of Defense appeared on the screen, a few minutes later a voice announcing in Spanish about what was going on and about the reason for such actions. They were repeating it over and over. It said, “Stay indoors, don’t go near windows, stay calm, and keep tuned to this station.”
I left the TV on and went out to the balcony. Everyone was out in front of their houses talking. They had changed from pajamas to clothing. To the left of me where Via Espaa is I could hear tanks going by. They were the PDF tanks, Panama military tanks. They made a different noise than the U.S. tanks. These sounded louder and rusty, as if they were dragging big chains along the ground.
They were either heading towards Panama Viejo or to Tocumen where PDF outposts were located. We began to hear more booms now behind us, which was the attack on Panama Viejo, which is about a mile away from my apartment. Then some more bombings to our right, which is San Miguelito area. The noise was all around us now. We were really scared now!
At around 2 a.m. we began to see men running down the street towards us and going behind the building into the jungle and others coming from the jungle. They were wearing only underpants, a T-shirt and socks on their feet. No shoes. Everyone found out that they were the PDF running away from the fighting. They had taken their uniforms and boots off so as not to be recognized as a military person. That continued for the next hours.
At 4 a.m. about 3 hours after everything began, the bombing was sporadic. What we heard more of now was rifle shooting in the distance. I thought to myself, the U.S. soldiers won already, or else they are taking a break. We heard a few jets zooming around the skies and I saw one C-130 bomber slowly circling around very low.
We tried to go to sleep at 4:30 a.m. but we were so tense it was impossible to fall asleep. We laid in bed. We had all sorts of thoughts running through our heads.
At 7:00 a.m. on Dec. 20, I remembered we had no groceries. It was the day we had planned to do our shopping. So I went outside on the balcony, looked around. I saw neighbors leaving in their cars and some walking out. I thought, well everything looks alright and maybe it’s all over now. I said to my daughter, Cynthia, “Let’s go get some food because in a little while there won’t be any.” Every time there’s trouble in Panama, the first thing everyone does is buy out the supermarkets.
So we walked to the small grocery store that’s on the corner, one block from our apartment. The grocery store was closed and standing in front of the closed doors were nine Dignity Battalion members, armed with rifles, Uzi’s, AK-47’s and hand grenades hanging off their bodies. I knew that if I turned around and ran, I’d probably get shot. So acting as calm as I could, I walked to where the storeowner was sitting on his porch. I asked him if he was going to open the store. He said no, took the list from my hand and said he would get the stuff himself. He went into the store through a door he has in his house. Left me and Cynthia waiting outside by the curb.
The old man was taking a long time and I was getting nervous. We sat down on the curb to wait. The Dignity people looking at us. There were more of them walking down the street and all around, armed to their teeth. They seemed to be nervous and didn’t know where to go or what to do. I didn’t see military people anywhere.
Cynthia was very scared and wanted to leave. I told her, “Let’s pray.” Afterwards I started a plan mentally of what I could say or do just in case one of them came over to bother us. I didn’t take my eyes off of those standing in front of the store. I could still see the C-130 flying over us. I later found out that they had been observing all the activity going on in the streets through strong binoculars.
Finally the old man came out with my groceries. We walked very quickly back home. As we got towards our building we saw more Dig Bats in front of the building looking for cars to rob. I got mad now and said to myself, “Just keep on walking. We have all the right in the world to walk on our street. And if one would come up to me to hassle me I’ll put up a big fight.” So we walked right through them up to the front door to the building.
The neighbors in my building came out and scolded me for going out during a dangerous situation and told me to stay inside. My husband didn’t even know we had gone out. He was asleep when we left. I didn’t want to bother him. I got scolded from him too. Well, at least we got our toilet paper, which we didn’t have any of.
Two minutes after stepping into the apartment four helicopters, which were either Apache, Cobras, or Black Hawks, came flying very low towards us over the grocery store and all hell broke out. The Dig Bats that were at the store and the others walking around began to shoot up at them. Sounded like they had machine guns. We ducked as we heard the shooting and the noise of the helicopters coming over us. The Dig Bats began to run around in a frenzy, some climbing into the trees. I thought for sure a helicopter would come crashing into our building. It was a very scary moment. And I had just stepped into the house with my daughter.
A couple hours had past, it was 9:00 a.m. when we began to hear the booms again in different directions. Missiles, explosions, and shootings which continued throughout the day.
At 3 p.m., same day Dec. 20th, there were small jets flying back and forth. Suddenly to our left we could hear someone shooting missiles as if from San Miguelito. These missiles whistled over our apartment building. One by one they flew over and we could hear them landing with a big explosion to the right of us. I thought one would hit our building since they were so low. A small U.S. jet zoomed over to that area where the missiles were coming from. The jet swerved, turned upside down, then shot missiles at whoever was shooting missiles over us. The missile shooting over us ended abruptly. I later learned that those missiles landed on a street 1/4th of a mile from our apartment and lifted three houses right off their foundations. Destroyed the houses completely and ruined part of the street. Days afterwards I went with Freddy to look at the destruction there.
A little after that the Panamanian Government Radio Station, which was still on the air was bombarded. I had been listening to that station on and off throughout the day and I was wondering why they were still on the air. The messages they were sending out to the PDF and Dig Bats were as follows: “Dignity Battalions don’t shoot at the Red Cross ambulances. Don’t use them for transportation. Please get out of the ambulances, they are only for the injured. Don’t give up the fight “Por Panam la vida.” Dignity Battallions spread out throughout the city, do not go into the hills and jungles. The PDF are in the hills. They are trained to fight in the hills (jungles etc.). You are not and you would be massacred. Don’t form big groups. Keep in small groups and spread out. You are doing good. Keep fighting.” I also heard messages I could not understand. I later learned they were codes that the PDF and Dig Bats understood between them.
Every time we were able to calm down, something would happen to get us all fired up again. It left us drained and exhausted. It was mental torture. We had to stay alert and we were scared to fall asleep.
Darkness came upon us after a long day. I sat on the balcony, tired and sleepy, wondering what would happen next. Suddenly to my left I saw about 30 flares coming down from the sky very slowly. Then to the right I saw a bunch more. Right after that I saw flares directly in front. They looked beautiful all lit up in the sky. Don’t know what that was all about.
We tried to sleep that night, but couldn’t. We kept on hearing explosions here and there and sporadic gunfire. Helicopters, jets and planes were flying all above us. Tino and I spent the night talking. I felt very restless. My son slept fine, my daughter kep on running into our room every time she heard an explosion.
The next day on Dec. 21 we kept on hearing the same noises. At 1 p.m. we started to hear loud crashing noises and crowds shouting. That’s when the looting began. We could hear doors being torn down. Burglar alarms going off. People shouting, someone shooting, and glass breaking. Off in the distance I could see crowds of people running across a small bridge with furniture and bags. Down our street people were running with bags over their shoulders looking for a street out. People from Rio Abajo sector. That frenzy looting went on till about 6 p.m. All the while jets and helicopters were flying over.
The day before (on the 20th) a lot of people from my neighborhood had their car stolen. They would drive out to the corner, then the Dig Bats would take the cars away from them. So on the 21st no one took their cars out. They stayed home.
That night I only dozed off for a little while. Couldn’t sleep much. The next day on the 22nd of Dec. things quieted down some. No more booms just sporadic shooting and maybe an occasional explosion, sort of like dynamite.
My husband decided to go to work today. He missed the 20th and 21st. I told him not to go. But he wasn’t sure if he would get fired (laid off). He left at 12:00 noon walking. He walked all the way to work because there was no transportation. Buses or taxis. He had to duck several times on his way because there were people shooting from buildings.
I sat out on the balcony with the kids to look around. The air smelled like dead animal, wood burning and gun powder. Buzzards were flying around all over the place. Smoke rising up from different places.
After Tino had left for work, news spread out through our neighborhood about Dig Bats breaking into peoples’ houses looking for food, raping women and robbing whatever they could. I heard a neighbor say to another neighbor that they had to make a barricade at the entrance to our neighborhood to protect the people and keep Dig Bats from coming in. So all the men got together whatever weapons they had. Guns, machetes, baseball bats, iron pipes and they had made a lot of molotov cocktails.
I was scared now because I was by myself with the kids. I could hear people upstairs pushing their furniture about. So me and the kids pushed whatever large piece we could against the door. My son got his sling shot and rocks together. He was eleven years old and he had spent the last year fooling around with sling shots and rocks. He was a good sling shot shooter at that age. I gave the machete to my 15-year-old daughter and I took out my father’s old .22 caliber gun he had bought when he was young. Said he had ordered it from a Sears Roebuck catalog. I didn’t even know how to use it. He later told me that you have to release the safety latch or you can’t shoot -- something I didn’t know. So if anything would have happened that day, the only thing I could have done with the gun is hit somebody with it. Not shoot it. Oh well. We gathered our weapons and sat on the sofa facing the door to wait for the worst.
After sitting there for 20 minutes I decided to call my sister Jenny. She told me that her neighborhood had formed a barricade also. I told her about the Molotov cocktails, she told her neighbor and he made a bunch. I also told her to remove one tire from the car so they couldn’t steal it. I spent the rest of the day thinking that any minute the Dig Bats would be at my door.
We hadn’t slept well or at all the past three nights. No one felt like eating anything. We still hadn’t seen any U.S. soldiers around. Just the jets and helicopters in the air. My brother Larry had called several times. I told him I didn’t feel safe or protected because I had not seen any U.S. soldiers on the street.
I felt very nervous. The kids were restless. We just kept on looking out the windows. I almost wished something would happen just to get it over with once and for all. This waiting and not knowing anything was making me anxious.
It was night again. No Dig Bats knocked down my door. The neighbors had formed groups that would take turns guarding our neighborhood throughout the night. These groups were formed by men and teenage boys. A large group with guns stayed at the entrance and smaller groups walked along the streets throughout the neighborhood. They carried pipes, bats, whistles and walkie-talkies. They had a megaphone to be able to warn people of danger. Now I felt pretty safe. At least I knew that outside someone was protecting us.
My husband called from work and said he wouldn’t be able to come home tonight. There was a lot of work at the hospital and they needed him there since a lot of employees didn’t or couldn’t show up. Wounded were being brought in. Also a member of the Dignity battalion was out in front and wouldn’t let anyone leave the hospital. My husband said that the guy was either high on drugs or just plain nuts. He was acting very weird.
At about 9 p.m. I tried to go to sleep. I was just dozing off when I hear a lot of commotion outside. A guy was shouting through the megaphone for everyone to turn their lights on. So I jumped out of bed and turned all the lights on. So did everybody else. I looked out to see what the neighbors in front were talking about. Seems the watch squad saw some strangers walking about. They checked all the streets out. Seems it was a false alarm. Everyone turned their lights off and tried to go to sleep. I saw the women serving coffee and sandwiches to the men. I could not sleep all that night, mostly because I was at home alone with the kids.
The group of men that were guarding the entrance of our neighborhood had several encounters with Dignity Battalion people who were driving by. I’d hear the shooting. The neighborhood men shot their rifles and pistols like crazy for 10 minutes then they’d stop. And me lying on my bed would wonder if any of them got hurt. It went like that all through the night. Finally daylight came. It had been a long night. Still no U.S. soldiers around. I felt a bit unprotected. It was day 4. Christmas Eve, December 24.
Throughout the day we heard sniper firing and explosions. Helicopters flying over and those small jets and that heavy sounding airplane (C-130). Tino got a ride home from work in the ambulance. He got home at 5 p.m. tired and sleepy. He said people were coming in all night at the hospital. They were bleeding and wounded. Said most were members of Dig Bat who pointed their AK-47’s at the doctors and nurses and demanded to be attended. Their wounds were dressed and they would leave. They also brought in some dead people, and civilians that were wounded also. Four security guards of a supermarket were brought in with their legs shot up. Seems they were guarding in front of the supermarket. A group of U.S. tanks drove by and shot at them thinking they were Dig Bats. Tino said a lady came into Emergency with a gunshot wound on her neck. She said she was walking down the street from her home and had run into two Dig Bats who began to mock and tease her. They told her she was a rabi-blanco civilista. She told them she wasn’t and started to run away from them. They shot at her.
So now it’s Christmas Eve. I didn’t have many groceries on hand. All the stores were closed and had been closed for the past four days. They had been looted so they had nothing on the shelves anyway. The little stores here and there had sold out. There was nothing to buy. Imagine no bread, milk, meat etc. With what I had on hand I decided I would try to make a nice Christmas meal the next day.
That evening we got the news saying that Noriega had gone to the Nunciatura. Everyone was cheering and clapping in our neighborhood. I thought everyone would now celebrate Christmas Eve as they always do in Panama with food, music and drinking. I was wrong. The cheering lasted 15 minutes. Everyone went back into their houses and settled down for the night. It was a very quiet night, which made me think of the song “Silent Night”. Everyone went to bed early.
I woke up early on Christmas day. Heard on the news that Noriega wasn’t going to give himself up to the U.S. I put some Christmas music on. As the music was playing, everything I had pent up in me came loose. I cried and cried for hours. I was mad at everything that happened then I felt sorry for the members of the Fuerza DeFensa who had died. I was mad at Noriega for causing all this. I felt mad at the U.S. military for not at least giving the American citizens living in Panama a hint or warning of the day of the invasion. I felt mad for feeling unprotected for four days and going through the most frightening experience of my life. It was the first time in my life that I’ve seen everyone scared and confused at the same time – women, men, and children. The expression on everyone’s faces were alike. We were all like one big family going through one big ordeal. Neighbors who never talked to each other were talking to each other. Everyone was asking if everyone else was okay. People would knock on my door to see if we were all right.
Thank God (and the U.S. military) the electricity did not go out, neither did the water or phone. The U.S. soldiers took over those institutions right away and were guarding them. I was able to keep in touch with Jenny, Larry and Carlos. I called Dino after Larry gave me his phone number. So we were able to communicate by phone. Everyone had lost their appetite and we each lost 10 pounds in 10 days. Christmas Day went by quietly.
The next morning on Dec. 26 I woke up at 6 a.m. to the sound of voices coming from a loudspeaker. Couldn’t understand what was being said until it got closer to us. They were saying “Merry Christmas. We are soldiers of the United States of America.” (They spoke in Spanish.) “We will be conducting a house to house search. Please open your front doors and have your family sit in the front part of your home. You will not be harmed.” I said to myself, “Oh my gosh! I haven’t brushed my teeth or hair yet and we are all in pajamas.” I looked out the window; they’re not here yet. I told everybody to get dressed. I told my kids to fix their beds and straighten the rooms up as much as you can. I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth. Before I could finish, the soldiers were at my front door. We all sat on the sofa in our pajamas, sitting there quietly as we were instructed to do.
The first soldier to walk in was of Latin heritage. He spoke to my husband in Spanish. Behind him entered four more soldiers with full combat gear on. They had their faces painted and rags hanging off their helmets. Each one had their rifles in hand. They had all this stuff hanging off them, that they barely fit through my front door. They looked very tense and very alert. I was afraid to even sneeze or move. I said good morning. Three went to the bedrooms and one to the kitchen. I could hear them opening drawers and pulling things out of the closet. They were looking for anything that had to do with the PDF or Dignity Battalion and also weapons or ammunition. Seems that a couple days before, American soldiers were getting shot at from snipers that were shooting out from apartments and houses.
They seemed to take a long time in the room my father uses, so I stood up and walked a few steps to take a peek. They were looking at a couple of 80-millimeter mortar containers that my father had in the closet. He’s had those for years. I guess just as souvenirs, and also to put rolled up maps in them. Another soldier was inspecting the old gun. I couldn’t help but wonder what was going through their heads. Empty mortar containers? Maps? When they got to his Army papers, copies of birth certificate, etc. they quickly put everything away and said let’s go. I thought they would leave everything all messed up, but they didn’t. They put everything neatly back into the places I had them. Only thing embarrassing to me was that when I had asked my kids to straighten up some, they had thrown everything into the closet. Sheets, books, shoes, toys, all scrambled together in a knee-high pile on the closet floor. I guess they thought the soldiers weren’t going to look into the closets. After 5 days of war, my house wasn’t very presentable. We were so scared that no one thought of dusting, mopping and cleaning and putting away stuff. So I was embarrassed about that too. So I immediately went to cleaning the whole house.
A week later I heard stories from everyone that their houses were a mess too and how embarrassed they felt too. One lady stuffed all the dirty underwear in a garbage bag and stuck it under her bed. The soldiers pulled it out and looked inside. Another lady ran to take a shower. There wasn’t enough time; the soldiers were in her house, so she jumped out of the shower half bathed and walked out of the bathroom with her clothes on but dripping wet. After the search the soldiers reunited on the street in front of the building. Two were on each corner with machine guns on a stand or tripod. At another building beside ours they had busted down a door of an apartment. There was no one living at that apartment at the time. They came out with small black garbage bags. There was ammunition in the bag. They had also found some weapons and ammunitions in an empty house down the street.
The rest of the day was fairly quiet. We only heard gun shots far off and also sporadic explosions as if bombs were going off. Some people said that noise was from ammunition piles being detonated.
That night we were all able to fall asleep. But later at 2 a.m. we were awakened by a loud noise of a helicopter. We looked out the window and right there by our window in between two apartment buildings was a helicopter hovering in one place. It was so close that I could toss a ball at it and hit it. It had no lights on. We could not see or distinguish if it was an enemy copter or U.S. military one. I could only see the silhouettes of men inside. It scared the heck out of all of us. It lifted up some then flew around the area for awhile and left. It took us hours to be able to get back to sleep.
For the next several days we saw soldiers (U.S.) come and go. They inspected the jungle area near the building and all along the river that runs behind our building. They were also coming around in Hum-Vees about every hour. The people and kids would always run out and wave at them. Noriega gave himself up to the Americans and things slowly began to get back to normal. People were going back to work. Kids were playing outside, near their homes.
I went to Jenny’s house on New Years Eve and since a curfew was on, I had to stay overnight. I saw some Molotov cocktails on the floor near the door. The furniture was against the front door. I felt like I was in a bomb shelter. That night we had a quiet New Years celebration and meal. Then went to sleep.
The next morning I asked Freddy to take me home. It was 7:00 a.m. New Years day. We got to the intersection down the hill when a bunch of tanks went zooming by. As we drove along we got behind a large Army truck full of tired, sleepy soldiers who spent the night somewhere on duty. Guess they were going to get some rest somewhere. Freddy shouted "Happy New Years" at them and waved his hand out the window. They perked up and waved back and resumed their tired posture. We passed them and up ahead we came across another truck full of soldiers. These were awake and ready to go. Freddy again shouted “Happy New Years” to them, and they answered back. We went through the area where Noriega had one of his houses in El Antigue Altos Del Golf. We drove slowly by the house. The concrete on some parts of the road was uprooted in big chunks with pipes sticking up in the air. The driveway to the house was full of broken glass. There were two soldiers in front and a Hum-vee. As we were looking at the house and getting to a corner, we almost ran into a huge concrete cylinder someone placed in the middle of the road. We went around it. Freddy said, “Let’s go see San Miguelito.” I said is it safe? We drove towards San Miguelito and saw lots of soldiers posted all over the place, on the side of the road, and in the middle. There wasn’t much traffic there. We didn’t go all the way to San Miguelito. We turned around and headed for home. I sure wish I had a camera with me.
On Jan. 3 around 8:30 p.m. we heard the news that Noriega decided to turn himself over to the Americans. There was celebration downtown. Horn beepings all night. The news said he would be leaving on a plane for Florida at 4 a.m. Some TV stations were having live broadcasts of the situation. We saw on TV the Panamanians in Florida at the airport waiting. I set my alarm for 3”30 a.m. cause I didn’t want to miss actually seeing him leave. When I got up at 3:30 and turned the TV on to see Noriega leaving Panama, what I saw was that he already left and was already in jail in Florida. Saying he was leaving Panama at 4 a.m. was either a trick or misinformation. I went back to bed.
For the rest of the days that year, there were curfews, clean-ups, problems with the Chorilleros at the Albrook Hangar. There was joint patrolling, American soldiers with new police force, rumors of guerilla forces up in the mountains. Plenty escapes from jail. Exiles at the embassies. Arrest of people involved in the past government. Lots of crimes. Gaitan escaped from the Nunciatura. The old PDF headquarters was cleaned out. People went in and took what they wanted, boots, uniforms, mattresses, military hats etc. Then it was torn down and cleaned away. The Police Headquarters at Balboa was torn down and cleaned away.
After the invasion we heard stories from different people. The horses at the racetrack were dying because for 6 days no one attended to them. They were locked up in stalls. We heard that 2 men were found in a tunnel at Rio Hato. They had long beards and no tongues. We heard how so many cars were stolen by the Dig Bats. There were Neighbor Civil Forces formed all over to protect neighborhoods.
We heard about an American being killed at La Boca, Balboa. He was 56 years old. And about the other American who was abducted at the beginning of the combat. He was brought to the Rio Abajo police station then killed and semi-buried. We heard about the teacher who was driving home from a party the night Just Cause started and her car was riddled with bullets between Albrook and Balboa Train Station by PDF members. Tino told me of 2 work companions whose mothers died the night Just Cause began. They had heart attacks caused by shock of what was happening. One guy said he had awakened because he heard a lot of shooting. It was dark cause the electricity went out where he lived near Tinajita headquarters. He went out, asked a neighbor what was happening, he went inside and said to his mother, “It’s an invasion,” and right there she grabbed her chest and fell over dead. The other guy’s mother died after lying in bed when she found out what was going on.
We heard a story about a neighbor of one of Tino’s brothers whose wife started labor pains on 20 Dec. There was no transportation and fighting was still going on in places. They lived near the Tinajita headquarters, which was high up on a hill with a long road going up to it. The American soldiers had taken over that. This guy and several neighbors put his wife in an old abandoned car. Got a bunch of white cloth and raised them in the air with poles. And they pushed the car all the way up to the headquarters. It must have been a sight for the Americans to see a bunch of guys with white flags pushing a jalopy all the way up the hill. Well when they got there, the soldiers realized what was happening and transported the lady in a helicopter to Howard where a medical staff was attending prisoners and other people. Tino’s brother who also lives near Tinajita spent two days and two nights face down on the floor of their home. They had to crawl around to get things done.
Then there were the stories about the looting. One guy looted a shoe store. When he got home he found out he had 60 left foot shoes only. A couple of guys put a big refrigerator on the top of their old car and a stove in the trunk with the top up. As they were driving along, the four tires blew out and everyone took off running in all directions because they thought bombs were exploding. One pregnant lady went to a McDonalds to see what she could find. There was nothing left, so she took the huge flowerpot with a plant in it, placed it above her protruding belly and walked off with it. Someone in our neighborhood stole a whole bunch of hats like the ones Jr. uses in the movie “Dallas”. I saw more than 20 men in our neighborhood walking around with those hats on their heads and some of them looked like John Wayne.
On Jan 5 Tino went to the Balboa P.O. to see if Pop’s retirement check came in. He was waiting at a bus stop in downtown Panama, about 6 feet away from him was this INTEL metal box on a stand which have telephone cables in them. When suddenly an Army truck with an apparatus in back and several guys in back and chased everyone away from the bus stop and shouted that there was a bomb in the area. Everyone took off in all directions. The bomb was in that box of telephone cables. They removed it from the box, placed it in the back of the truck and took off. Boy that was a close call! Bombs were found elsewhere in the city. They were placed there by Dig Bats.
The U.S. soldiers even went all the way up to Lajamina. We heard stories from there also. During the invasion a truck full of PDF members drove through Lajamina towards Los Serros. The people notified the U.S. authorities in Las Tablas. Soldiers in Hum-vees arrived, went up to Los Serros and couldn’t find the truck or its occupants. The soldiers showed up at Paritella where Noriega has a house. Paritella is near Lajamina.
Pop found out about the invasion on the morning of Dec 20. Said he was scared someone would try to get him or Harito as hostage. He spent several days locked up in the house.
Jenny had quite a time. She couldn’t go to work for at least 2 weeks. She spent the first few days in the shower stall on the floor with her pillows. Shooting was going on all around her. Some Dig Bats crashed into a fence across the street from the house. She saw PDF tanks up the street. Helicopters also flew over the house real low. They make a lot of noise and the house trembles.
One quiet night after Jan 1, can’t remember which day, a U.S. C-130 or C-131 observer plane was flying around in circles above real low with its slow dragging heavy sound – a sound I’ll never forget. Well I turned on the T.V. to channel 8 and they were giving a show called Kennedy Center Honors Performing Arts. Mrs. Bush was there. A group on the stage began to sing “God Bless America”. Mrs. Bush and the audience all stood up. And as I was watching and listening to the song, at the same time I was hearing the C-130 flying slowly in circles above us. Keeping an eye on Panama. That was a very emotional moment. All sorts of feelings went through me. Hearing simultaneously the words of “God Bless America” and the sound of the U.S. plane above me made me feel proud to be an American. Even though I live in Panama, I love the U.S.A. and am proud to be an American citizen.
Almost everyone wanted a U.S. intervention but little did we know what it would be like. I think people will think twice before hoping for an invasion or intervention. I guess when you live five to eight years watching so much injustice being done – deaths, tortures, riots – you feel you want it to be over with once and for all. I did not think that I could lose my life if there were an invasion. But now I know better. There has to be a better way to solve problems.
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