December 20th is the anniversary of the 1989 US invasion of Panama and ouster of Manuel Noriega as dictator. Many Panamanians continue to feel this day should be recognized as an official day of mourning, despite the refusal of political leaders to grant the designation.
Panamanian sensitivity centers on the [still undetermined] total number of civilian deaths and property and business destruction that resulted from the military actions. As one interviewee mentioned in a TV broadcast this evening, "It wasn't just military personnel that were killed. There were pregnant woman and unborn babies that died from that military action. " Estimates of civilian casualties are anywhere from 300 to 1000+ Panamanians. US military casualties were listed at 23.
Whereas many Panamanians feel the events of that day should be forgotten, others retain painful memories or experience ongoing sadness at the loss of loved ones. Prior students from a particular military academy, between the ages of 14 and 17 at the time of the invasion, remembered being called upon to fight against the invasion only to subsequently be abandoned and never later acknowledged by the government for their service and sacrifice.
When one looks at the outcome 24 years later, one can celebrate the strong democracy, peace and prosperity Panama now enjoys. But those whose lives were touched in very personal ways, those who suffered familial losses, personal harm and/or financial hardships, also present a convincing case for acknowledgement and recognition. Perhaps they will be someday be heard.