Things That Matter

Thirty Years Ago The US Invaded Panama And Left Hundreds Dead, Now Panama Is Hosting A Day Of Mourning

On December 20, 1989, then-President Geroge W. Bush ordered the U.S. military to invade Panama in an attempt to overthrow Manuel Noriega and they succeeded. Noriega is commonly seen as a dictator who took over Panama in 1983 until he was captured by the U.S. in 1989, though he had been on a course of power for decades before that. While Noriega was tried and convicted for his crimes, which included federal narcotics-trafficking and money-laundering charges, the aftermath of the invasion left Panamanians at a loss — and some say even worse than before. 

It’s been 30 years since the invasion of Panama. Family and friends that lost their loved ones during the invasion are still trying to find out what happened to them. 

Noriega’s strength in Panama that began in the late ’60s propelled to a mass scale thanks to his military background. Even though Noriega and the U.S. were on friendly terms and conducted business as usual, Noriega was committing acts of fraud, including rigging elections. Noriega’s desire for power continued to grow and when the U.S. deemed it too dangerous for the people of Panama and U.S. citizens living there, that is when Bush ordered to overthrow him. The Associated Press reports that 27,000 U.S. soldiers launched an attack in Panama. But locals, many who were military servicemen and civilians, were caught in the crossfire during the invasion. 

“It has begun. They are invading us. They are attacking at all the barracks,” Braulio Bethancourt told his wife. Iris Herrera recalled to the Associated Press the last words she heard from her husband on the night of the invasion. Thirty years since then, she still doesn’t have closure over what happened to him that night because his body has never been found. 

After the invasion, 300 Panamanian soldiers were killed along with 214 civilians. However, human rights groups said the casualties of deaths are much higher. The U.S. also lost 23 soldiers. The Panama Truth Commission aims at investigating the invasion and figuring out what happened to those that died. 

“Panama is seeking to heal its wounds,” the country’s vice president and foreign minister, Isabel de Saint Malo, said on Twitter in 2016. “There can be no reconciliation if the truth is not known.” The United States is also complying with this investigation. 

“The United States is willing to work with the government of Panama as it seeks to discover its own history,” the U.S. ambassador to Panama, John Feeley, told Univision in 2016. “We believe that transparency and historical examination is important.” Since the launch of the Panama Truth Commission in 2016, 15 people that disappeared during the invasion have had their cases reopened. 

“We know there are more unknown and missing people who probably can be found,” José Luis Sosa, executive secretary of the Panama Truth Commission, told the AP.  Trinidad Ayola, who lost her husband in the invasion, founded the Association of Relatives of the Fallen, where people could turn to for help after losing a loved one during combat. 

“We are now on the way to recognizing some missing people, but not in their totality because, over the course of 30 years, much evidence has been lost,” Ayola told the AP. 

Gabriel Marcella, former Director of the Americas Studies at the U.S. Army War College, and former Advisor to the Commander in Chief of the United States Southern Command in Panama, told Univision in 2016 that the commission will help bring closure to people who have been seeking answers for decades. 

“Such commissions can be a productive way to heal old wounds and allow societies to go forward certain of the truth and perhaps even justice about the past,” Marcella said. 

On Friday, the Panama government officially declared an official day of mourning to commemorate the invasion 30 years ago. 

“For 30 years, Panamanian society has waited for the lives of those who died or were wounded during the invasion of Panamanian territory in 1989 to be honored,” the office of the presidency said via Twitter, according to the AP. 

Laurentino Cortizo, president of Panama, also tweeted about the 30-year anniversary, stating, “A day like today, 30 years ago, before and after is written in the history of our country. Today is #DueloNacional day, and we express our deep solidarity with those affected, victims and relatives of those Panamanians who perished in the invasion of December 20.”

While some may say this commemoration is 30 years too late, we think this day of mourning and the investigation into the invasion is critical to documenting the truth of what happened on that day.  

READ: UNESCO Has Started Recognizing The Cultural Significance Of The Congo Panamanian People

Military Suspect In Vanessa Guillen’s Disappearance Commits Suicide

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Military Suspect In Vanessa Guillen’s Disappearance Commits Suicide

Anthony Smith / Getty Images

The search for Vanessa Guillen has ended after human remains were identified as the missing soldier. An investigation into the crime has led to suspects being identified and arrested. Here’s what we know so far.

A soldier, who was a suspect in Vanessa Guillen’s death, committed suicide Wednesday.

Human remains were discovered Tuesday and identified as Vanessa Guillen on Wednesday. The suspects in Guillen’s death have not been named but one of the suspects committed suicide on Wednesday morning. The military suspect shot himself while law enforcement was searching for him.

Tim Miller, the founder of Texas Equusearch, told the Houston Chronicle that he believes the military suspect killed himself at 1:30 a.m. local time. The military suspect, who was in Killeen, Texas, committed suicide shortly after human remains were discovered near the Leon River in Bell County, Texas.

Guillen’s family have expressed their grief at press conferences since the body was identified.

The family is demanding justice. One civilian suspect is currently in jail after being arrested in connection with Guillen’s death. One of Guillen’s sisters recognized the military suspect. Mayra Guillen told the press that she met the military suspect who committed suicide.

“At approximately 1:29 a.m., officers located the suspect in the 4700 block of East Rancier Avenue,” reads the statement from the Killeen Police Department website. “As officers attempted to make contact with the suspect, the suspect displayed a weapon and discharged it towards himself.  The suspect succumbed from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.”

The suspects have not been identified, however, we do have descriptions of the suspects.

“The person who took his own life earlier today in Killeen after being sought by Killeen police and federal marshals was a soldier from Fort Hood and had fled the base earlier in the day,” reads a statement by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command. “A civilian has been arrested in connection with Vanessa Guillen’s disappearance. The civilian suspect is the estranged wife of a former Fort Hood Soldier and is currently in custody in the Bell County Jail awaiting charges by civilian authorities.”

The case has captivated the nation as some people hurt for the family.

The investigation into Vanessa Guillen’s death is still ongoing. There are no answers yet but her family alleges that Guillen was coming forward with sexual assault and harassment allegations. The family’s recounting of Guillen’s sexual assault allegations is renewing the conversation of sexual assault in the military.

The family is calling out Fort Hood and the military’s response to the disappearance of Guillen. According to the family, they have been pleading with Fort Hood and the U.S. Army to conduct an investigation but saw nothing happening.

READ: Partial Human Remains Found Near Fort Hood Likely Vanessa Guillen’s

Military Members Are Sharing Stories Of Sexual Assult In The Military Using #IAmVanessaGuillen

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Military Members Are Sharing Stories Of Sexual Assult In The Military Using #IAmVanessaGuillen

David Dee Delgado / Getty Images

Vanessa Guillen went missing on April 22 from a parking lot at Fort Hood. Before going missing, Guillen confided in her family about alleged sexual assault and harassment she faced at the U.S. Army base. Her story sparked an online movement to talk about sexual assault in the military.

Women are using #IAmVanessaGuillen to talk about sexual assault in the U.S. military.

It wasn’t until recently that movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp made it clear that society was done with making excuses for sexual assault. Powerful and influential men have fallen because of their behavior. The disappearance of Vanessa Guillen is shining a renewed light on sexual assault in the military.

The stories range from inappropriate behavior from superiors to rape from fellow soldiers.

Women see themselves reflected in Guillen and her story. Former military women are shedding the shame and fear of coming forward to tell their stories in a public space. The unity on social media is offering women comfort and support as they open up about the most personal thing someone can talk about.

Some of the stories are absolutely heartbreaking.

According to a report from the Defense Department, sexual assault in the U.S. military went up 3 percent between fiscal years 2018 and 2019. The department reported 7,825 reports of sexual assault on service members. However, Pentagon officials assert that the change cannot be characterized as an increase in assaults. A prevalence survey on sexual assault in the military is conducted every other year.

According to some women, the assault and harassment started quickly.

The same study found that sexual assault at the 3 military academies saw a spike of 32 percent. The figures show an increase of 117 reported sexual assaults in 2018 compared to 149 sexual assaults reported in the academies.

“Our Academies produce our future leaders. At every turn, we must drive out misconduct in place of good order and discipline. Our data last year, and the findings from this year’s report, reflect the progress we have made in some areas, and the significant work that remains,” Elizabeth Van Winkle, the executive director of the Office of Force Resiliency, said in a statement obtained by ABC News. “We will not falter in our efforts to eliminate these behaviors from our Academies and to inculcate our expectation that all who serve are treated, and treat others, with dignity and respect.”

Some men have also used the hashtag to share their own experiences.

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, 1 out of every 10 rape victims is male. The study also shows that 1 out of every 33 men will experience an attempted or completed sexual assault.

If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone, you can call 1 (800) 656-HOPE (4673) or visit RAINN by clicking here.

READ: Partial Human Remains Found Near Fort Hood During Search For Vanessa Guillen