On December 20, 2007 Panamanians recalled the American Invasion of Panama. They were not fond memories. I don't know how, but I forgot. Thankfully I was reminded of this important date in a conversation with someone who came to see me that day.
At first, I didn't get it. With all the 'days' we have been having since November, I was lost as to which particular celebration I just forgot. Come to think of it, there was no parade so maybe that's why I forgot? A Panamanian Anniversary And No Parade? And then it sank in that this was a Day that does not warrant a celebration for Panamanians. This was never to be forgotten. It was a day to remember.
I commented on it to my member and he replied that it is difficult to forget when there are so many reminders of the US occupation of Panama and for him 'a lot of it was negative'. He continued, "Take for example the leftover landmines." Yes, let's take those 'landmines' in a minute. US Invasion No Celebration After he left, I scoured the news and my jaw dropped when I came across an article which was yet to make the headlines of any of the major US papers.
However, the International Herald Tribune reported: - Panama declares US invasion date a national day of mourning See why I'm scooping my jaw off the ground? The news confirmed what I just heard in my members comments. Imagine that. How long had this been brewing. The report quoted a representative of the ruling party as saying:- "This is a recognition of those who fell on Dec. 20 as a result of the cruel and unjust invasion by the most powerful army in the world," said Rep.
Cesar Pardo. He is a representative of the Democratic Revolutionary Party. They hold majority votes in the legislature." The article also claimed that US officials downplayed the story; and, that the officials affirmed the wonderful relationship between USA and Panama. I think this is where I return to the other 'landmines'. Post-Occupation Leftovers and Legacies I have been meaning to take pictures of the signs that run along the main road from Gatun Locks (Panama Canal) to the community of Pina, where one of our missions is located.
I first came upon the signs a year ago, while I was chasing my favourite Panama butterfly - the Blue Morpho butterfly. It flew off in the bush with me in hot pursuit like a camera happy tourist gushing at its beauty. Suddenly, a weather beaten yellow sign with a danger symbol and bold black letters stood between me and the gorgeous butterfly.
MUNICIONES NO DETONADO jumped out at me from the sign. (Gulp) OOps. Even my rusty Spanish could handle that one. Nevertheless, I shouted for translation help to my companions in the bus. The response came fast, "Don't go any further. There are active landmines in the bush.
Leave that butterfly and come if you want to remain in one piece." I was not about to argue with that English translation! Mourning Lest We Forget Those signs have been bothering me since. Even moreso, the allegations that indeed persons have been maimed and killed in the bush by leftover ammunition planted during the time of US military operations in Panama. I have since come across this report in the Landmine Monitor on the situation in Panama. While there seems to be no active landmines per say, there is enough undetonated explosives left in the ground to put many lives in extremely poor neighbourhoods at risk. The report says, UXO contamination in Panama is limited to three former US military bases along the Panama Canal, which are said to still contain a total of around 110,000 pieces of UXO.
 According to a UN 2002 report, approximately 3,250 hectares of land (32.5 square kilometers) in the Piña, Balboa West and Emperador areas are contaminated, putting more than 100,000 individuals in 81 communities at risk. I am saddened by those signs and what it reminds me of. Imagine the Panamanians; especially those in Costa Abajo. After 18 years, Panamanians choose mourning as the appropriate way to remember December 20, 1989.
There are those who would want to forget or erase it from their minds. Many are still tormented by their inability to move on without knowing the truth of what happened to their relatives who went missing. Still others are diligently seeking to uncover the truth and press for justice in Panama.
Marvia Lawes Blogs with frankness on various current issues related to social justice. Read more at Marvia's Panama Journal.