The best thing Manuel Noriega ever did for Panama was to lose power


Gen. Manuel Noriega waves to the press after a state council meeting on Aug. 31, 1989, at the presidential palace in Panama City, where the new president was announced. Noriega died May 29 in a hospital in Panama City at age 83. (Matias Recart/Associated Press)

Eric Farnsworth is vice president of the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. From 1990 to 1993, he served in the State Department as desk officer for Panama.

On Dec. 20, 1989, President George H.W. Bush sent 27,000 troops to Panama to topple the dictatorship of self-declared “Maximum Leader,” Manuel Noriega. The invasion — code-named “Operation Just Cause” — killed 23 U.S. personnel and several hundred Panamanians in the name of protecting U.S. citizens and interests as well as restoring Panama’s path to democracy.

By the time of the invasion, Noriega, whose security forces had killed a U.S.

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