Panama finds 70 bodies in mass grave from 1989 US invasion

PANAMA CITY: Panamanian authorities have discovered in a mass grave dozens of victims of the 1989 US invasion to depose former dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega, the public prosecutor’s office said Thursday.

“So far 70 bodies have been found,” the office said in a statement.

Authorities began exhuming a mass grave at a Panama City cemetery in January following the reopening of 14 inconclusive investigations into civilian deaths during the invasion.

The aim is to identify the remains and the causes of their deaths.

Work was suspended due to government measures taken to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, but restarted this week.

Sixteen exhumed bodies were taken to Panama’s forensic science institute for analysis.

“The digging is continuing while respecting the biosecurity protocols for this type of work,” the statement added.

In December 1989, 27,000 US soldiers invaded Panama to depose Noriega, a former Washington ally who was wanted by a Miami court to face accusations of drug trafficking.

Officially 500 people died but some rights organisations claim the true figure was in the thousands.

In 2016, under then-president Juan Carlos Varela, Panama created a commission to count and identify those who died during the invasion.

Noriega, who ruled 1983-89, surrendered in January 1990 and was jailed for drug-trafficking and the disappearance of opponents in the US, France and Panama.

After prison stints abroad he died in Panama in 2017.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2018 found the US guilty of “human rights violations” and ordered it to “provide full reparation”.

Victims have demanded that the US, which committed to cooperating with the investigations, recognise the invasion, compensate the country and provide information about mass graves.

President Laurentino Cortizo said last year that Panama would look into asking Washington for reparations, while recognising that the two countries have a “fluid” relationship.

The US is Panama’s main trade and diplomatic partner.