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National Archives

Public Papers - 1989 - December

Letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate on United States Military Action in Panama

1989-12-21

Dear Mr. Speaker: (Dear Mr. President:)

On December 15, 1989, at the instigation of Manuel Noriega, the illegitimate Panamanian National Assembly declared that a state of war existed between the Republic of Panama and the United States. At the same time, Noriega gave a highly inflammatory anti-American speech. A series of vicious and brutal acts directed at U.S. personnel and dependents followed these events.

On December 16, 1989, a U.S. Marine officer was killed without justification by Panama Defense Forces (PDF) personnel. Other elements of the PDF beat a U.S. Naval officer and unlawfully detained, physically abused, and threatened the officer's wife. These acts of violence are directly attributable to Noriega's dictatorship, which created a climate of aggression that places American lives and interests in peril.

These and other events over the past two years have made it clear that the lives and welfare of American citizens in Panama were increasingly at risk, and that the continued safe operation of the Panama Canal and the integrity of the Canal Treaties would be in serious jeopardy if such lawlessness were allowed to continue.

Under these circumstances, I ordered the deployment of approximately 11,000 additional U.S. Forces to Panama. In conjunction with the 13,000 U.S. Forces already present, military operations were initiated on December 20, 1989, to protect American lives, to defend democracy in Panama, to apprehend Noriega and bring him to trial on the drug-related charges for which he was indicted in 1988, and to ensure the integrity of the Panama Canal Treaties.

In the early morning of December 20, 1989, the democratically elected Panamanian leadership announced formation of a government, assumed power in a formal swearing-in ceremony, and welcomed the assistance of U.S. Armed Forces in removing the illegitimate Noriega regime.

The deployment of U.S. Forces is an exercise of the right of self-defense recognized in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter and was necessary to protect American lives in imminent danger and to fulfill our responsibilities under the Panama Canal Treaties. It was welcomed by the democratically elected government of Panama. The military operations were ordered pursuant to my constitutional authority with respect to the conduct of foreign relations and as Commander in Chief.

In accordance with my desire that Congress be fully informed on this matter, and consistent with the War Powers Resolution, I am providing this report on the deployment of U.S. Armed Forces to Panama.

Although most organized opposition has ceased, it is not possible at this time to predict the precise scope and duration of the military operations or how long the temporary increase of U.S. Forces in Panama will be required. Nevertheless, our objectives are clear and largely have been accomplished. Our additional Forces will remain in Panama only so long as their presence is required.

Sincerely,

George Bush

Note: Identical letters were sent to Thomas S. Foley, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Robert C. Byrd, President pro tempore of the Senate. The letter was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on December 22.

Statement by Press Secretary Fitzwater on the Situation in Romania

December 22, 1988

Today, December 22, a terrible burden appears to have been lifted from Romania: the burden of dictatorial rule. The United States shares the rejoicing of the Romanian people and joins them in their hopes for a peaceful transition toward democracy. We regret the tragic and senseless loss of life over the past week and urge that further violence be avoided.

The United States salutes the decision by representatives of the Romanian Government to order a cessation of the brutal police repression and to bring a merciful end to the Ceausescu dictatorship. We hope the Romanian Government will now move quickly to respond to the demands of its people for democratic change and that it will commit itself to a peaceful transition.

The tragedy of Timisoara will never be forgotten. It will serve as a permanent reminder that the aspiration for fundamental human rights cannot be extinguished by force of arms. The United States is ready, as it has always been, for better relations with Romania. If Romania moves along a path of genuine democratic reform, the United States pledges its strong support and assistance.

We hope that Romania will soon join the other countries of central and eastern Europe which have ushered in a new era of cooperation between East and West.

Note: Press Secretary Fitzwater read the statement at 9:21 a.m. during his daily press briefing.

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