USA had use of 500 sq miles of Panama “in perpetuity” to ensure (among other things) that the canal would always be accessible, and to that end maintained a significant military presence there.. Since mid 1960s “their man” there was Manuel Noriega. However as he became more powerful he became more corrupt & unscrupulous and while working with the Drug Enforcement Agency he was also assisting the Colombian Medellin drug cartel. (You’ll have a probably seen the Medellin group in Narco on Netflix). Noriega was becoming a liability, he had outlived his usefulness.
The War Powers Act passed in 1973 (as USA’s defeat in Vietnam became inevitable) was an attempt to limit the President’s ability to take the USA into a military conflict overseas without the Congress being notified preferably before hand but asap, and at most within 48 hours. However Dec 20th 1989 without any prior notice 12,000 troops from USA joined the 12,000 already stationed in Panama in Operation Just Cause. Lets cut to the chase, USA invaded another country of 2 million folk with the sole aim of capturing its head of state and having him stand trial in USA for acts carried out in the sovereign country of Panama. The Organisation of American States(OAS) voted 20-1 to condemn it. The UN Security Council condemnation was only blocked by USA using its veto vote. Thousands of civilians were killed & thousands more injured, massive areas of Panama City were razed to the ground. This carnage was wrought less than 30 years ago and is a significant factor in the negative view of America among a large majority on Panamanians.
On to a more up to date activity: The Oct 2012 US-Panama Free Trade Agreement. This is an Agreement between the largest economy in the world, 320 million population and a small impoverished country of less than 4 million. Am I being over cynical in thinking that this Agreement will benefit USA more than Panama? Well, in 1993 NAFTA, North American Free Trade Agreement was signed between Mexico & USA/Canada. History shows us that this was a disaster for Mexico. A few examples of what’s in the US-Panama FTA cause me to see winner & losers here also, eg: 88% of USA commercial & industrial exports will become duty free, the duty on remaining 12% to be phased out over next 10 years. Over 50% of USA farm produce duties to be dropped immediately! Figure out what this next sentence means for yourselves “The FTA also consummates understandings on telecommunications, services trade, government procurement, investment and intellectual property rights”. Good luck Panama.