December 20, 1989 – Shortly after midnight on this day, A U.S. invasion force of some 20,000 troops came ashore in Panama with the objective of removing Panamanian strong-man Manuel Noriega and putting him under arrest. An hour prior to the invasion, the democratically elected President, Guillermo Endara was sworn in as President and that Noriega had fled. Endara was the apparent winner of the Presidential election in May of 1989, which Noriega declared null and void.
The invasion force met resistance, at the time of these broadcasts, with some 9 U.S. troops killed and some 39 wounded with one missing. Panamanian troops, loyal to Noriega also took several U.S. hostages, including news producers for CBS and ABC and a New York Times reporter, but they were eventually released as the invasion force spread out and took control of the country.
President Bush went on the air shortly after the invasion began to explain what was taking place and why. President Bush said he sent in the troops to protect American lives, preserve the integrity of the Canal and restore democracy. He also said the U.S. recognized the government of democratically elected President Endara, was sending back our Ambassador immediately and that key military objectives had been achieved. The Operation was getting good reviews on Capitol Hill, with several Senators saying, given the circumstances, there was no way Noriega could stay in power. Noriega had been characterized as a Military Dictator and Drug kingpin with close ties to Drug cartels throughout Central America.
As of these morning broadcasts, one objective still remained elusive; General Manuel Noriega went into hiding. Both the White House and The Pentagon said the operation was continuing and so was the search for the now-deposed dictator who the Pentagon was now calling a fugitive.
At one point during the invasion, Noriega supporters claimed to be holding as many as 40 Americans hostage. There were no immediate reports on Panamanian casualties, but some estimates claimed as many as 50 dead and many more wounded, including civilians.
As part of the operation, the U.S. administered Panama Canal was closed for the first time in its 75 year history.
And that’s what was going on this December 20, 1989 as reported by CBS Radio News and Bulletins.