March 16, 1988 – A busy day if you lived in Central America. Starting with news from Honduras that an attack by Nicaraguan troops on Contra rebels inside Honduras was causing the White House to review all options short of invasion to deal with the issue, however one of those options seemingly included sending U.S. some troops. The Pentagon wanted to send elements of the 82nd Airborne Division into Honduras, not to fight but a symbol of American support for the Honduran government. The President approved the plan in principle, but was still waiting for a formal request from the Honduran government before making a final decision. U.S. officials made assurances that the American troops would stay well away from the border area, where an estimated 1500 Sandinista troops reportedly crossed into Honduras, complete with artillery and helicopter gunships. The last time the U.S. responded to a Sandinista incursion was in 1986, just days after Congress had voted to cut off aid to the Contras. Then, American helicopters airlifted Honduran troops to the border area. But Congress later said the Administration had manipulated the intelligence to make the situation much worse than it really was. Officials insisted this time they are no exaggerating, but the Administrations Central American policy has become such a highly charged political issue that any action would be bound to be controversial.
Over in Panama – gunshots were heard coming from inside the compound that housed General Manuel Noriega’s Headquarters in Panama City. But Noriega emerged unhurt and triumphant, saying “The gunshots were only kisses”. They were however, kisses meant to depose Noriega and not to kill him. Noriega had thwarted a coup attempt, reportedly led by a dissident Colonel. U.S. sources said they knew of the coup beforehand, but did not initiate it. The attempt came on the heels of civil unrest, touched off by some of the worst rioting in Panama City in recent memory. Troops were finally able to restore order, but Panama City was looking like a city under siege.
And indictments were finally handed down this day against four key player in the Iran-Contra scandal. Oliver North, John Poindexter and two associates on 23 criminal counts. The key charge; conspiracy to defraud the government by shipping arms to the Contras at a tim when U.S. aid was banned by Congress, and diverting profits from arms sales.
And that’s a small slice of what went on, this March 16, 1988 as reported by The World Tonight.