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Also in this section:
Gutman, After the tyrant from Tikrit is forgotten

Leis, Guernica and El Chorrillo
Fisher, The trouble with the Panamanian left
Girvan, Caribbean ministers ponder progress
Clark, Jobs are the biggest US export
Jackson, Misgivings about the main candidates

 Left Wing Publications Right Wing Publications

About invasions and memory lapses

by Raúl Leis


The town that the Basques call Gernika --- better known to the English- speaking world by its Castilian name, Guernica --- was a peaceful Spanish community of 6,000 souls that on market day received several thousand more visitors, the peasants from the surrounding area who dealt in cheese and goats. The 26th of April, 1937 was precisely one of those market days and in the early hours of the afternoon, 20 airplanes dropped 30 tons of bombs and 250 kilos of incendiary devices, and moreover strafed the civilian population, destroying 25 percent of the town. The flames did not hesitate to raze the remaining 75 percent of this little city of houses with tile roofs, but with wooden lattices that bordered narrow alleys; 271 homes were left destroyed. The water system was affected and the firefighters were insufficient to contain the blaze.

The neighborhood that we Panamanians call El Chorrillo was a community of 15,000 people, located in the corregimiento of the same name. In the middle of the night of December 20, 1989, a still undetermined number of Cobra and Apache helicopter gunships, airplanes, warships and land-based artillery bombarded, strafed and set fire to the place, while its residents slept. Some 40 percent of its inhabitants were minors. The seismograph at the University of Panama registered 442 significant explosions in the first 12 hours of the invasion, that is, one explosion every two minutes. That night, the majority of the explosions came from El Chorrillo. Almost all of the houses were of zinc and old wood. The number of housing units destroyed or affected is figured at about 4,000. The area that was directly bombarded was the Central Military Headquarters and its surroundings --- the fire consumed the rest of the neighborhood. The water system went unused, as the attackers didn’t permit the firefighters to do their job.

The attack on Gernika was by day and there were seven shelters for the civil population. In El Chorrillo it was night and there wasn’t a single shelter. In Gernika, counting the visitors, the population was figured at some 10,000; in El Chorrillo, some 15,000. Gernika was taken by the Francoist troops three days later, and the official history has it that there were 100 dead. Data from the municipal authorities estimate the dead at 1,645 and the wounded at 889, but the truth of it is that Franco’s government never made an effort to clarify the matter, as a way to dispel the gravity of what happened. In Panama, the data are unknown with any precision. It has been spoken of 100, 200, and up to 600 dead, but there are popular organizations that calculate the total casualty count at between 2,000 and 5,000 dead and thousands of injured. There has been no truthful and independent investigation of the number of Panamanian casualties during the invasion.

Spain was in a civil war. The Francoist troops (supported by the Nazi - Fascist Axis) hadn’t yet been able to take Madrid. In 1937 they overran the Northern Front, which included the Basque Country. Gernika didn’t have any military significance. Its destruction was a lesson, and a symbol of submission for the Basques and the Spanish Republic in general.

Panama was living through a deep crisis. The population was polarized between a growing opposition and an ever more authoritarian government. Noriega, an ex-collaborator with US intelligence, clung to power while the country suffered an economic siege that had bled the country of more than $2 billion. The US government took advantage of these conflicts to insure its geopolitical, economic and military interests on the isthmus. El Chorrillo was historically a working class neighborhood, built as barracks for canal workers, but before that, in 1671, the stream that came down there from Ancon Hill was an important factor in the relocation of Panama City, which was destroyed by the pirate horde of Henry Morgan. The invaders had to annihilate the symbol of military power, this Central Headquarters of the Defense Forces situated in the heart of El Chorrillo, although they knew that Noriega wasn’t there. Nevertheless they made an installation that was densely surrounded by a civilian population the principal target for their show of force. They didn’t permit the entry of firefighters or medical assistance while they attacked.

The Francoists in Spain first denied the destruction of Gernika, then insinuated the Asturian miners, the Basque “gudaris” and the Communists, accusing them of burning the town, but it remained clear that in the struggle for power that Spain was undergoing, the Spanish Falangists requested and approved the bombing of their own country by foreign aircraft.

In Panama, one of the “official versions” of the events is that Panamanian paramilitaries burned El Chorrillo.

Gernika stands for the terrible inhumanity that it is to bombard, burn or destroy a defenseless civilian community. El Chorrillo stands for the same thing. It’s true that circumstances were different between 1937 and 1989, and between Gernika and El Chorrillo, but there are instructive similarities.

Fourteen years later, reflection upon these tragedies must lead us to stubbornly build a real democracy, raised on a foundation of complete development, with democratic security and endowed with an non-substitutable capacity for national self- determination.





Also in this section:
Gutman, After the tyrant from Tikrit is forgotten
Leis, Guernica and El Chorrillo
Fisher, The trouble with the Panamanian left
Girvan, Caribbean ministers ponder progress
Clark, Jobs are the biggest US export
Jackson, Misgivings about the main candidates



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