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World War III
Panama played a significant role in World War III by supporting allied ships in their rights of passage in the Panama Canal and barring entry from ships from the communist countries. The Panama Canal Zone, home to many U.S. military installations, was secured jointly by the U.S. Army and the Panamanian Defense Forces. In November 1989, when Cuba entered the war, an additional 1,500 U.S. troops were deployed to defend the canal from any communist insurgents.
In certain occasion, some cargo ships were boarded by U.S./Panamanian forces after it was discovered to contain weapons, explosives, and anti-tank launchers destined for FARC rebels in Colombia. Upon investigation, it originated from Cuba. A North Korean freighter was also towed after discovering the ship was loaded with weapons and 50 military advisors on its way to Cuba.
Fall of Manuel Noriega
General Manuel Noriega of the PDF took power in August 1983. While being supported by the United States during the early 1980s, relations with Panama and the United States would gradually wane overtime. Noriega was also a major cocaine trafficker, something which his U.S. intelligence handlers were aware of for years, but allowed because of his usefulness for their covert military operations in Latin America as he worked closely with the CIA. In 1988, prior to World War III, Noriega was indicted by the United States on drug trafficking charges in Miami, Florida. This was only "temporarily forgotten" due to the outbreak of World War III a year later because the United States needed Panama as a strategic ally. Prior to the war, the elections of May 1989 were surrounded by controversy. It was alleged the Noriega rigged the elections against his opposition, Guillermo Endara. The Panamanians knew the result and protested against the elections, but were beaten up by Noriega's dignity battalions. Former President Jimmy Carter denounced the elections; the United States meanwhile recognized Endara as the winner.
After the war, in 1992, these charges were immediately brought back up. Since an invasion would have been too costly as it followed after the war, the U.S., through its CIA and DEA agents, began stirring up Noriega's crimes to the Panamanian people. On March 27, 1992, Citizens immediately swarmed the streets and overrun PDF positions, in a manner similar to the People Power Revolution in the Philippines in 1986. Some PDF soldiers and officers defected to the masses. Under intense pressure, Noriega resigned and turned himself in to DEA agents where he was flown the United States to face charges for drug-related crimes. Guillermo Endara then took the role as the President of Panama.
Return of the Panama Canal
As per the Torrijos-Carter Treaty of 1979, the sovereignty of the Panama Canal was returned to Panama on noon time, December 31, 1999. Present in the ceremony was the U.S. ambassador to Panama, the Vice President of the U.S., and several soldiers. It was also attended by Panamanians and Americans alike. The Stars and Stripes was lowered for the first time as the final American troops withdrew before the sun set down on the isthmus. Celebration in Panama continued on beyond midnight as the new millennium began.