Enrique Castro Ríos

We are deeply moved by the Panamanian Government’s decision to declare 20 December a National Day of Mourning —following thirty years of struggle to do so—, in commemoration of the brief yet brutal US military Invasion of Panama and in memory of its countless victims. There is still much work to do, from compensating the thousands of survivors and displaced of the poorly-named “Operation Just Cause” for the damages they suffered, to achieving the declassification of printed, photographic and audiovisual documentation compiled by the US Government about this unnecessary, senseless and bloody act of war. But this declaration is a fundamental first step.

Another important challenge facing Panama is to inform new generations of Panamanians —and non Panamanians— about the Invasion, as well as to reflect on the impact of almost a hundred years of US military presence in our country, including its absolute control over the former Canal Zone. At IFF Panama we have supported this efforts through the world premieres of films such as Abner Benaim’s Invasion (Invasión, Panama 2014) in our third edition on 2014, where it received Best Documentary and Best Central American and Caribbean Film awards, voted by our audiences; as well as my own feature film Decembers (Diciembres, Panamá 2018), which received support from the Primera Mirada fund for its post-production during our fifth edition on 2016, and was premiered worldwide in our seventh edition on 2018 (both prior to my recent incorporation into the IFF team, I must clarify). Our first edition of 2012 was also the national premiere of The Fists of a Nation (Los puños de una nación, Panama 2006), feature documentary directed by our executive director Pituka Ortega Heilbron, which draws poignant parallels between the ups and downs of four times world champion Roberto “Hands of Stone” Durán’s boxing career and the Panamanian struggle for the reversion of the of the Panama Canal and its Zone from the USA to Panama, culminating with the deeply traumatic Invasion of 1989.



Add to these another IFF premiere on what I personally consider the Occupation, as the Canal Zone would have been called had it been located in Norway or Korea. I refer to Box 25 (Caja 25, Panama 2015) by Delfina Vidal and Mercedes Arias, awarded the National Grand Prix of the Press by the National Journalist Forum for Freedom of Expression at IFF Panama 2015.

These and future films about the Invasion and the Occupation build up on a growing number of Panamanian and international productions, some of which may be seen at Panama’s Museum of Contemporary Art during the coming weeks as part of their exhibition An Invasion in Four Tenses, [1] or at the Gladys Vidal Theater of the Municipality of Panama, which will be repeating its exhibition Imagining the City, [2] curated by filmmaker Carolina Borrero with the support of the City Museum and MUPA.



I leave you with a small national and international filmography of works related to the Invasion and/or the Occupation, partly based on research by Costa Rican film historian and champion María Lourdes Cortés, filmography which actually opens with a film that anticipated “Operation Just Cause”. [3] Your feedback to enrich this list is highly welcome:

My Name is Panamá  (Panama-Cuba 1989, 13 minutes) by Yisca Márquez y Carlos  Aguilar Navarro, then students of the International School of Film and Television (EICTV) of San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba

The Empire Visits Us Again (El imperio nos visita nuevamente, Panama 1990), documentary/fiction by Sandra Eleta

Just Cause, for whom? (Just Cause, ¿para quién?, Panamá 1990), documentary by Yisca Márquez

The Midnight Special (Panama-Cuba 1991), documentary by Edgar Soberón Torchia

Houses are for living (Las casas son para vivir, Panamá 1991), documentary by Fernando Martínez, produced by the Grupo Experimental de Cine Universitario, GECU

The Panama Deception (USA 1992) by Barbara Trent, winner of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Award in 1993 for Best Documentary for her critique on US media’s collaboration with the US Department of Defense to justify the Invasion.

Dollar Mambo (Mexico 1993) by Mexican filmmaker Paul Leduc, with the collaboration of Panamanian poet and filmmaker Pedro Rivera

The fists of a nation (Los puños de una nación, Panama 2006) by Pituka Ortega Heilbron

Beauty of the Fight (USA-Panama 2008) by John Urbano

The last soldier (El último soldado, Panama 2010) by Luis Romero in co-production with DOCTVIB and SERTV

Panama Canal Stories (Historias del canal, Panama 2014), feature fiction film composed of five short stories about the Canal Zone under the direction of Carolina Borrero, Pinky Mon, Luis Franco Brantley, Abner Benaim and Pituka Ortega Heilbron

Invasion (Invasión, Panama 2014) by Abner Benaim

Forbidden to Forget (Prohibido olvidar, Panama 2014) by Oscar Faarup

Box 25 (Caja 25, Panamá 2015) by Delfina Vidal and Mercedes Arias

Decembers (Diciembres, Panama-Colombia 2018) by Enrique Castro Ríos

Operation Just Cause (Operación Causa Justa, Panama-Colombia 2019) by Luis Pacheco and Luis Franco Brantley


Enrique Castro Ríos
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