Friday, 25 June 2010 00:00
First, let me set the record straight. Manuel Noriega, the former Panamanian dictator, was a “good cop” who went “bad.” Now let me explain. During the height of the “Cold War”, there was no doubt that Noriega helped the United States. In fact, he became a CIA operative in 1970. However, in 1988 he was indicted for drug charges in the United States. Sentenced to 30 years in prison, Noriega was scheduled to be released in September of 2007.
On his scheduled release, there were two options – return to Panama or to be extradited to France where he faced drug laundering charges. In France, Noriega had been convicted of laundering more than $3 million in drug profits and purchasing luxury apartments. In addition, he was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
In Panama, he again, in absentia, had been convicted of murdering political opponents and corruption charges. In spite of these convictions, he still wanted to return to Panama. There is no doubt that if Noriega were to return to Panama, there would be a disruption, because there is still a nationalist presence which would use his return to create protests. That would have been very unfortunate since Panama, for the last 22 years has been completely on the road to a true democracy.
Fortunately, the Supreme Court and Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton’s signature now has him in France where he will be tried on the money laundering charges.
Going back in history, I did have one piece of correspondence with Noriega while he was in prison. After reviewing the transcripts of Noriega’s conviction in the United States, I could not help but question his attorney’s allegations that Manual Noriega’s money was not from drug deals. The attorney stated in court that the money came from Japanese real estate interests wanting greater influence over the Panama Canal. If you remember, back in the late 1980s Japan’s economy was booming. In fact, Japanese real estate interests owned Rockefeller Center in the heart of Manhattan.
I wrote to Noriega in prison and asked him about his lawyer’s allegations. A few weeks after I wrote, a handwritten letter came to me from Noriega. Interestingly, he dodged the question, saying he did not understand what I had asked.
It will be interesting to follow the next few months as Noriega goes to trial in France. Stay tuned.