REFLECTIONS ON SUNDAY : Manuel Antonio Moreno Noriega. Ring a bell?

Last Monday you might have heard or read news of a ‘dictator’ who was flown from USA to France in a puzzling extradition. Puzzling because the authoritarian is not French….the man cannot tell the difference between ‘fire’ and ‘feu’! Nor is he American.

Last Monday you might have heard or read news of a ‘dictator’ who was flown from USA to France in a puzzling extradition.

Puzzling because the authoritarian is not French….the man cannot tell the difference between ‘fire’ and ‘feu’! Nor is he American.

Manuel Noriega is Panamanian and his country wants him extradited home. But, nope, the priority is given to France. Yet, he has committed no crime on any European soil.

Unless buying a few apartments constitutes a crime!
But, of course, Noriega is no ordinary Panamanian. In fact, to my recollection, he is the only man on this globe who holds the singular record of being ousted, as strong man of his country, by the rapid fire of, not guns but………guitars!
Noriega had not always been the kind to get the shivers at the sound of music.

To the contrary, he relished the sound of jazz music and could throw a long leg or two in the dance hall, during his youth. Sometimes, even the sound of gunfire was music to his ears.

Many people today may not know that, of course. But if you are of my generation that almost bore witness to the extraction of Adam’s rib and its transformation into a gorgeous wife, then you remember that Noriega was Panamanian de facto leader from August 1983 to January 3rd, 1990.

And he didn’t get to the top of Panamanian leadership by fluke, no sir. Born on 11th February 1934, Noriega grew up to become a career soldier, receiving intelligence and counterintelligence training in Peru and USA.

In fact, as well as being influential in his home army, Noriega was on the CIA payroll from the 1950s until February 1988. As he amassed influence both sides of the Caribbean Sea, so did he amass wealth through corruption and drug-dealing.

American government officials turned a blind eye as Noriega established “the hemisphere’s first ‘narcokleptocracy’”.

After all, he had extended new rights to the United States and allowed USA to set up listening posts in Panama. He had aided the American-backed guerrillas in Nicaragua, acting as a conduit for US money and weapons.

With time, however, USA was getting jittery at his brazen treatment of his opponents as he continued to arrange for the death or disappearance of anybody who stood in his way. Moreover, he was losing appeal as his services grew less and less useful.

In 1980, USA and Panama had signed a treaty which guaranteed US forces freedom of movement in the country, in defence of the Canal. It is that treaty that proved to be his Achilles’ heel.

Armed with it, USA could not fail to get a way of ejecting a man that it no longer required.

Like a bully boy, then, USA started to conduct regular ‘freedom of movement’ manoeuvres and operations, such as Operation Sand Flea and Operation Purple Storm, inside Panama!

When one time four US personnel were stopped at a Panama Defence Forces (PDF) roadblock and, on another occasion, a US Marine Corps soldier was shot and killed, USA had got the trigger it needed and it hyped up the incidents, spoiling for war.

On 22nd December 1989, USA launched its invasion in a war that claimed hundreds of Panamanian lives and rendered homeless tens of thousands. Noriega was hiding in the Holy See’s embassy in Panama, having defied the Nuncio’s pleas to leave on his own accord.

US troops set up a perimeter outside the Nunciature (the embassy) and played such loud music in front of the embassy that Noriega surrendered on January 3rd, 1990.

A disgraceful way to go for the strongman of Panama, but we know of other no-less powerful Robert Guéis who’ve similarly cut and run, not waiting to meet the gun from the front!

So, Noriega was carted to USA to cool the seat of his pants in the coolers of Miami. This was after a trial in which he unsuccessfully insisted on disclosing the true figure of $ 10 million he had earned for the tasks he had performed for CIA.

He was not even allowed to disclose the tasks he performed for CIA, with the district court claiming that the information would “confuse the jury”!

Meanwhile, the hyena of Europe was salivating! Noriega was charged and convicted in absentia by French authorities for “laundering some $3 million in drug proceeds by purchasing luxury apartments in Paris”.

On Monday 26th April 2010, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed a so-called surrender warrant for Noriega after a federal judge in Miami lifted a stay blocking the extradition. Did anybody look at the extradition request by Panamanian authorities? Well, that’s for the birds!
No one can condone the actions of a killer leader like Noriega, but justice must be served without bias.

While in France Noriega is charged with drug racketeering and related charges, in Panama he faces the more serious charges of murder and crimes against humanity.
Talk about double standards!