Voodoo monster who made a fool of America
... until they took revenge on General Noriega – who’s died aged 83 – by blasting him out of his Panama lair with ear-splitting heavy metal music
He was a cocaine-snorting killer who practised black magic with vats of blood and animal entrails, boasted of having a witch on his staff and a portrait of adolf Hitler on his wall.
These were the breathless claims made by the U.s. government when it invaded Panama in 1989 and dethroned its fearsome dictator, General Manuel Noriega, blasting him out of his sanctuary in the Vatican embassy after ten days of exposure to ear-splitting heavy metal music.
what washington conveniently omitted to add was that the brutal ruler had also been a CIa agent for decades, even as he made hundreds of millions of dollars helping drug traffickers flood the U.s. with cocaine and marijuana.
america has backed some deeply unsavoury types in its long war against communism, but few came more vicious and depraved than Noriega, who has died aged 83. Given his penchant for leaving opponents headless in jungle clearings, it was very much a deal with the devil.
His passing on Monday night — in a Panama City hospital following a botched brain tumour operation — ends an episode in the history of CIa meddling that it would love the world to forget.
as a U.s. senate investigation later ruled on what it called one of the nation’s ‘most serious foreign policy failures’, Noriega was allowed, with american connivance, to establish the western hemisphere’s first ‘narcokleptocracy’ — a government that revolved around illegal drug dealing and corruption.
Pineapple Face, as Noriega was nicknamed due to his heavily pockmarked skin (although he preferred the moniker ‘Maximum Leader’), was a wily political operator who ran the tiny Central american state from 1983 to 1990.
Its possession of the Panama Canal, proximity to left-wing regimes such as Nicaragua and Cuba, and position on the cocaine trafficking route up from Colombia, meant the U.s. was desperately keen to have a friendly face in power.
But as with saddam Hussein, with whom he is often compared, america’s friendship with Noriega became increasingly fraught as he became first an embarrassment and finally a threat so serious he had to be removed by force.
who reportedly wore red Y-fronts to ‘ ward off the evil eye’ and kept a collection of teddy bears dressed as paratroopers, lived the life of a debauched drug king. The cocaine-fuelled parties in his mansions were legendary, with various mistresses and prostitutes on tap — even as he posed as a crucial ally in washington’s war on drugs.
He pulled off the same feat in america’s other great battle in Latin america — against communism. while providing the U.s. with secrets about Cuba, he sold its leader Fidel Castro thousands of Panamanian passports at $5,000 each for use by Cuban and possibly soviet bloc agents. He tortured and murdered political opponents with abandon. against ordinary Panamanians who dared to protest, he unleashed his feared anti-riot thugs the ‘ Dobermans’, and his paramilitary ‘ Dignity Battalions’, who mercilessly attacked peaceful demonstrators with clubs, rubber hoses and, later, even sniper rifles.
Noriega, of mixed european descent, was born in a Panama City slum in 1934, but excelled at school. He wanted to be a psychiatrist but, failing to get into medical school, opted for a career in Panama’s National Guard. He was recruited as a CIa agent while at a military academy in Peru in 1967. The following year, a military coup in Panama provided him with the opportunity for advancement and he became intelligence chief for the country’s military dictator, General omar Torrijos.
when Torrijos died in a mysterious plane crash in 1981 — an ‘accident’ for which many blame Nori- ega — he appointed himself general and, within two years, was de facto ruler. Calling himself el Man, he’d already earned a reputation for using brutal tactics against opponents, a fact he reinforced by turning up for political speeches brandishing a machete.
The grisly fate of Hugo spada- fora, an outspoken critic of Noriega, showed how far he would go.
In 1985, Dr spadafora was dragged from a bus on the Costa rican border by a Noriega death squad. His mutilated, tortured and decapitated body was later found in a U.s. mail bag. other political enemies were dropped from helicopters.
Noriega wanted power, but above all he wanted money. Just as he was forging stronger links with the U.s., he was doing the same with Colombian drug cartels. He became a key agent for the notorious Medellin Cartel, dominated by drug lord Pablo escobar.
Noriega biographers estimate he earned at least $772 million from drugs — allowing Colombian traffickers to use Panama as a stopover for cocaine and marijuana shipments to the U.s.
american narcotics agents became increasingly alarmed but washington didn’t want to hear. He was viewed as an asset.
In 1986 Noriega met white House aide Colonel oliver North at a London hotel during the infamous Iran-Contra scandal, the secret U.s. operation to fund the rightwing Contra rebels in Nicaragua with the proceeds of illegal arms sales to Iran.
The U.s. Congress had banned funding of the Contras but Noriega offered to assassinate leaders of Nicaragua’s left-wing sandinista government or commit acts of sabotage there.
The white House never took him up on these chilling offers, but it did use Panama as a listening post and a channel for money and weapons for the Contras.
Noriega, who drank heavily and relied on stimulants such as amphetamines, revelled in his terrifying reputation. He rarely denied accusations he was a murderer, rapist and torturer although, comically, he was sensitive about people mentioning his bad skin, the result of teenage acne.
In 1989, he put down a military coup attempt and allegedly shot dead its leader himself in front of witnesses.
THeN, however, america’s tolerance for his behaviour was running out, especially as he was boasting he had President George H.w. Bush ‘ by the cojones’ over ‘intelligence secrets’.
In December 1989, Bush ordered 27,000 U.s. troops to go in and depose him. In the biggest U.s.military operation since the Vietnam war, the invaders took control. Troops who stormed his fortress home — a spanish Colonial- style house in Panama City — were astonished by what they found.
a first- floor room had been turned into a huge armoury of rifles, pistols and machine guns. Noriega even had a James Bondstyle attache case fitted with a sub-machine gun, a hole cut for its barrel and a trigger in the handle.
In his office, a bust of Napoleon sat next to his military graduation
photo and the teddy bears. Drinks coasters depicted classical Greek erotic scenes, his out tray was full of pornography and on the wall was a picture of the Fuhrer. Four pounds of cocaine was found in a safe and another 100lb in his office.
Sceptics later dismissed accusations of black magic as a bid to discredit Noriega. But the Creole stock from which he came widely believed in voodoo and he never denied the rumours.
Troops and reporters found a diary detailing visits by two Brazilian witches who would fly in (by plane) to perform black magic.
Cow tongues with nails driven through them, which, it was claimed, were used in black magic rituals, were also found.
Adjoining Noriega’s bedroom was another odd touch — a chapel with implements for Catholic mass, and a priest’s robes.
In the bathroom of another house, officials reported finding a bucket of dried animal blood and entrails — voodoo accessories.
By then Noriega had taken refuge in the Vatican embassy and on Christmas Day 1989 his brutal reign ended on a note of farce when he became the first victim of a new brand of U. S. Army psychological warfare.
In Operation Nifty Package, armoured cars mounted with giant speakers blasted the embassy with round-the-clock, hard rock and heavy metal songs. The titles said it all: Nowhere To Run, Wanted Dead Or Alive, No Alibis, Prisoner Of Rock And Roll. Noriega, an opera lover, gave himself up on January 3, 1990 and was flown in chains to Florida.
After becoming the first foreign ruler to be tried in the U.S., he was jailed for 40 years for drug-trafficking, money-laundering and racketeering. He had stayed behind bars ever since, being extradited to Panama and reportedly becoming a born again Christian. His last few years were spent in a wheelchair.
Noriega had three daughters with his late wife Felicidad, and yesterday, Panama’s president, Juan Carlos Varela, said they ‘deserve to bury him in peace’. That was an honour he rarely accorded his enemies.
Rule of terror: Ruthless killer Manuel Noriega