By Héctor Schamis
Nicolás Maduro’s current situation is very similar to what Manuel Noriega’s path was two decades ago.
Spanish – He was a National Guard officer and head of intelligence, the master of terror. He studied at the School of the Americas, eventually going on the CIA’s payroll during the Canal negotiations. He had information about the Cuban government and, later, about the Sandinista government, providing logistical support to the Contras.
But he was also a double agent, passing information to Cuba and weapons to the Sandinista and the Salvadoran FMLN. He did this on his own, according to some, behind President Torrijos’ back. The death of Torrijos in a suspicious plane crash in 1981 allowed Manuel Noriega to reach the top. Already a general at the time, and a dictator from 1984 onwards, but never a president, he concentrated political power, repression, and money in his hands.
He pioneered a type of regime that would become better known in this century: a dictatorship associated with transnational crime. A political order sustained and financed by illicit businesses, in the end, a criminal conglomerate in control of the state apparatus. The fact is that he was a “triple” agent, in reality, a man of the Medellin Cartel and a partner in its businesses of drug trafficking and money laundering. This also included the FARC.
In November 1987, a resolution of the United States Senate suspended economic and military aid to Panama, precipitating the default of the foreign debt and producing a 20 percent contraction of the product. In February 1988, the Justice Department charged him on 12 counts. “General Noriega utilized his position to sell the country of Panama to traffickers,″ U.S. Attorney Leon Kellner in Miami accused at the time.
In the May 1989 elections, the opposition forces won by a margin of three to one. The winner was Guillermo Endara, but Noriega declared the elections invalid and remained in power by force. This accelerated the political crisis, and in December of that year, the U.S. invasion deposed Noriega, arrested him, and brought him to Miami to face a tribunal.
The rest is familiar history. In April 1992, Noriega was found guilty of eight counts, including drug trafficking and money laundering. It was the first time in American history that a jury convicted a foreign head of state. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison the following July. He returned to Panama in 2011 to serve an additional 20-year sentence for the disappearance of opponents. He died in 2017 from a hemorrhage after surgery.
On the day of Noriega’s conviction, then-Attorney General said, “This is an important message for the drug lords: there is no safe haven for them. Their wealth and firepower cannot protect them forever.” His words are relevant today.
Bron: PanAm Post