Manuel Noriega: exit to Van Halen

In the early 2000s a colleague at the bookstore sealed a box with duct tape. “For Noriega,” she said. I waited for the punchline. It turns out that the former Panamanian dictator read the New York Times Book Review regularly, demanding care packages of the latest best sellers and the occasional work of political philosophy. One of the pieces of trivia I learned reading Glenn Garvin’s obit is the existence of Thought, Doctrine and Praxis Of Comandante Noriega, ” his attempt to imitate Mao Tse-Tung’s little red book of Marxist aphorisms.” Noriega wasn’t a Marxist nor much of an aphorist; he would not have clung to power in the eighties indulged by Washington had he been either. When he boasted that he had dirt on George H.W. Bush, I believed him: the former CIA chief claimed he was “out of the loop” when Ronald Reagan remembered he forgot to authorize the sale of missiles to Iran, the excess profits of which were funneled to the Contras. Moreover, American dealings with Noriega stretch back to the Johnson administration, during which, according to a New York Times story published a month after Bush’s election, “Mr. Noriega was a rising star in the Panamanian military and should be actively cultivated as a C.I.A. ‘asset.'” Later, Noriega, taking advantage of Sun King Reagan smiling benignly, sold thousands of Panamanian passports to the Cuban government, at five grand a piece.

Well. So goes another scion who takes his secrets about the George Bush with him.

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