Jan 1 1990

‘Noriega Offered His Usual Damp, Limp Handshake to Bush’s Firm Grip’

For sheer propaganda, high marks go to Newsweek‘s Noriega cover story (1/15/90), featuring excerpts from a book about Noriega by Wall Street Journal reporter Frederick Kempe. The book and its author were much touted by the media during the invasion. Some highlights:

HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST ELLIOTT ABRAMS. “By the summer of 1985, the State Department’s new assistant secretary of state for Latin American affairs, Elliott Abrams, began to believe that Noriega’s help for the Contras was overestimated and his general harm to democracy and human rights was underestimated. Abrams had come out of State’s human rights office….”

Abrams hardly “came out” of a human rights office. He was put there to disseminate anti-Nicaragua war propaganda as human rights information, an operation repeatedly exposed and denounced by Americas Watch. Abrams’ “human rights” work included attacks on the church-based Sanctuary movement, which offered refuge to Central Americans fleeing death squads.

A careful reading of the Newsweek article leaves the sneaking suspicion that much of the material was provided by Abrams himself: “[Abrams] argued at several interagency meetings that backing the Contras could only be one part of an overall strategy of promoting democracy in the region. He wanted more pressure on Panama to democratize–without endangering the good relationship that existed.”


FIRM, REFINED BRAHMIN VS. LIMP, MESTIZO BASTARD.”The two intelligence chiefs contrasted in style and substance: Bush was lanky and refined, raised by a Brahmin New England family. He towered over the five-foot five-inch Noriega. Noriega was mean-streets Mestizo, the bastard son of his father’s domestic. Noriega offered his usual damp, limp handshake to Bush’s firm grip. They were clearly uncomfortable with each other.”

Aside from the racism of the piece, the line about the two being uncomfortable with each other is significant–primarily to protect Bush. A second later: “Only in the twisted mind of Manuel Antonio Noriega could that 1976 luncheon with George Bush be construed as the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Though it lasted for more than ten years.

BUT IT WAS ALL CASEY’S FAULT. George Bush wasn’t responsible for the ongoing ties to Noriega. The guy to blame, according to Kempe, was–as usual–the CIA director William Casey. Casey met often with Noriega to discuss aid to the Contras.

AND CASTRO’S, OF COURSE. Kempe makes a herculean effort with scant evidence to implicate Fidel Castro in all the drug dealing. But as other journalists have pointed out, Castro’s main need for Noriega and Panama was as a haven for Cuban front companies to engage in legitimate trade with Western countries in circumvention of the U.S. economic blockade (Miami Herald, 12/28/89). An editorial in Kempe’s Wall Street Journal (1/8/90) called on the U.S. to cut a deal with Noriega if he’d implicate Castro.

A WALK ON THE HOMOPHOBIC SIDE. Perhaps aimed at bolstering the anti-gay vote in support of the invasion, Newsweek ran a sidebar from Kempe’s book under the headline, “A Walk on the Bisexual Side”:

The macho officer [Noriega], proficient in judo and parachuting, would perfume himself heavily on off hours and wear yellow jump suits with yellow shoes, travel the world with a male pal with whom he was widely rumored to be having a torrid affair, and surround himself with openly gay ambassadors and advisers…. Armchair psychiatrists credit Noriega’s sexual confusion to his gay brother, Luis Carlos Noriega, the only person Noriega ever trusted completely.