MY ENCOUNTER WITH MANUEL NORIEGA, DICTATOR AND DRUG LORD

My encounter with Manuel Noriega in 1965. Maggie wanted to hear more of my activities while a Peace Corps Volunteer in Panama from 1964-66. I was stationed in the small town of Remedios on the eastern edge of the Province of Chiriqui that bordered with Costa Rica. Remedios was between the main highway bisecting the country and the mangrove swamps on the Pacific side. One of my activities as a rural volunteer was community development. We had several building projects in nearby communities and into the ‘Reserva Indigena’ into the mountains. In the village of Las Lajas we were building a community center to house the doctor when he visited every two weeks as well as a meeting room, a room for the local La Guardia (police man) and an office for local officials. Las Lajas was a very rural mountain village reached by a steep unpaved dirt/graveled road. This was a slick road in the wet season. Our construction was to be by blocks we made at the site of sand and dirt and a bit of cement made with the Cinva Ram machine that used muscle pressure to create blocks. To get the sand to the community required a truck. We had no access to such a construction vehicle and thus, the trip into the capital of Chiriqui, David, to the office of the local Guardia Nacional Cuartel. This officer at the time was the now-infamous Manuel Noriega. A local Peace Corps volunteer in David, Dennis Bates, arranged the meeting and went with me. We were ushered into Noriega’s office and felt his presence. He was in charge and all of the underlings showed such deference to him and yes, we were a bit intimidated and in awe. We gave him our request which he granted; the use of a large-U.S. Military issued- deuce and a half with a crew to help. My greatest impression of the meeting was as the various troopers would enter and “click” the brass studs on their heels. What a sound to startle and scare! It took several weeks to arrange the truck and our crew of men from Las Lajas to meet to load the truck. Las Lajas was some 60 miles from David. We met at a river and loaded the truck with sand (by shovel – try it sometime!). As it was in the rainy season we ended up not being able to actually get the sand up to the village that day but were successful later on and the building was constructed. And so, my audience with the future “dictator/drug lord” of Panama that we deposed in in our invasion of Panama in 1988. My experience with local politicians began!

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