by Kurt Fernández
As former Panamanian dictator and CIA employee Manuel Noriega faces money laundering charges in France after spending nearly 20 years in a U.S. prison for drug trafficking, my mind wanders back to the mid-1970s, when I met the then-colonel at a New Year’s Eve party in Panama City.
The party was at the home of a wealthy Panamanian family that owned a cement company. My mother and father, the latter a colonel in the U.S. Air Force, had been invited on account of my mother’s charitable work with the Inter-American Women’s Club. My wife and I, visiting from Mexico, tagged along.
There was a live band playing salsa, an endless supply of Ron Cortez and Cerveza Panamá delivered by fast-moving waiters, and an abundance of prettily dressed debutantes and their dates dancing around a pool. In other words, the wealthiest families in Panama were hurting under the government of Noriega’s populist predecessor General Omar Torrijos.