You Can’t Have Your Pineapple and Eat It Too

Manuel Noriega, nicknamed "Pineapple Face"

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.

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