Shortly after midnight on December 20, 1989, Don Felipe—a Panamanian man now in his fifties—emerged from his house near Río Hato military base, 52 miles west of Panama City. He cannot remember why he went wandering outside at such a late hour, but he does remember what happened after he killed the snake that appeared in his path.
Don Felipe imitates the sound of incoming aircraft, followed by explosions. This was Operation Just Cause, the U.S. invasion that ousted Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega. The crafting of the “just cause” required the vilification of Noriega on account of drug trafficking and other unsavory activities—all of which had also taken place during his decades of partnership with the CIA.
Standing in the ruins of Noriega’s beach house near Río Hato, Don Felipe looks out to sea as he recalls the terror of December 20. His daughter, three years old at the time, asked him to take her away from the bombs. “Where could I take her?” he says.
His neighbor’s family fled in their car. It was fired on by U.S. helicopters and a teenage son perished. Don Felipe could not understand such errors in a military operation touted as a triumph of surgical precision.
A few days after speaking with Don Felipe, I attended a birthday party in the nearby town of Coronado, where I discussed the surgical issue with a former member of the U.S. Air Force who was intermittently dancing with a bottle of rum in each hand.
During his recent four-hour visit to Puerto Rico—the first by a U.S. president since 1961—Barack Obama mentioned several Puerto Ricans by name aside from Marc Anthony. These included Juan Castillo, currently on the verge of 101 years of age, who participated in World War II and the Korean War on behalf of the U.S. military, and Ramón Colón-López, who in more recent times acquired the U.S. Air Force Combat Action Medal when he and his team “killed or captured 12 enemy fighters” in Afghanistan.
…I tell this story because for decades, Puerto Ricans like Juan and Ramon have put themselves in harm’s way for a simple reason: They want to protect the country that they love. Their willingness to serve, their willingness to sacrifice, is as American as apple pie –- or as Arroz con Gandules. (Applause.) The aspirations and the struggles on this island mirror those across America.”
The American-ness of arroz con gandules—Puerto Rico’s traditional dish of rice and peas—is called into question by the number of times Obama referred to his notes prior to and during pronunciation. It is meanwhile not clear where the mirror idea came from, given Puerto Rico’s colonial status and the resulting improbability that its aspirations and struggles are identical to those of its colonial master.
The documentary film “Cocaine Unwrapped” will premiere at the Open City London Documentary Festival on 17 June at 8:50pm and will screen again on 18 June at 2:10pm.
A short description of the film from the Dartmouth Films website:
This feature documentary is a wake-up call to the West about the human suffering and cost caused by the cocaine trade and the war against it. The film is a skilful combination of reportage from the drugs frontline and interviews with those top-level international politicians who are campaigning to get us in the West to take real responsibility for our drugs problem. Unwrapping the human cost of cocaine, the film shows the true price of this commodity.”
Watch the 3-minute trailer below the fold:
Two men were recently tied up, shot, and killed down the street from my friend’s house in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa. When my friend happened upon the scene at around 9 p.m., a forensic investigator commented to him that these were the fourth and fifth cadavers he had personally dealt with that evening and that the number typically doubled by the end of the night. The investigator also insinuated that responsibility for these two lay with the security organs of the state; recounting the story, my friend guiltily confessed his momentary approval of the idea that the Honduran police force had swiftly eliminated persons who otherwise might have eliminated him.
The moral precariousness of popular consent in matters of extrajudicial treatment of hypothetically dangerous human beings has recently been underscored in the much-publicized case of the shooting deaths by police of seven presumed gang members in the neighborhood of Ciudad Planeta in the northwestern Honduran city of La Lima last month. Though the police have advertised the deaths as the result of a shootout between themselves and la mara 18 (Gang 18), family members of the deceased deny that there was any armed confrontation and argue that the corpses were merely decorated with weapons afterward.
The incident attracted the attention of Sandra Ponce, head of the Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s Office in Honduras, who demanded an immediate police report complete with names of the police officers involved. This elicited the accusation from Honduran vice minister of Security Armando Calidonio that human rights officials are “encouraging delinquents”.
According to Calidonio, Ponce had failed to understand that the delinquents in this particular encounter “were not throwing popcorn, candy, or rice at the police, as happens at weddings”. As for Ponce’s assessment of the seriousness of the matter and the fact that “we are talking about the lives of seven people here”, other typical arguments in favor of the police include that gang members are not human beings anyway.
For those who may not be aware, Roger Noriega is the head of an Al Qaeda cell in Washington, D.C., and moonlights as the subcommander of the 17th front of the FARC. A member of Evo Morales’ network of secret boyfriends, Noriega orchestrated the 2004 school siege in Beslan and was once sighted at the helm of a Somali pirate ship. Obviously, he is also simultaneously the cousin and brother of former Panamanian dictator and drug trafficker extraordinaire Manuel Noriega.
Okay, none of the above is true. Roger Noriega is merely a former USAID satrap, former U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States, and former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs who has participated in diplomatic endeavors ranging from Iran-Contra to the 2004 coup against Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Currently a visiting fellow at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute and managing director of the Visión Américas lobbying firm, he regularly churns out fear-mongering Cold War-worthy dispatches on Latin America that contain approximately as much truth—and intrigue—as the previous paragraph.
Noriega’s latest alert regarding terroristic narco-communism, entitled “Honduran Leader’s Secret Pact with Hugo Chávez”, appears on FoxNews.com and a number of compatible venues. Amusingly, the Americas Forum has misidentified the secretive Honduran leader in its website reproduction of the article under the title “Honduras: Mel Zelaya’s Secret Pact with Hugo Chavez”.