Rockin’ Out With Manuel Noriega

June 7, 2017

The ousted leader of Panama died last week at the age of 83. Here’s the bizarre story about the unique tactic U.S. military forces used to ensure his surrender. 
Manuel Noriega
After serving most of the last three decades incarcerated in Florida, France, and his home nation of Panama, as well as under house arrest, Manuel Noriega died in a hospital at age 83 after complications from a brain tumor removal surgery. At one time, the former president of Panama was a valuable ally of the C.I.A., providing intelligence and helping move weapons and supplies to U.S.-backed insurgencies active in Central and South America. But he was also involved in international drug trafficking, which he did to fund a lavish lifestyle. In 1988, the U.S. government indicted him on trafficking charges; the following year, the American military invaded Panama to remove Noriega from power, and then try him for many crimes.
“Operation Just Cause” hit Panama in late December 1989, a few days before Christmas. Noriega sought sanctuary in Panama City’s Papal Nunciatura—essentially the Vatican’s embassy in the tiny, predominantly Catholic country. American troops gathered outside the embassy and waited while General Maxwell Thurman negotiated Noriega’s release with Monsignor Joe Sebastian Laboa at the embassy’s gates.
Thurman was concerned that reporters and other stealth observers might be able to use high-powered microphones to eavesdrop on his conversations with Laboa, so he ordered a wall of sound he built around the Nunciatura. By Christmas, the building was surrounded with Humvees outfitted with huge speakers. And they were all turned hooked up to Armed Forces Radio. Not only would the sound of music provide cover, but it would also serve to so annoy Noriega that he’d eventually get so fed up that he’d surrender.
At first, Christmas music was played, because it was Christmas. Then the offensive began. Noriega was a fan of classical musical styles, especially opera. Armed Forces radio countered by playing whatever troops stationed to the operation (or elsewhere in Panama, where the U.S. military had a presence) requested. Because this was 1989, and the troops were mostly young men, almost all those requests were for hard rock, heavy metal, and classic rock. Among the tunes that bombarded Noriega: Billy Idol’s “Flesh for Fantasy,” Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle,” Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” Boston’s “Don’t Look Back,” Judas Priest’s “(You’ve Got) Another Thing Coming,” Alice Cooper’s “No More Mister Nice Guy,” and, most appropriately, Van Halen’s “Panama.”

Eventually for Noriega, enough was enough. He surrendered on January 3, after a little over a week of non-stop rock. He was sentenced to a 40-year term (later reduced to 30 years).

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