WASHINGTON — Law enforcement officials have known for a long time that Panamanian military ruler Manuel Antonio Noriega was involved in drug trafficking, but action against him was delayed because of his relationships with top U.S. government officials, the district attorney of Manhattan said today.
"My view was he should have been prosecuted a long time ago," said Dist. Atty. Robert M. Morgenthau, as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee opened a series of hearings on the Latin American drug trade.
"People in law enforcement have known Gen. Noriega was corrupt for a long period of time," Morgenthau testified, adding that Noriega relied for shelter on his relationships with "high people in the U.S. government," who used him as an intelligence source. Morgenthau did not name the officials.
Aid From 'Dirty Dollars'
In his testimony, Morgenthau outlined what he said was a foreign policy crisis caused by drug trading, with drug money flooding Latin America and providing a "dirty dollars" aid plan for Colombia and Bolivia, two countries that are the source of much of the cocaine reaching American cities.
"We must recognize that Mexican 'black tar' and Colombian 'white powder' pose as grave a threat to our country as Nicaraguan or Cuban 'Reds,' " Morgenthau told the committee.
He said the money that pays for those drugs is flooding Latin America, with an estimated $4.5 billion going to Colombia and $900 million to Bolivia last year alone, far more than official U.S. aid to those nations.
'Law Is Vanishing'
"Giving billions of dollars to drug barons may be somebody's idea of a contemporary Marshall Plan, but not mine," Morgenthau said. "Drug money is destroying the social fabric of our Latin neighbors."
"Law is vanishing and freedom is in jeopardy in the countries cursed by the flow of dirty dollars from the drug trade, and we are doing far too little about it," he told the committee.
"If the war on narcotics is to succeed, we must muster all our foreign policy skills to persuade the world's exporting nations to control the production and distribution of illegal drugs," he said.
As the hearings opened, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) said he was alarmed at an allegation made in news interviews last week by Jose Blandon, a former adviser to Noriega.
Propaganda Ploy Alleged
Blandon alleged, Moynihan said, that the White House persuaded Noriega in 1983 to purchase weapons from Soviet Bloc nations so that the arms could then be seized and falsely portrayed as a shipment from Nicaragua to El Salvador.
"If that is true, it is, I think, the most degraded conduct in the history of the American Republic," Moynihan said.
Moynihan was vice chairman of the Senate intelligence Committee at the time of the alleged incident. He said the panel never uncovered evidence of arms shipments from Nicaragua to El Salvador.
The hearings are being chaired by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who said they are the culmination of an investigation that has uncovered "an extreme, pervasive, almost awesome presence of narcotics trafficking and the narco-dollar in the everyday life of countries we deal with as well as in our own affairs."