WASHINGTON — The 50 pounds of cocaine U.S. officials said they found last month in a house used by ousted Gen. Manuel A. Noriega turned out to be tamales wrapped in banana leaves, the Pentagon admitted today.
"It's bonding material," said a Defense Department spokeswoman, Army Maj. Kathy Wood. "It's a substance they use in voodoo rituals."
On Dec. 22, Army Col. Mike Snell, the commander of a U.S. infantry task force, told reporters that his troops had found 50 pounds of cocaine in a house frequented by Noriega at Ft. Amador.
The two-story building was inhabited by a Brazilian woman believed to be Noriega's "sorceress" and became known among U.S. soldiers as the "witch house."
Snell said some of the substance was found wrapped in banana leaves inside a freezer. "We're sure it's cocaine," he was quoted as saying at the time.
Gen. Maxwell Thurman, commander of the U.S. Southern Command based in Panama, later repeated the allegation, only raising the "cocaine" cache's weight to 110 pounds.