In today’s episode of This Day in Miami History, we break format a bit. A momentous event in the history of the United States is taking place in Miami today, as former President Donald J. Trump is being arraigned on federal charges. We use today’s occasion to draw parallels to the past, when on January 4, 1990, former Panamanian “Maximum Leader” Manuel Noriega was arraigned on federal charges after he was captured and arrested during Operation Just Cause in 1990.

Full Text of Indictment Against Noriega, Others With PM-Noriega | AP News

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[00;00;00;11 – 00;00;23;05] Matthew Bunch: Today will be a momentous day in the history of Miami. The 45th President of the United States, former President Donald John Trump, will appear alongside codefendant and aide Walt Nauta at the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. Courthouse in downtown Miami to respond to a 49-page federal indictment.

[00;00;23;07 – 00;00;35;28] Glenna Milberg, WPLG Local 10: The epicenter, the intersection of crime, criminal justice, politics, history, all right here at Miami federal courthouse, and former President Trump enters as a criminal defendant.

[00;00;36;00 – 00;01;10;17] Matthew Bunch: The indictment includes 31 counts of violating the Espionage Act through willful retention of classified records, as well as charges related to obstruction of justice and false statements related to his alleged efforts to impede the investigation into his possession and retention of the previously mentioned documents. It will be the first time a president or former president appears in a federal courthouse to answer charges, and only the second time a current or former constitutional executive officer appears in federal court.

[00;01;10;20 – 00;01;27;04] Matthew Bunch: The previous, being Spiro Agnew in 1973. On that day, Agnew appeared in front of a judge, pled no contest to tax fraud, and resigned the vice presidency. Quite a busy 24 hours.

[00;01;27;06 – 00;02;00;25] Spiro T. Agnew: The constitutional formalities of that decision were fulfilled last Wednesday when I tendered my resignation as Vice President to the Secretary of State. The legal sanctions necessary to resolve the contest, sanctions to which I am subject like any other citizen under our American citizen, under our American system, were fulfilled that same day when I pleaded nolo contendere and accepted the judgment of a federal court for a violation of the tax laws in 1967 when I was governor of Maryland.

[00;02;00;28 – 00;02;28;01] Matthew Bunch: So, again, it’s not hyperbole to say that this will unquestionably go down as one of the landmark historical days in Miami-Dade County history. Part of the focus today will be on the community’s response, in particular protests against and in support of the former president. City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez spoke to the gathered media yesterday about the city’s prepared response.

[00;02;28;03 – 00;02;55;04] Francis Suarez: Tomorrow, there’s going to be an event in downtown Miami at the courthouse. And we wanted to assure the public that we’ve already begun preparations for the event tomorrow and we’ll talk about what our plan for security is for tomorrow and to make sure that everyone has a right to peacefully express themselves and exercise their constitutional rights and obviously do it in a peaceful manner.

[00;02;55;06 – 00;03;26;06] Matthew Bunch: So unquestionably, big day. But in one other way, this day is not quite as unprecedented as American media might frame it out to be, at least for Miami. For while today will represent the first time a former American president appears in federal court. President Trump won’t be the first former head of state to appear in front of a judge in South Florida as a criminal defendant.

[00;03;26;09 – 00;03;43;24] Matthew Bunch: And I’ll be bending our format slightly to tell you a little bit about that day in Miami history: January 4, 1990. The day that deposed Panamanian military dictator Manuel Noriega was arraigned at the Miami Federal courthouse.

[00;03;44;00 – 00;04;02;27] King Elizabeth: ♪ “Miami Sunrise” by King Elizabeth ♪

[00;04;02;29 – 00;04;39;11] Matthew Bunch: Manuel Antonio Noriega Moreno was not always an adversary of the United States. In fact, Noriega had a relationship with the United States government that went back more than three decades, and it involved $322,000 in cash and gifts from both the Central Intelligence Agency and the United States Army. Noriega rose through the Panama National Guard. Originally commissioned as a second lieutenant in September 1962, he followed his commanding officer, Omar Torrijos, to the halls of Panamanian power.

[00;04;39;14 – 00;05;04;26] Matthew Bunch: In October of 1968. Major Boris Martinez led a coup over the elected leadership of the country, deposing President Arnulfo Arias and instituting military power. But Martinez was not destined to hold it for long. Martinez did not have enough widespread support to hold on to power for a long period of time, and the United States was opposed to him.

[00;05;04;29 – 00;05;47;11] Matthew Bunch: So Torrijos ousted Martinez from power, exiling him to Miami. Torrijos himself faced an attempted coup in 1969, and it was Noriega who was there while Torrijos was out of the country to defend the regime. This fortified Torrijos power, and it also fortified Noriega’s position as Torrijos’ right-hand man. Noriega would be appointed the chief of military intelligence in August of 1970, a tremendously important position in the regime, and he would remain in that role until 1981, when Torrijos died in a plane crash.

[00;05;47;14 – 00;06;25;21] Matthew Bunch: For the two years following, there was a triumvirate of power that slowly was stripped away until one man, Noriega, was left standing. He never took on the title of president. There was always someone else who filled that position. But Noriega was the head man in charge, the real leader of Panama for most of the 1980s. It was in this decade, the 1980s, that Central America saw significant instability. Internal conflict in Nicaragua and El Salvador led the United States to find any sort of stable partner in the region that could be a potential ally.

[00;06;25;23 – 00;06;56;18] Matthew Bunch: And Manuel Noriega was their man. He allowed the Central Intelligence Agency to open listening posts in the country, helped the U.S.-backed Salvadorian government against the insurgent FMLN. Agreed to train Contra soldiers in Panama for an invasion of Nicaragua in 1986. All kinds of foreign policy support from the military dictator. However, the United States government was not the only ally of Noriega at this point.

[00;06;56;20 – 00;07;29;27] Matthew Bunch: Another close ally and business partner was the Medellín Cartel, moving millions and millions and millions and millions of dollars of cocaine from Colombia into the United States. By the late 1980s, Noriega, who had a reputation as ruthless but sloppy, was getting even more careless and drunk on power. Three key events from 1985 to 1989 really changed the attitude between the United States and Noriega.

[00;07;30;00 – 00;08;02;11] Matthew Bunch: The first was the murder of Panamanian Hugo Spadafora Franco, a critic of the military regime. Hugo Spadafora was in Costa Rica, heading into Panama, reportedly ready to level charges and accusations against Noriega. He had been pulled off a bus, tortured, decapitated and killed. His headless body was discovered on the Costa Rican border inside a bag marked “U.S. Post Office.”

[00;08;02;13 – 00;08;36;06] Matthew Bunch: Before his murder, Spadafora had informed the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency about some of Noriega’s activity involving drug smuggling. That information, and other information, was vital in securing a 1988 indictment by a grand jury against Noriega in Miami and in Tampa on charges of drug trafficking. It turned Noriega from close ally to fugitive from justice. But while he was head of Panama, he would never face justice in the United States.

[00;08;36;08 – 00;09;02;23] Matthew Bunch: He had sovereign immunity. The United States couldn’t just go in and arrest him. Our law enforcement has no jurisdiction in Panama. Well, a series of events beginning with an annulled general election of 1989 and then followed by the National Council appointing Noriega as the “Maximum Leader” of Panama after the appointment of Noriega. The National Assembly took an additional step.

[00;09;02;26 – 00;09;23;12] Matthew Bunch: In previous months, the United States government had criticized the Panamanian government for its anti-democratic steps. Because of this, the National Assembly decided to declare war on the United States on December 15, 1989. This was, for Noriega, the beginning of the end.

[00;09;23;19 – 00;09;50;06] George H.W. Bush: Last night, I ordered U.S. military forces to Panama. No president takes such action lightly. As president, I have no higher obligation than to safeguard the lives of American citizens. And that is why I directed our armed forces to protect the lives of American citizens in Panama and to bring General Noriega to justice in the United States.

[00;09;50;08 – 00;10;28;00] Matthew Bunch: Operation Just Cause, as it came to be known, launched on December 20, 1989. And within four days, it was largely a complete success in terms of accomplishing American goals. With one exception: capturing Noriega. He was on the run, eventually taking refuge in the Apostolic Nunciature of the diplomatic mission of the Holy See in Panama City. In layman’s terms, he was in the Vatican’s embassy and the United States could not enter to seize him.

[00;10;28;03 – 00;11;09;17] Matthew Bunch: But what they could do is try to dial up the pressure from the outside to force him out. And that’s exactly what they did. The United States Army attempted to put psychological pressure on Noriega inside the walls of the embassy, gunning the engine’s of armored vehicles against the Nunciature fence, setting fire to a neighboring field, which allowed it to become a helicopter landing zone and reportedly playing a variety of different rock and roll songs, including “I Forgot the Law” by The Clash, “You Shook Me All Night Long” by AC/DC and “Welcome to The Jungle” by Guns ‘N Roses.

[00;11;09;19 – 00;11;33;25] Matthew Bunch: The Army claimed that the music was designed to prevent outside agencies from being able to pick up their conversations using parabolic microphones, but it certainly did have the intended effect. On January 3, 1990, Noriega walked out the doors of the Apostolic Nunciature and turned himself in to the United States Army.

[00;11;33;28 – 00;11;50;05] Matthew Bunch: He was arrested, declared a prisoner of war, taken to Howard Air Force Base in Panama, and from there put on an MC-130E Combat Talon I aircraft and flown to Homestead Air Force Base in Miami-Dade County.

[00;11;50;07 – 00;12;04;22] Peter Jennings, ABC: The U.S. finally got Manuel Noriega into a courtroom today, this afternoon in Miami. The man who was so often judge and jury when he ruled Panama was arraigned on a long list of charges which include conspiracy, racketeering and drug trafficking.

[00;12;04;29 – 00;12;36;29] Matthew Bunch: The arraignment, in what is now the C. Clyde Atkins U.S Courthouse at 301 North Miami Avenue in downtown Miami, was just like any other drug proceeding that the city had seen over the previous decades. Remember, after all, the 1980s were the height of the “Cocaine Cowboys” era. But there were little nods and little hints that the defendant accused wasn’t just the normal defendant that might be going through a federal case in Miami.

[00;12;37;03 – 00;12;50;08] Mark Potter, ABC: At the Miami federal courthouse late this afternoon, General Noriega came to his arraignment dressed in a military uniform. He claimed he is a political prisoner and because he is chief of state, should be given diplomatic immunity.

[00;12;50;10 – 00;13;17;27] Matthew Bunch: The case that the federal government built against Noriega was relatively strong, both based on evidence collected before his removal as leader and actions taken by the Department of Justice after his removal. The next voice you’ll hear is of Robert Jackson, an investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times who covered the Noriega trial both before, during and after. Here he is speaking on C-SPAN.

[00;13;18;00 – 00;13;44;23] Robert Jackson, Los Angeles Times: The case has been strengthened substantially because they’ve been able to turn, as government witnesses, about half of the co-defendants who had been charged with him. There was originally Noriega and 15 co-defendants who were charged in the 1988 indictment. And now, I think, they have about seven of those co-defendants who have agreed to testify against Noriega in return for leniency on their part.

[00;13;44;25 – 00;14;05;19] Matthew Bunch: Noriega’s defense was twofold. First, he and his attorneys argued that he was head of state and subject to sovereign immunity, not able to be prosecuted in American courts. The judge overseeing the trial was not interested in that argument. It had been presented to the grand jury before the indictment, they dismissed it, and the judge didn’t carry on with it.

[00;14;05;21 – 00;14;15;23] Matthew Bunch: But there was a second question that hung over the trial. What if Noriega was a middleman for the American government doing their bidding? Again, here’s Robert Jackson.

[00;14;16;00 – 00;15;08;08] Robert Jackson, Los Angeles Times: But the defense seems to be indicating that they will attempt to show that whatever bad deeds Noriega committed, he did them with the approval and the knowledge of the U.S. government, particularly the U.S. intelligence agencies. And so, in effect, Noriega will say, What if I did receive money for allowing cocaine to be shipped into the U.S.? The Drug Enforcement Administration knew I was doing it. The Central Intelligence Agency knew I was doing it, and they wanted me to stay close to the Colombian drug traffickers in order to feed them intelligence about where these shipments were going and who the traffickers were. And so I did this as sort of a spy working with the CIA, and I didn’t do it for any ill intent. I did it because I wanted to help the U.S. government.

[00;15;08;10 – 00;15;36;24] Matthew Bunch: Noriega was held in the basement of the federal courthouse in downtown Miami for most of the rest of the month, until on January 28, when he was moved to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in southwest Miami-Dade. Now known as Federal Correctional Institute Miami, the facility is approximately 100 feet northwest of the boundary of Zoo Miami. It’s where Noriega would spend the next two decades of his life.

[00;15;36;26 – 00;15;53;16] Peter Jennings, ABC: It was a moment for the history books today in Miami. The first leader of a foreign nation ever taken by force and brought to the United States for trial has been found guilty. General Manuel Noriega, the former dictator of Panama, was convicted on eight of ten drug and racketeering counts.

[00;15;53;18 – 00;16;25;13] Matthew Bunch: He was found guilty in April of 1992, and in July of that year was sentenced to 40 years in prison. In the time that he was at Federal Correctional Institute, Miami, because he was a prisoner of war, he received certain benefits that a normal prisoner would not receive thanks to the Third Geneva Convention. He had his own prison cell and he was provided with electronics and exercise equipment. The room came to be known as the “Presidential Suite.”

[00;16;25;15 – 00;16;48;27] Matthew Bunch: Despite his detention in South Florida, Noriega still fancied himself a mover and shaker in Panama. According to the obituary written by the Miami Herald’s Glenn Garvin, nearly every morning during his stay in federal prison in Miami, he made a permitted local call to a friend in Miami. That friend patched him through into a series of long-distance calls to Panama.

[00;16;48;29 – 00;17;16;24] Matthew Bunch: According to the story, quote, “He catches up on the political gossip and then he starts giving advice and even orders. And everybody says, ‘Si, mi general,’ and then goes about their business. He’s completely delusional.” Despite the lengthy sentence, the 40-year term was cut down due to good behavior. Noriega spent 17 years behind bars as a convicted felon, which ended on September 9, 2007.

[00;17;16;26 – 00;17;45;26] Matthew Bunch: However, he wound up spending almost three more years in the United States. The reason why is that he was fighting extradition to France. He faced similar charges in France, but they were not going to acknowledge his prisoner of war status, which meant he was going to lose some of the protections that he enjoyed in the United States. In three years of fighting, he remained behind bars in order to avoid the extradition.

[00;17;45;28 – 00;18;06;19] Matthew Bunch: Eventually, though, the Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal in January 2010, and later that year, he was sent to France. He was found guilty and sentenced to seven years in jail. However, one year later, the French would send him back to Panama to face justice in his homeland.

[00;18;06;22 – 00;18;31;20] Matthew Bunch: Noriega had been found guilty in absentia of a variety of crimes. And so as soon as he was returned to Panama, he went to prison and stayed there for the rest of his life, with only a few short interruptions. Once, in 2012, he was taken to Hospital San Tomas in Panama City due to high blood pressure and a brain hemorrhage. The brain hemorrhage was a sign of things to come.

[00;18;31;22 – 00;18;55;26] Matthew Bunch: The following year, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. It was benign, but five years later, he would be allowed to have surgery to attempt to have the tumor removed. He was placed on house arrest to prepare for a surgery that would take place about two months later on March 7, 2017. In the course of the surgery to remove the tumor, he suffered another brain hemorrhage.

[00;18;55;29 – 00;19;19;27] Matthew Bunch: He was left in critical condition, and approximately three weeks later, Noriega was dead at 83. Noriega story is not a Miami story. It’s a Panamanian story. It’s a Pan American story. It’s a story about the role of the United States in the world and the controversies that arise when the United States is involved in the affairs of other countries.

[00;19;19;29 – 00;19;29;04] Matthew Bunch: But it’s unquestionable to say that arguably the most important turning point in Manuel Noriega’s life centered around Miami.

[00;19;29;06 – 00;19;47;00] Matthew Bunch: As always, I want to acknowledge the sources that were important in creating this episode. First off, the obituary of Manuel Noriega, written by Glen Garvin, is really fantastic. ABC News did a fantastic job of archiving their coverage of Noriega in Panama and in Miami.

[00;19;47;02 – 00;20;32;06] Matthew Bunch: C-SPAN as well. Incredibly useful to this episode. As always, I want to thank you, the listener, for tuning in. I encourage you, if you haven’t already done so, please like, follow, subscribe, whatever your platform uses to This Day in Miami History to make sure you know when new episodes come out and follow us on social media @thisdaymiamipod at pretty much every major social media platform. If you already do both those things, if you could leave us a five-star review on your preferred podcast platform, that would be really amazing. It helps people find the show. And I can tell you, we have already had our best-listened-to quarter in the history of the show, and we still have two, three more weeks left in June.

[00;20;32;09 – 00;20;50;00] Matthew Bunch: So the growth of the show is really remarkable. It’s really gratifying. I really appreciate it. And it would not be possible without the folks like you who listen every episode. So that is it for this month. We will be back next month with a new episode. And until then, I’ve been Matthew Bunch.

[00;20;50;01 – 00;21;05;29] King Elizabeth: ♪ “Miami Sunrise” by King Elizabeth ♪

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