Noriega made apparent threat to damage canal
MEXICO CITY -- (AP) -- Former Panamanian ruler Gen. Manuel Noriega
threatened to blow up the Panama Canal in 1978 if the U.S. Senate tried to
amend an agreement to hand it over, former Sen. Howard Baker said Friday.
Baker said Noriega made the threat in a meeting with him during
a trip Baker
made to Panama City in 1978, while serving as the Republican leader in the
Senate. The Senate was preparing to approve the treaty to give full control of the
canal and the U.S.-occupied Canal Zone to Panama by the end of 1999.
``We were talking about possible amendments, and I told him it
is by no means
certain that the Senate is going to approve this,'' Baker said in a telephone
interview from Panama City, where he gave a speech to a conference sponsored
by the Arlington-based Freedom Forum.
``I asked him, `What are your plans if they don't ratify?' ''
``He grumbled around a little and then said, `We'll blow it up,' '' Baker said.
Asked if he thought Noriega was just posturing, Baker said, ``I don't think so.''
The treaty passed the Senate without modifications that year.
Noriega was arrested on drug charges when U.S. forces invaded
Panama in 1989.
Baker said he did not believe the threat made 11 years earlier influenced the U.S.
decision to launch the invasion, in which about 600 Panamanians and 23 U.S.
soldiers were killed.
A U.S. federal court in Miami convicted Noriega in 1992 of money
drug trafficking, and sentenced him to 40 years in prison. A judge reduced the
sentence in March, and he could be eligible for release by 2007.
However, a French court convicted him in absentia in July of money
and sentenced him and his wife Felicidad to 10 years in prison.
Panama has also asked the United States to extradite Noriega so
he can serve
time there for the deaths of soldiers who attempted to overthrow him in a 1989