Sat, Jun 03, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan’s man in Noriega’s Panama

By James Baron

As former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega’s fortunes fluctuated with the whims of the US government, it is apt that reports of his death on Tuesday focused on his blow-hot-and-cold relationship with Washington.

What is not so well-known, even here in Taiwan, is the role Taipei played in the relationship. Chinese-language media in Taiwan alluded to the training and assistance Noriega received in Taipei, but these were generally fleeting references.

A fuller picture provides a fascinating insight into the then-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government’s nefarious activities in Central America during the 1980s.

Noriega was a keen student of subjects ranging from the exotic to the mundane: Archive administration and jungle warfare were among the courses he took at training facilities around the world, most notably the notorious School of the Americas — now the The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

He also took classes in media manipulation at Fort Bragg where he rubbed shoulders with Taiwanese, Iranians and fellow Latin Americans.

Military academic Thomas Marks — who has glossed over some of the most egregious KMT abuses — contends that Noriega was not among the many Panamanian officers and civilian leaders who graduated from the notorious political warfare program at Fu Hsing Kang College.

However, old “pineapple face” certainly received some kind of instruction during his early visits to Taiwan.

Elsewhere, Frederick Kempe, president and chief executive officer of the Atlantic Council think tank, has described Noriega’s enrollment in courses offered by Taiwan and Israel, which along with South Africa formed a pariah triumvirate. These nations could be depended on by Washington for proxy operations that circumvented congressional oversight.

Kempe said that Noriega — who had once entertained aspirations of being a psychiatrist — was particularly interested in psychological warfare, a known component of the Fu Hsing Kang syllabus.

In Taiwan, Kempe said, Noriega participated in “police investigative courses,” a description that sounds strikingly close to what was on offer at Fu Hsing Kang, Marks’ insistence to the contrary notwithstanding.

The late Nancy Bernkopf Tucker, an authority on US relations with Taiwan and China, confirmed that Noriega underwent “military and intelligence training” in Taipei early in his career.

Whatever it was he was learning, Noriega cultivated a steadfast friendship with Admiral Sung Chang-chih (宋長志), who, in his positions as chief of general staff and subsequently minister of national defense, was to prove an invaluable ally just when Noriega needed one.

With the US shoulder starting to freeze, Sung was appointed ambassador to Panama in 1987, a role which saw him involved in what Tucker refers to as “clandestine enterprises” aimed at undermining Beijing.

Once again, Marks emerges as the KMT’s ablest apologist, insisting that Sung was dispatched to reason with his old drinking buddy, rather than abet him in any skullduggery.

Marks’ proof for this claim comes straight from the horse’s mouth.

“I told him he was in a very dangerous situation ... that he could not alienate the US,” Sung told Marks. “If General Noriega had accepted my ideas, things could have worked out better.”

Far from condoning Noriega’s behavior, Marks says, the KMT government was trying to rein him in. The orders came from then-president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) with Sung casting himself as a reluctant errand boy.

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