Aide Denies Bush Raised Drug Issue With Noriega
A former senior aide to Panama Gen. Manuel A. Noriega says Vice President George Bush complained to Noriega about money laundering during a meeting five years ago, according to a British TV documentary. A Bush aide said today that Bush never discussed the matter with the general.
The assertion by Col. Roberto Diaz Herrera contradicts Bush claims that the Reagan Administration took action against strongman Noriega as soon as it learned that he was allegedly involved in drugs.
Noriega was indicted in federal court on drug charges in February, and U.S. sanctions began against him early this year.
The vice president’s staff confirmed that Bush met with Panama’s then-President Ricardo de la Espriella and other officials, including Noriega briefly, in Panama in 1983.
Craig Fuller, Bush’s chief of staff, said today that Bush had complained of alleged laundering of drug money in Panama, but he denied that the discussion had been with Noriega.
Fuller, speaking with reporters at Andrews Air Force Base as Bush prepared to leave for a campaign event in Boston, said the vice president aired his concerns to Espriella and other officials.
“This story is something we’ve discussed before,” Fuller said. “It’s not something we’ve attempted to hide.”
Fuller said that a review of still-classified briefing papers on the meeting showed that the 45-minute meeting occurred during a refueling stopover in Panama on Dec. 11, 1983, at the Panama City airport--not on Dec. 10 as reported by British television.
Fuller said there was no indication that Noriega spoke during the session on the money-laundering problem or on anything else of substance. “The notion that Vice President Bush would sit down with the president of Panama and discuss drug money laundering should be a plus,” Fuller said.