from The Nation, February 12 1990 Not-So-Hot Tamales It was Col. Mike Snell who first told

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from The Nation, February 12 1990 Not-So-Hot Tamales It was Col. Mike Snell who first told the press that his boys had found fifty pounds of cocaine hidden in a freezer in Manuel Noriega's house. Gen Maxwell Thurman later upgraded the haul to fifty kilos. Now, buried on the inside pages of the papers comes an admission by the Pentagon that the substance in question was not cocaine at all, but tamales wrapped in banana leaves. In his tour of Noriega's quarters, "Mad Max" (the sobriquet is commonplace in the European press, if not here) presented a sleazy set of exhibits -- a portrait of Hitler and a bust of Napoleon, exotic weaponry, red underwear and "a collection of off-color stuff." The soldiers were "stunned by what they saw," the Defense Department said. "Soldiers aren't used to an awful lot." Be serious: What do they read in bed at Fort Bragg, _The Economist_? American virtue and innocence in an ugly world has been the sustaining narrative of the Panama invasion, and it is now used as a defense in the tamale episode. "The guys who first saw the stuff did not kow what cocaine was," the Pentagon says. But the issue is less the na‹vet‚ of our cornfed boy soldiers than the gullibility of our more worldly reporters, who swallow all this nonsense with never a word of protest and then show no greater skepticism when the Pentagon repackages its clash between good and evil -- Noriega is now said to have used the tamales for unspeakable acts of witchcraft and voodoo. Yet this incident may be the first sign that the pulp fiction demonology of the Penama invasion is unraveling. If the cocaine never existed, what else was faked? Is the legal case against Noriega too flimsy to sustain in court, too dependent on an inept prosecutor and the tainted testimony of convicted drug dealers? Were the dirty pictures really family snapshots? Was the portrait of Hitler really Charlie Chaplin?

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