Noriega Associate Claims United States Occupied, Damaged Home
PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) _ When the soldiers cleared out, they left a note taped to a clock: ″Toti: Thank you for your hospitality. You are a true gentleman. Signed: Soldiers of the U.S. Army.″
Toti is the nickname of Luis Gaspar Suarez, a politician linked to ousted dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega who has taken refuge in the Cuban Embassy.
A detachment of U.S. soldiers took over his two-story house on Christmas Eve and stayed until Monday, said his brother, Vicente Suarez, as he led reporters on a tour of the house.
Most doors were forced open, including the door to Suarez’ private gym and sauna in the yard. Some paintings had been slashed, including one that had been cut from its frame.
A wall safe had been removed, leaving a hole in a bedroom wall. The cords from several electric appliances had been cut off and used to hang clothes out to dry.
″They also drank some of his best liquor,″ said Suarez’ friend, Balbina de Puente, displaying empty bottles of rum and Scotch in the master bedroom, where closets and drawers were open and curtains and screens had been pulled off the windows.
Sandbags were scattered throughout the house and at least two sets of written instructions and maps showed ″firing positions″ as well as ″things to watch for,″ such as slow-moving vehicles.
Most of the red tiles from the porch roof had been removed to make way for a firing position.
″There was no need for all this,″ Vicente Suarez said. ″There was no need to destroy and no need to mock. Is the kind of democracy they are supposed to teach us?″
Suarez said in a telephone interview Tuesday that he planned to file a claim for damages with the U.S. military and had asked the Vatican ambassador, Monsignor Sebastian Laboa, to confirm the damage.
He said his art collection alone was worth more than $500,000.
Asked to comment on the damage, a spokesman for the U.S. Southern Command said: ″There is a procedure people can follow to file a claim for property damaged or destroyed.″
Noriega took refuge in the Vatican Embassy on Dec. 24, four days after the U.S. invasion, and surrendered to U.S. troops on Jan. 3. He is in Miami awaiting trial on federal drug trafficking charges.