Before We. Begin
Manuel Noriega was a complex individual. Manuel Noriega was a war criminal, and murderer. He was also a CIA asset (aka spy). He was a figure that was important to our historical narrative as well as the historical narrative of the many countries he was both directly and indirectly involved with. His impact was so great that even after his death many are still dealing with the global fallout of his actions in the 1980s.
Keeping that in mind we want to make clear that this is not a post that takes any stance on him as a person. Nor do we take a stance on any mentioned religious practices in this post. Instead we will be discussing the historical issues of the globe from an US viewpoint during the time of his capture in Panama, 1989 and his involvement in largely unknown occult practices.
But you did not check out this post to read about our stance. So, let’s get into it.
Who Was Manuel Noriega
Manuel Antonio Noriega was both a politician and a military officer, who rose to power after the vacuum left by the death of Omar Torrijos (Commander of the Panamanian National Guard and the de-facto head of Panama from 1968-1981)
Noriega had had ties with the U.S. long before this, having been a valued intelligence source since the 1950s, becoming a paid informant for the CIA in 1967, serving as an intelligence asset through which the United States pumped weapons and cash to US backed counter-insurgency forces all throughout South America. He would go on to amass a fortune from the illicit drug trade, all while helping the Drug Enforcement Administration restrict illegal drug shipments. And was even viewed as an important player in the US lead “war against drugs.”
As Noriega became a military dictator, relations between him and the US began to deteriorate until 1986 when he was ordered to step down from power by the US. Noriega refused and grew more defiant, eventually forcing the US Government’s hand leading to his eventual capture.
Why does Satanic Panic Matter?
In order for us to talk about anything related to occult practices from the 1960s til today we must first talk about Satanic Panic and how defining of a societal narrative it was at the time of Manuel Noriega’s capture.
One of the most famous, prolonged mass media scares in history, Satanic Panic was characterized at its peak by fearful media depictions of godless teenagers and the deviant music and media they consumed. Early in the 1980s, baseless conspiracy theories about cults committing mass child abuse spread around the country. Talk shows and news programs fanned fears, and the authorities investigated hundreds of allegations.
At their core, satanic ritual abuse claims relied on overzealous law enforcement, unsubstantiated statements from children, and, above all, coercive and suggestive interrogation by therapists and prosecutors. Some of the defendants are still serving life sentences for crimes they probably didn’t commit.
Through it all, the media fueled a public wave of fear that spurred entire groups of rational, thinking adults to collectively buy in: parents and prosecutors, therapists and investigators, jurors and judges, reporters and readers. The narrative swept everything along in its path and included victims of all ages/backgrounds.
At Noriega’s hideout in Panama, the day he was captured, authorities allegedly discovered evidence that Noriega had been heavily involved in what he called “evil sorcery.” Here was found all manner of occult paraphernalia, symbols, and signs for spells and magical rituals related to a type of Voodoo called Santeria, as well as a similar religion called Candomble, both of which are a mixture of tribal beliefs brought over by African slaves and Roman Catholicism, and are practiced widely in Latin America. Although these two religions are mostly seen as using the power of saints and benevolent magic, in another room was found an altar and ritual site for a type of magic called Brujeria as well as a religion that involves invoking the spirits of the dead, called At Noriega’s hideout in Panama, the day he was captured, authorities allegedly discovered evidence that Noriega had been heavily involved in what he called “evil sorcery.” Here was found all manner of occult paraphernalia, symbols, and signs for spells and magical rituals related to a type of Voodoo called Santeria, as well as a similar religion called Candomble, both of which are a mixture of tribal beliefs brought over by African slaves and Roman Catholicism, and are practiced widely in Latin America. Although these two religions are mostly seen as using the power of saints and benevolent magic, in another room was found an altar and ritual site for a type of magic called Brujeria as well as a religion that involves invoking the spirits of the dead, called Palo Mayombe.
According to US forces that conducted the operation to capture Noriega there was evidence that “rituals and other black magic spells had been carried out against: Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and the entire US Congress.”
Scrawled on a piece of paper tucked within a rotting tamale was the name of investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, who had written an expose on Noriega’s drug dealings in the New York Times, and there were numerous other names and photos in a similar state of pretty much anyone who had ever crossed or upset Noriega in any way, including even those of his own inner circle.
Noriega’s Lair Continued
According the US forces “a book of evil spells that had belonged to a notorious witch from Brazil” with whom Noriega had consorted was found plastered on the walls of the home, as well as evidence that Noriega had partaken in “sex magic to boost his machismo.”
The witch was not named, but it was claimed that she had escaped just minutes before the house was raided and that there were signs that she had been engaged in one of her dark rituals at the time she was interrupted. The most bizarre finding of them all was supposedly a gruesome ritualistic display that was described in an 1989 article on the finding by reporter William Branigin thus:
Perhaps the most powerful “destructive magic” in evidence was wrapped in a red cloth that gave off a powerful stench of decay. [Sgt.] Dibble [of the US forces present at Noriega’s capture] opened it to find a rotting cow’s tongue embedded in a bowl of white corn with eight spoiled eggs. The tongue was folded in half and nailed closed with two dozen large nails. Insects crawled over the concoction, which Dibble said had been removed from a refrigerator in the “brujeria room” of Noriega’s secret house. Dibble pulled out the nails and unfolded the tongue. A name appeared to be written in ink inside it, but it was illegible.
This is a very strange case buried among a very prominent point in history, and sheds light on a bizarre aspect of one of the world’s most well known dictators. What was Noriega up to behind closed doors with his witch consort? What sort of rituals did they engage in to neutralize their enemies and did any of them work? Who knows? With such little publicly accessible evidence of the scene found, at this point we can only speculate and wonder on just what Manuel Noriega’s hidden lair was all about.
“Noriega’s Inner Sanctum: Lair of Debauched Thug” by Douglas Jehl
“Manuel Noriega, a Thug of a Different Era” by Jon Lee Anderson
“Army Reveals Details of Noriega’s Lair of Magic” by William Branigin
“It’s Time to Revisit the Satanic Panic” by Alan Yuhan
The former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, shown here at a rally in 1989, died on Monday.
Noriega’s mug shot, taken after he surrendered to U.S. troops.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY BUREAU OF PRISONS / GETTY