Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega was quoted Saturday as saying he could retire any time but that caving in to U.S. pressure to resign would have a domino effect on the rest of Latin America.
"Gen. Noriega can go any day, on Aug. 12, Nov. 3, Dec. 19, the first of January, 1989," the armed forces chief and Panama's de facto ruler said in an interview with the pro-government newspaper "La Estrella de Panama" (The Star of Panama). "The calendar is open and full of dates."But Noriega gave no firm indication he is willing to step down soon.
Noriega, who has been indicted in the United States on drug trafficking charges he denies, has been head of the 15,000-member Defense Forces since 1983. His official biography says he is 50 years old, but his high school yearbooks indicate he is 54.
As he has in the past, Noriega said economic and other pressures applied by the United States to force his ouster are motivated by political considerations unrelated to the drug charges against him.
Although he did not specifically refer to the matter, Noriega has said previously that U.S. actions are the result of his refusal to help the Reagan Administration overthrow Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista government.
If he submits to U.S. pressure, the general said, "It will mean that like a domino, the destiny of all other Latin American peoples is marked."
"When a people are not docile to an empire, those people and their leaders will be made a target of that empire," said Noriega.