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Resurrection

"Resurrection" Continued...

Issue: "The waiting game," March 22, 2008

When he turned 18, Kurt married Annie, also 18, an American schoolteacher who worked for U.S. Defense Department schools in the Canal Zone. The couple had two children, Kimberly and Erik.

Beginning in 1968, Muse watched Manuel Noriega's rise to power, first behind the dictator General Omar Torrijos, then out front, putting more and more of Panama under his heel. While a colonel, Noriega conferred on himself the rank of general. In turn, the citizens of Panama conferred on him a nickname: Cara de pina, or "pineapple face"-a riff on the general's pock-marked face.

Noriega developed a reputation for capriciousness and cruelty, ordering his enemies tortured and, it eventually became clear, murdered. He allied himself with communist governments and with Colombia's ruthless Medellin cartel.

U.S. intelligence agencies leveraged Noriega's connections to their advantage. Then-CIA director George H.W. Bush authorized monetary payments to Noriega, who allowed the United States to set up listening posts in Panama. Bush knew Noriega was playing both ends against the middle, but considered the intelligence he delivered worth the price.

Kurt Muse along with others grew to despise Noriega. His PDF roughed up innocent citizens and generally took what it wanted. Though it seemed a minor nuisance at the time, one such incident lit the fire that would eventually burn Noriega down.

During the 1980s, Muse and his close friend, Tito Mouynes, served on the Central American Board of Directors for the Salvation Army. A refrigeration-company owner and professional musician, Mouynes had lost a leg to cancer as a child. He was a fiery Christian, a "praise the Lord" kind of guy who wove Scripture into his reasoning about everyday matters.

Meanwhile, Muse had grown up in the spiritually staid Episcopalian church-home of the "frozen chosen," he jokes-where he served as an altar boy. He generally believed in God, but was a little uncomfortable with Mouynes' praise-the-Lord persona. Still, he respected his friend's faith, even his attempts to bring Muse closer to God.

As a service project, the Salvation Army refurbished a home for Panama's destitute blind. In early 1987, Muse and Mouynes attended a ceremony inaugurating the facility. As an ancient Jamaican man, blind and beatific, warbled "Amazing Grace," Salvation Army members escorted the elderly residents into their new home.

In the midst of the ceremony, Muse noticed a commotion as several PDF soldiers elbowed their way into the crowd.

"They butted their way into this thing and started grabbing the blind people and ushering them into the home themselves," Muse remembers. Worse, the PDF filmed the incident, "documenting" the benevolence of General Noriega.

Repulsed, Muse backed into the street, crossed his arms, and looked on with a scowl. Mouynes went to stand beside him. Nearby, PDF radios crackled, fuzzy voices from some distant command post filtering through.

Muse emitted a noise of disgust. "I would love to get on that channel and give them a piece of my mind," he said.

Mouynes turned to Muse and leveled a meaningful gaze. "Kurt," he said, "that's a lot easier than you think."

Soon after, Mouynes, who was also a Motorola representative in Panama, obtained a cache of two-way radios. Then he, Muse, and a close circle of friends launched a harassment campaign against the PDF. They dispatched the soldiers on wild goose chases and pretended to be superior officers delivering chastisements on the air. Once, Mouynes keyed open the frequency and recited the Lord's prayer.

Then one day in 1987, the radio cat-and-mouse game took a sober turn. Muse and Mouynes stumbled on a way to hack into Radio Nacional, the network that carried Noriega's public speeches live. Suddenly, what had been a way to needle the goon squad became something much more serious: a way to strike at Pineapple Face himself.

With a powerful enough transmitter, Muse and his friends could override Noriega's propaganda speeches with a message to all Panamanians: Reject the dictator. Take back our country. Unite at the next election and vote him out.

Mouynes embraced the plan immediately and built the transmitter. "Here was this one-legged, part-time church organist who was trying to overthrow the government," Muse says now. "Definitely not the kind of guy you'd pick out of a lineup as a revolutionary."

Muse recruited another man to record a special message that would launch La Voz de la Libertad, the Voice of Liberty.

On Oct. 11, 1987, Noriega was to address a captive audience of thousands at a baseball stadium. That day, four conspirators gathered around the new transmitter, and Mouynes prayed over what they were about to do. Even to plan such treason was a capital offense. Each man knew that if he were caught, he would be killed-or wish he were dead.

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