San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Manuel Noriega

Panama's former dictator Noriega sues creators of popular video game franchise 'Call of Duty'

Panama’s former dictator Manuel Noriega — who’s been convicted of drug trafficking, money laundering and murdering political opponents — is suing the makers of a popular video game franchise for damaging his image.

Noriega is suing Activision for the depiction of him in “Call of Duty: Black Ops II.”  He alleges “blatant misuse, unlawful exploitation and misappropriation for economic gain” of his image in the video game, according to the Courthouse News Service.

The surreal lawsuit claims that the “Defendants’ use of plaintiff’s image and likeness caused damage to plaintiff.  Plaintiff was portrayed as an antagonist and portrayed as the culprit of numerous fictional heinous crimes.”

The 80-year-old ex-military strongman remains in prison in Panama after committing some very real crimes. Noriega, a former CIA informant, ruled the country from 1983 to 1989. But the U.S. military overthrew him after his bloody crackdowns on political rivals.

He spent two decades in a Miami prison on drug charges. Noriega then was extradited to France for another six-year prison sentence for laundering money to a Colombian drug cartel. In December 2011, France granted an extradition request to have Noriega serve time for past murders in Panama and sent him back home (he had been convicted in absentia).

In the lawsuit, Noriega’s attorneys expressed displeasure that the dictator was portrayed as a “kidnapper, murderer and enemy of the state.” In “Black Ops II” — a best-selling title released in November 2012 — Noriega is also a U.S. ally, assisting in the pursuit of a Nicaraguan terrorist. However, he later betrays the United States. The Panamanian ruler is repeatedly insulted by characters in the game.

Noriega also seeks lost profits, stating that Black Ops II benefitted from the use of his image. The suit alleges:

‘Black Ops II,’ features several nonfiction characters, including plaintiff, for one purpose: to heighten realism in its video game, ‘Black Ops II.’ This translates directly into heightened sales for defendants.

“Defendants deliberately and systematically misappropriated plaintiff’s likeness to increase revenues and royalties, at the expense of plaintiff and without the consent of plaintiff.”

Noriega’s claim is similar to a lawsuit filed by troubled movie star Lindsay Lohan, who sued the creators of Grand Theft Auto V for creating a character allegedly based off her image, voice and style.

Here’s a YouTube video showing a couple of Manuel Noriega’s scenes in the video game. (Warning: Clip contains graphic animated violence):

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Ken Morris

My first reaction is: If Laura can do it, why not Manuel?

Somewhat more seriously, there is an unfortunate tendency to paint people as either bad or good, when reality is much more mixed. Just because someone did some things bad doesn’t entitle others to make them into a caricature of evil, does it?

And with respect to Noriega, the situation is very mixed. The evidence as I understand it is that many of Noriega’s misdeeds were done with the full knowledge of both George Bush, when Director of the CIA, and later of Reagan and Bush as president and vice president, and that some of these misdeeds were done on behalf of the US. By some accounts, what annoyed the US is that Noriega also behaved as a free agent–sometimes working on behalf of the US and sometimes for himself–and this lack of loyalty is what really annoyed the US.

There also remains the puzzling motivation for Bush’s late 1989 invasion of Panama with overwhelming force under the pretext of capturing Noriega. By some lights, Bush wanted to do this since Noriega had the dirt on him too, and unless Bush got him out of the picture fast, the dirt would start clinging to Bush. By other lights, the invasion was intended to interfere with Nicaragua’s elections the following February. Ortega was way ahead in the polls, but the US didn’t want him to win. To prevent this, the US launched a massive invasion into Panama to send a warning to Nicaragua about what would happen to it if it reelected the Sandinistas. Many Nicaragua experts say that the Panama invasion did change the outcome of the Nicaraguan elections, since it scared the Nicas into voting the way Uncle Sam wanted.

Was Noriega a bad guy? Probably yes. But in context he was but a bit player in a drama in which there were lots of bad guys, right up into the US White House.

My feeling is that Noriega has every bit as much right to the remnants of his good name as anyone else, including US presidents, and there’s nothing surreal about this case. With luck, it may help to correct a real injustice, namely making Noriega the fall guy for US misdeeds and election interference.

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Ken, what is your background? You have a very good grasp on this past. I find that rather unusual. Oscar Arias was one of the major benefactors from those years. He came out with the good image. Those of us who really know Costa Rica, also know that too is not very well deserved. But it was very important for Bush to have an ally in the region. Arias was that benefactor.

Many believe (Israel Intelligence) Reagan actually was not in charge of the USA during his tenure as President. The real covert leader was George Bush and the CIA. Just like Oscar Arias and his DIS in Costa Rica. Together, these two men have some very shady dealings and that directly centers around the war on drugs.

Look at who people like Felix Rodriguez (Cuban) are, and see their role in this region, from Che to Escobar and Noriega to Iran Contra. He is “secretly” very close with George HW Bush. Check out the history of CIA operatives Barry Seal (murdered in Louisiana) and American John Hull and his tenure in San Carlos, Costa Rica.

If you have not read them yet, let me recommend some good readings that will give anyone a great understanding of the 1980’s:
1. “Compromised” by Terry Reed and John Cummings- how the Presidency was Co-opted by the CIA.
2. “Hostile Acts” by Martha Honey- US Policy in Costa Rica in the 1980’s
3. “Guts and Glory” by Ben Bradlee- The Rise and Fall of Oliver North
4. “Disposable Patriot” by Jack Terrel- Revelations of a Soldier in America’s Secret Wars
5. “Out of Control” by Leslie Cockburn- The Story of the Reagan Administration’s Secret war in Nicaragua, the Illegal Arms Pipeline, and the Contra Drug Connection
6. “The Conspirators” by Al Martin- Secrets of an Iran Contra Insider
7. “Shadow Warrior” by Felix Rodriguez and John Wesman- The CIA Hero of 100 Unkknown Battles- From the Bay of Pigs to Vietnam to Nicaragua
8. “La Penca on Trial in Costa Rica” by Tony Avirgan and Martha Honey- The CIA vs The Press

Together all these readings show some very important history, with each book hitting on slightly different perspectives. The Final Book listed (#8), was where the current Attorney General of Costa Rica, Jorge Chavarria, got his claim to fame. He was the young prosecutor put in charge of investigating La Penca. The man has made a career off of looking the other way, just as he has done for the last 4 years with all this white collar crime of the PLN. The best thing for Costa Rica would be to force him into retirement in October. The worst thing for Costa Rica is 4 more years of him as head Fiscal. That would make his tenure outlast the Solis Presidency, and give a possible safe haven for those who have committed crimes in this government in recent years. Government criminals need to be prosecuted! It will be the ONLY way to fix Costa Rican Politics.

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