It is September, 1990. I'm back in Panama City, a few months after the USA invasion and capture of Noriega. As I step from my hotel the doorman warns “be careful.” I run through the pouring rain to meet a political prisoner of the Torrijos-Noriega dictatorship, who awaits me in an eerily darkened office building. There is no electricity. I use my lighter to find his office number. I record the words he has not shared till this moment, desperately wanting to find any trace, any “truth of humanity” in them.
Shivering in my rain-soaked clothes, I strain to hear him calmly describe the boat ride to Coiba, the island prison for dictators’ captives. Suddenly, memory and terror fills his voice. The soldiers threw all of them overboard into the shark-infested waters, to die or to swim and survive to be imprisoned and tortured. This was only the beginning of what happened to this courageous man. I have listened to his story, translated it, and I'm still at a loss trying to find “truth of humanity here” to understand the horrors inflicted on him.
I try to “see myself in prison shape like another man, and feel the dull unintermitted pain” he, and so many others, were forced to endure.