He walked into my office in full military regalia. There was a large display of medals on the front of his uniform jacket. His face bore the stone-cold look of determination.
It was the late 1980’s, and I represented the Forces of Defense of Panama in a commercial matter involving letters of credit, contractual disputes, and what was reputed to be the private jet of the then leader of the nation, General Manuel Noriega. Noriega had recently fallen out of favor with the United States, which questioned the legitimacy of his government. I had therefore been compelled to begin communications with representatives of the government of Panama in exile, individuals recognized by the United States as the true leaders of the nation. Because I represented a governmental institution that would survive the dispute between the factions fighting for control, it was important that I maintain contact with both sides, since the result of the lawsuit would affect whichever side happened to be in power when the case ended.
A few days before, I had received a call from Panama, seeking to set up a meeting. I was told that a certain officer named Major Gomez would come to the office to discuss the direction of the case.
From the moment he walked through my door, I could tell that Major Gomez was someone used to having things his own way. When I inadvertently referred to him as “General” he cut me off, declaring that there was “only one General in Panama.” He then proceeded to tell me, in no uncertain terms, what we needed to do to win the case.
It soon became apparent that, despite his bravado and desire for results, Major Gomez knew nothing about the American legal system. He also was not used to hearing the word “no.” He was therefore shocked when I told him that what he suggested could not and would not be done. I then laid out for him what would necessarily occur in the case, and I could see his brow furrow each time I responded in the negative to one of his “instructions.”
After a couple of hours, Major Gomez’s jacket was off and he was perspiring profusely. He was not hearing what he wanted to hear, and I could tell that he was struggling with how he would break the news to his superiors back home. At the end of our meeting, he left our offices, jacket draped over his arm, with a look of concern.
The case settled at around the time that the United States’ military removed General Noriega from power. I received authority to settle the case from both Noriega’s government and the government-in-exile.
I neither saw nor ever heard from Major Gomez again.