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Students get Noriega's side of invasion story

Eighth-grade teacher Alan Haskvitz always tells his students to get both sides of the story. So when his current events class at Suzanne Middle School began studying the U.S. invasion of Panama, Haskvitz suggested they write a letter to Manuel A. Noriega, asking the deposed dictator for his point of view.

On Tuesday, a handwritten letter postmarked Miami arrived at the school.

"Dear students," began the letter, written in Spanish and signed, "with appreciation from General Manuel Antonio Noriega."

After politely thanking the class for its interest, the letter went on to defend Noriega's actions and lashed out at the negative publicity he has received.

Noriega, who surrendered to U.S. forces on Jan. 3, is being held in Florida pending trial on drug conspiracy charges.

"The press of your country .


. has misinformed and distorted the image of a nationalistic and patriotic leader who struggled, struggles and will struggle for the sovereignty of his country, Panama," the letter said.

It also accused the U.S. Army of killing thousands of innocent people during the December invasion.

"Mr. Haskvitz told us there are two sides to everything, but most of us didn't really know what was going on until we got the letter," a breathless Lisa Isomura said Wednesday. "Now we know Mr. Noriega's side as well."

The idea to correspond with Noriega was born last month when Haskvitz heard students discussing some of the outlandish rumors they had heard about Noriega.

A committee of students drafted the letter, which was then translated into Spanish.

"We are interested in getting your side of the story on the Panama invasion," the class wrote to Noriega. "Would you please tell us what happened, how you plan to escape jail, how is the food and your family?"

Although hopes for a response were high, pandemonium erupted nonetheless when the letter arrived. Spanish-speaking students were drafted to translate.

On Wednesday, Haskvitz shared Noriega's letter with the rest of the school.

And the students have already been assigned another letter.

This one will be addressed "Dear Mr. President." Haskvitz wants the students to ask George Bush to respond to Noriega's allegations.