Noriega Is Going Home Again to Panama
Hey: whoever said you can’t go home again? Panama’s ex-dictator Manuel Noriega is going home again to Panama so there’s hope for us all. Well, it is a bit more complicated than that: he’s going from a prison in France to a prison in Panama (you can’t win them all). He is quite ill.
Former dictator Manuel Noriega left France for Panama on Sunday, nearly 22 years after U.S. forces forcibly removed him from office.
The 77-year-old is expected to arrive in Panama City on Sunday after a stop in Spain.
Panamanian officials want him to face justice in the killing of Hugo Spadafora, his political opponent. Noriega was convicted in absentia in Spadafora’s kidnapping and killing in 1985.
He has been in France since 2010 after two decades in an American prison.
For almost two decades, Noriega was a major player in a country of critical regional importance to the United States because of its location on the Panama Canal. The key strategic and economic waterway between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans on the narrow isthmus links the Americas.
While in U.S. custody, he suffered from prostate cancer and a stroke.
Authorities have strengthened security to guarantee Noriega’s safety in prison, according to Panamanian Foreign Minister Roberto Henriquez.
“We have to be ready for all the possibilities in all aspects. Noriega inspires very big emotions, and Noriega’s life could very well be at risk in Panama,” Henriquez said.
Judicial officials in Panama will determine whether Noriega can stand trial, Henriquez said.
Interior Minister Roxana Mendez said Noriega will receive the same treatment as other inmates at the prison.
“The Panamanian state has no special consideration when it comes to him serving his sentence inside the prison complex,” Mendez said. “However, based on our laws, and if there’s a valid request from his attorneys, they can ask that he be transferred from the prison to house arrest if the inmate’s health is in jeopardy or if the inmate, being over 70 years old, may face risks inside the prison complex.”
Mr. Noriega was convicted on drug trafficking and money laundering charges that landed him more than two decades in American and French prisons. With his time served, he now returns to Panama where many locals feel conflicting emotions about his homecoming.
While many Panamanians have expressed a desire to move on from the nation’s troubled past, others have called for residents to take to the streets in protest to show their condemnation of the former dictator, reports the BBC. Amid this climate, local government officials have said Noriega’s safety is their paramount concern.
While the 77-year-old dictator faces a jail term of up to six decades, it remains unclear how long he’ll stay in jail. Panama has a law allowing inmates 70 or older to petition to serve the rest of their sentence under house arrest. Already, there is anger among critics that Noriega will enjoy prison conditions that are too comfortable — his cell will include a visiting room, furniture, double bed, and a refrigerator among other amenities.
“What has he done to be rewarded with such luxury in jail?” Carmenza Spadafora asked Agence France-Presse. Mrs. Spadafora’s brother, an opponent of the ex-ruler, was beheaded in 1985.
Although the dictator is widely disliked by most Panamanians, the Daily Telegraph reports that now “even bitter opponents dismiss Noriega as part of a distant, shadowy past.” Today, most people will likely be interested in learning how and if the ex-ruler can help put to rest any of the nearly 100 unsolved murders and disappearances that occurred during his rule. He was convicted in absentia for three homicide cases that involve at least 11 murders.
In other words: he shouldn’t expect to see crowds cheering and waving “Welcome Home” banners unless it’s to try and get information out of him about vanished or murdered countrymen. (You can’t win them all..)