Friday 24 November 2017

Manuel Noriega to arrive home in Panama on Sunday

Manuel Antonio Noriega in 1989. Photo: AP
Manuel Antonio Noriega in 1989. Photo: AP

Manuel Noriega, the former Panama military dictator, will arrive home on Sunday following his extradition from France to serve prison time.

The former US ally, now 77, will arrive "on an Iberia flight at 5:30pm," Roberto Henriquez, the Panama foreign minister, said in a Twitter post.

A longtime intelligence chief who became the country's military ruler in 1983, Noriega ruled Panama until his overthrow in a US invasion in 1989.

A Panamanian team that includes foreign ministry officials, police and medical staff has been in Paris since Sunday taking care of paperwork and medical checks before Noriega travels home.

Noriega spent 21 years in a Miami prison on drug charges after his overthrow, and then was extradited to France, where he was sentenced to six years prison for laundering money for the Medellin drug cartel.

Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli said earlier that Noriega will have to serve three 20-year jail terms for the abduction of opponents: Hugo Spadafora, a doctor and former deputy health minister, in 1985; Captain Moises Giroldi in 1989; and union activist Heliodoro Portugal in 1970.

"Panama is ready to receive Noriega," cabinet chief Roxana Mendez told AFP. She said that Noriega will be sent to the El Renacer (Rebirth) prison.

Noriega's future however remains uncertain, as Panama allows convicts 70 years and older to serve their time at home.

His lawyers expect the Panamanian justice to take into account Noriega's advanced age and weak health, noting he has suffered several strokes.

A truth commission found 110 cases of murders and forced disappearances of Noriega opponents during his dictatorship.

Noriega's rule came to an end when then-US President George H.W. Bush ordered US troops to invade on December 20, 1989, claiming that it was necessary to keep US citizens safe, secure the canal, battle drug trafficking and defend democracy.

US soldiers overwhelmed the Panama Defense Force, and after days on the run Noriega took refuge in the Vatican embassy. US forces surrounded the building and blasted rock-and-roll music from loudspeakers for days.

Noriega finally surrendered on January 3, and he was immediately flown to the United States.

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