NPR logo Former Panamanian Dictator Shipped Home Quietly


Former Panamanian Dictator Shipped Home Quietly

Manuel Noriega, the former dictator of Panama, is back home after years abroad in foreign jails. The so-called 'strongman' gripped power until 1989, when U.S. troops captured him; he was delivered to a U.S. federal courtroom in Florida to face charges that he helped Colombian gangs move drugs to the United States.

Noriega was later transferred to French custody where he served time for money laundering convictions. Now he'll serve time at home for murdering Panamanian opponents.

Panama's ex-dictator Manuel Noriega is wheeled into a Panamanian prison on Sunday. Esteban Felix/ASSOCIATED PRESS hide caption

toggle caption

Panama's ex-dictator Manuel Noriega is wheeled into a Panamanian prison on Sunday.


On Sunday, Noriega was quietly flown from France to Panama City, according to La Prensa, and Panamanian officials used a decoy van to transport him from the airport to El Renacer prison where he was moved inside by wheelchair. But there were rumors that the man who arrived at the prison wasn't actually Noriega, so he was wheeled back to a door and shown to reporters. The New York Times (paywall) notes he declined interviews.

The secrecy blanketing his return suggests that Noriega retains his old notoriety. But that doesn't seem be true: now, he is a 'largely forgotten man', according to AP. The Times's headline says Noriega is returning home to 'shrugs'. The report adds the vast majority of Panamanians were children when Noriega solidified power through intimidation and murder, and the country has changed since he was taken:

Panama has clearly moved on. It has held four presidential elections declared clean by international observers. An economic boom has altered the skyline with gleaming skyscrapers. Even longtime opponents concede that public rancor has faded, although many who lost loved ones or were tortured under the Noriega dictatorship, from 1983 to 1989, said they would fight for him to face additional trials here and demand his accomplices pay, too.

Although Panama modernized after Noriega's departure, the Los Angeles Times wonders if some things are the same: the country's trade laws could easily shelter money laundering schemes. And the Times adds that current Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli has been accused of corruption.