Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega is soon to be released and turned over to Panama’s custody after serving over fifteen years in a U.S. prison.
Former military leader and president, Manuel Noriega, waits to return to his homeland where the present government prepares for another trial, said Central American Studies professors.
Noriega, who was sentenced for drug trafficking and racketeering, will have to face another legal process in Panama. For now, his future seems uncertain, according to Douglas Carranza, director and assistant professor of Central American Studies.
“I don’t know what is going to happen to him,” Carranza said. “They could forgive him because he already spent 16 years in jail.”
Noriega first came into power in Panama as a military leader of the Panama Defense Force in 1983. He later made connections with the CIA, even becoming part of their payroll. He became a key ally of the U.S., looking after the U.S. interest by taking care of the management of the Panama Canal.
While in power, Noriega became one of the most feared men in the country due to his tactics of intimidation and torturing of opposition group members. Noriega was also accused of the killing of Hugo Spadafora, a political opponent of Noriega whose head was found in 1984 in a U.S. Postal Service bag.
In the late 1980s, Noriega was accused of money laundering, drug trafficking and the selling of restricted American technology. He was later imprisoned for these accusations.
According to Carranza, the U.S. was aware of Noriega’s involvement with drug dealing before it was revealed to the public, but Noriega refused to continue catering to U.S. politics. The U.S. government then decided to invade Panama.
“Noriega was an important piece that the U.S. had to control its politics,” Carranza said. “But when Noriega denies himself to be part of the U.S. game, the U.S. government creates a campaign against him.”
In 1989, the U.S. occupied Panama and overthrew Noriega when he tried to fix the elections. He sought refuge at the Vatican embassy, but after 10 days he was captured. In 1992 he was convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison for trafficking, racketeering and conspiracy. A few years later, his sentence was reduced to 30 years and he would be set free for good behavior after 16 years of jail, according to a print news source.
Carranza said now that Noriega would be extradited to Panama, he does not have a future in Panamanian politics and his presence would not affect the status of Panama.
Celia Simonds, part-time professor in Central American Studies, agreed with Carranza that Noriega is far from returning to Panamanian politics.
“I don’t see him as being a voice. Not of Panama politics,” Simonds said. “Are they going to welcome him with trumpets and drums? I doubt it. I don’t see that happening in Panama.”
Simonds said that Panama has gone through a positive change with democracy and Noriega’s presence in that country would not be as important for Panama as it used to be.
“The world has changed and (Noriega) is not going to be of so much weight in Panama,” Simonds said.
Josue Guajan, computer engineering junior, said that Noriega could possibly make a slow return to politics just as other former dictators have done.
“He could create a conflict with the U.S. and on that sense get into politics again,” Guajan, president of Central American United Studies Association, said. “It would be bad for Panama, but I think little by little he could go back.”