Noriega returns home to serve 20 years in prison
PANAMA CITY - ReutersManuel Noriega, Panama’s ruthless drug-running military dictator of the 1980s, was to be returned home yesterday, headed for a jungle prison to serve a 20-year term for the murders of opponents during his rule.
Noriega, now 77, was toppled in a U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989 and has spent the last two decades behind bars, first in Florida and then in France after being convicted for drug trafficking and money laundering during his time in power.
Panama’s attorney general and a doctor will be part of the team accompanying Noriega on a commercial flight back to his homeland, expected to leave Paris yesterday morning. Much of the focus on Noriega will be on whether he sheds any light on the dictatorship’s mysteries, including some 100 unsolved killings or disappearances in the period of army rule from 1968 to 1989. He will face charges over the murder in
1970 of Heliodoro Portugal, an opponent of Panama’s military leaders. “We hope he talks and says where the rest of the disappeared are, what happened to those who were killed,” said Patria Portugal, who has spent decades fighting for justice in her father’s case. “We hope ... he asks for forgiveness of the Panamanian nation for the all the crimes he committed.” Noriega was convicted in absentia in three homicide cases involving 11 murders, including the 1985 beheading of Hugo Spadafora, a physician who threatened to reveal Noriega’s drug ties, and the 1989 execution-style slaying of nine officers who staged a failed coup. Some reports say more than 11 soldiers were killed in the massacre.