After spending more than two decades imprisoned in the United States and then France, former Panamanian dictator Manuel (Pineapple Face) Noriega was flown back to the Republic of Panamá on the evening of Sunday, December 11. More than one hundred journalists, as well as many others, awaited his arrival. A decoy was used for security purposes. He arrived at the jail where he is now being held shortly after the decoy arrived.
Seventy-seven and in poor health, he is now imprisoned at the El Renacer facility in Gamboa, a maximum-security prison located in a jungle area on the shores of the Panama Canal. Upon Noriega’s arrival President Ricardo Martinelli said that “he will go to jail as any convicted person” and that he will have no special privileges. That seems a bit obfuscatory, and it is expected that defense counsel will ask the court(s) where he had previously been convicted in absentia to grant home detention, as provided in Article 107 of the Panamanian penal code. Such requests may or may not be granted. According to the Panamanian foreign minister, Noriega will at least for the immediate future have a small and simple cell, where he will be isolated from other prisoners.
Sooner or later, he will be tried for various murders and other crimes against humanity in cases dating back to when he was head of the military area of Chiriquí province. That was during his reign in the Time of the Tyrants — an excellent but appropriately gruesome account of the period. According to two Panamanian friends, both then in positions to know and whom I questioned closely several years ago, the account of the Noriega years provided there is generally accurate. Noriega’s future trials can result in six judgments totaling more than sixty-seven years in prison or, under Article 107 of the penal code, house arrest.
Here is a twisted, as one might expect, 2010 Al Jazeera English language interpretation of Noriega’s activities in Panamá on his apprehension by the United States in 1990: