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Manuel Noriega Returns to Panama

While in power, Noriega lived a life of luxury. Here is a video showing what remains of one of the thirteen estates he previously infested inhabited. Close to a bathroom shown in the video there was a safe in which several million dollars in cash were found:

Noriega got his start in Chiriquí Province. My wife and I live in the mountains in a rural part of Chiriquí, where three of the thirteen estates (one then with its own zoo) formerly owned by Noriega are located. He "owned" other estates as well under the names of his various henchmen; at least one of those estates has been sold and is now owned by a foreigner. Many of Noriega's murders were committed here, and even after more than two decades most of the locals still tend to be quite reticent about him even when pressed. During his reign, most learned to keep their mouths shut; such lessons are not soon forgotten. We have heard stories of people who spoke out about him back then being tortured, murdered, or "disappearing" -- generally amounting to the same thing -- as well as about his practice of a strange variant of Voodoo. Some shrunken heads are said to have been found in one of the local estates he previously owned or which were owned on his behalf. Some stories are probably true, others may have been embellished over time.

Noriega is almost but not quite universally despised throughout Panamá. During the 2009 presidential election, Balbina Herrera lost overwhelmingly to Ricardo Martinelli, then a successful businessman. Herrera had been a close friend of Noriega, and that was one of the many reasons she lost. There were many additional reasons, including her affiliation with Venezuela's el Presidente Chávez.

Noriega's immediate predecessor in power and mentor, Omar Torrijos -- whom some think was assassinated on orders from Noriega, although the story is widely discounted -- remains widely revered; many buildings throughout the country are named after him. As far as I know, there are none named after Noriega. The president who immediately preceded Martinelli, Martin Torrijos, is an illegitimate but recognized son of Omar Torrijos; campaign posters showed Martin beneath a somewhat misty photo of his deceased father, the latter wearing his trademark hat, smoking his cigar, and looking down as from Heaven upon his son.