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Volume 17, Number 8
August 9, 2011
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Also in this section:
The great hacking scandal expands, crumbles
Electoral Tribunal blocks Martinelli takeover of MOLIRENA, nixes PRD plans
Martinelli goes to Spain, says Panama "looks like a Dubai in the Americas"
Presidential interference in the courts brings on new restrictions on photojournalists
New Cinta Costera plan passes costs to the next government
One of Morgan's ships said to be found off of Fort San Lorenzo
Noriega's headed home, probably in October
The prosecutor's take on David Murcia Guzmán's sentencing
Martinelli's alliance continues, without much enthusiasm
Martinelli's crude demand for respect respect has pundits atwitter
Martinelli goes after PRD figures for alleged email hacking
The battle over the Cinta Costera III intensifies
The Anti-Chávez is watching you

Many things that used to be in a Panama News Briefs feature of the website have now migrated to our constantly updated Facebook page


Noriega being extradited from the United States to France, a frail old man

Noriega's coming back, probably in October
by Eric Jackson

It's not really such big news down here. Yes, there are taxis with Manuel Antonio Noriega decals, a caricature of what he looked like long ago when he was in power. The government has failed to find buyers for his old houses and, more than 21 years after his overthrow, is still dithering about what to do with them. A generation has been born and come of age that has no memory of the dictatorship. The post-dictatorship era is now as long as the dictatorship was. Yet in those parts of the world where the mainstream media have no interest in understanding Panama and have not allotted any budget for reporters to find out about us, editors imagine that the captive general's return must be the center of national attention. It's not.

We have a frail old man who has spent a good part of his life in prison, where he has suffered a stroke that would keep him from resuming power even if the suggestion of that possibility were not politically ridiculous. The general's stated intentions for many years have been not to resist Panamanian extradition efforts, to return to Panama and spend some more time with his grandchildren in his old age. His lawyers did not object to the Martinelli regime's extradition request to France.

A special wheelchair-navigable cell at El Renacer, the former Canal Zone Penitentiary near Gamboa, has been prepared for the general. He has been tried and sentenced in absentia for a number of crimes, and has other charges hanging over him, not only from when he was running Panama but from when he was head of the Panama Defense Forces' G-2 intelligence unit --- or as his boss at the time, General Omar Torrijos, described him, "my gangster."

Noriega has a right to new trial in the cases where he was tried in absentia. Because of his age and delicate physical condition, the courts will have the option of letting him serve his sentence under house arrest. Already Martinelli's legal mouthpieces are spinning out pseudo-law about how house arrest doesn't apply because these were crimes against humanity. Some of the relatives of Noriega's victims are making more sincere objections to lodgings other than a prison cell.

So what, other than being a vicious bully who revels in police brutality, would Ricardo Martinelli stand to gain from Noriega's punishment? Yes, the president can and surely will say things about upholding the rule of law, which the rest of his record in office would not support. Both at home and abroad, he would appeal to those whose solution to most problems is more people in prison for longer terms under more brutal conditions. But mainly Martinelli has an interest in shutting Noriega up. Martinelli, after all, got his start as a supermarket baron in Noriega times, with the support of the Panamanian government.

The former dictator's return will revive old memories, and there will be those in the mass communications media who, for lack of intellectual powers or for partisan reasons, will stick to a script about violence and cruelty. Some of Noriega's old friends will urge people to forgive, forget and leave the old man alone. If we are lucky, there will be a recognition by more perceptive journalists that as a military man Noriega was a psychological warfare specialist who was especially talented at messing with people's heads. If we are very lucky, there will be some editors and publishers who will send reporters out to flesh out the tale of how the dictatorship messed with Panama's collective head, and how the country is still not over it.

Noriega's return is expected to roughly coincide with the launch of a Martinelli proposal to amend the constitution --- the dictatorship's constitution, which we still have. That constitutional reform movement will likely lead to a referendum campaign, which the current president's record suggests will have much in common with the 1984 campaign by which Noriega imposed a disreputable banker, one Nicolas Ardito Barletta, as the disposable figurehead president of the moment. To some, it will be a useful distraction to have Panamanians talking about how much Noriega will suffer and what he deserves to suffer. Better that, for all of the old accomplices and for those who would have a new dictatorship, than for people to be talking about what the dictatorship did to the ways in which we live together as a society, and how we might cure the still unhealed psychological, cultural and institutional wounds that were inflicted.


Meeting a friend, long ago when US policy was to support the dictatorship






Also in this section:
The great hacking scandal expands, crumbles
Electoral Tribunal blocks Martinelli takeover of MOLIRENA, nixes PRD plans
Martinelli goes to Spain, says Panama "looks like a Dubai in the Americas"
Presidential interference in the courts brings on new restrictions on photojournalists
New Cinta Costera plan passes costs to the next government
One of Morgan's ships said to be found off of Fort San Lorenzo
Noriega's headed home, probably in October
The prosecutor's take on David Murcia Guzmán's sentencing
Martinelli's alliance continues, without much enthusiasm
Martinelli's crude demand for respect respect has pundits atwitter
Martinelli goes after PRD figures for alleged email hacking
The battle over the Cinta Costera III intensifies
The Anti-Chávez is watching you

Many things that used to be in a Panama News Briefs feature of the website have now migrated to our constantly updated Facebook page

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