Photo courtesy of TVN 2 News Channel
Family and physicians for Manuel Noriega are requesting a reprieve from incarceration and a change to house arrest for the ex-strong man and military despot, citing failing health and mental depression. Apparently Panamanian penal law allows a prisoner over the age of 70 to be detained under house arrest once health status is confirmed by a forensic physician.
The ex-dictator has served 2.5 years of a 20 year sentence in Panama for political crimes. His family says 20 years incarceration for him (aged 80 years) is the equivalent of a life sentence.
Upon learning of this news, I experienced the strongest visceral reaction regarding any political issue since coming to Panama. I still remember clearly the reports of the horrors done to Dr. Spadafora for speaking out against Noriega. And to this day the disappearance of many Panamanians of that era remains a mystery. Their families never got closure. Surely there are a lot of Panamanians who have more reason than I to want this monster to remain in jail.
I possess a compassionate side which tries to reason that he is a depressed, old, feeble, wheelchair-bound man in declining health and incapable of doing harm to anyone. News reports indicate he has already served 25 in prison abroad and suffered two cerebral vascular accidents (strokes). Since coming to Panama he has been hospitalized various times. But I immediately ask myself where Noriega's compassion was when he held the fates of his country and countrymen in his hands? Where was his sense of democracy, dignity, and respect for human life?
Apparently the appeal for house arrest has been made before and denied. According to the current Director of the Prison System, no new supporting information has been provided. There is speculation (and reports) that an appeal for Presidential pardon is in the works. I hope the penal system and the exiting President strongly evaluate the message Noriega's release would send to those families and loved ones of his victims. Some have spoken out publicly and professed a lack of rancor. They still beg for answers to the whereabouts of their relatives, however. They are better souls than I am. Without any personal ties to that period of history, I still haven't the capacity to forgive, and hope he remains in jail.