PANAMA CITY, Panama — More than two decades after the U.S. forced him from power, Manuel Noriega was returned to Panama on Sunday as a prisoner and, to many of those he once ruled with impunity, an irrelevant man.
Noriega arrived Sunday evening on a flight operated by Spain’s Iberia airlines. He had been delivered directly to the aircraft by a security escort from Paris’ La Sante prison.
Officials said a helicopter was waiting to whisk him to the El Renacer prison to serve out three 20-year sentences for the slayings of political opponents in the 1980s.
It is the first time since he was ousted in a December 1989 U.S. invasion that he has been in his native country, after serving drug sentences in the United States and then a money-laundering term in a French prison.
Some Panamanians feel hatred for the former strongman and rejected American ally; a few others nostalgia. But hours before his arrival in the capital, Panama City, it seemed like few people had any strong feelings at all. The crowds were not of protesters or supporters but holiday shoppers.
The former general, 77, is returning to a country much different from the one he left after surrendering to U.S. forces Jan. 3, 1990.
The government, once a revolving cast of military strongmen, is now governed by its fourth democratically elected president, Ricardo Martinelli, who said Sunday that Noriega “should pay for the damage and horror committed against the people of Panama.”