Former Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega has returned to his home country nearly 22 years after US forces removed him from office.
Noriega arrived Sunday evening after being extradited from France, where he served time for money laundering and drug trafficking.
The former strongman, now 77, faces three separate sentences in Panama for the slayings of political opponents, including Hugo Spadafora, a Noriega critic and doctor who was kidnapped, tortured and beheaded in 1985.
“The time has come for Noriega to face justice in Panama for crimes against humanity,” said Alida Spadafora, the sister of Hugo.
Michael Shifter, president of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue, added that Noriega’s return to Panama held historic and symbolic significance.
“It’s a sense of closure for the Panamanian people. He clearly was a dictator for six years and presided over assassinations, disappearances and killing of opposition leaders,” Shifter said. “And so I think that it’s something that was unfinished business and I think it’s important for Panama to have a sense of closure.”
Although many Panamanians insist on punishment for the man who stole elections and dispatched squads of thugs to beat up opponents in the streets, there are some who believe Noriega’s return means little.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Renata Flores, 52, had protested in the months before Noriega’s departure but shrugged off his return now.
”He has been in prison and is probably not going to have a big impact now,” she said, holding the hand of her niece, Florencia.
Florencia, 12, said she knew little about Noriega.
Gen. Ruben Dario Paredes, who headed Panama’s army before Noriega took over in the early 1980s, agreed that Manuel’s return would be insignificant.
“I don’t think Noriega has anything hugely important to say,” Paredes said, adding, “The things he knows about have lost relevance, because the world has changed and the country has, as well.”
According to a report by ABC News, Manuel Noriega’s lawyers in Panama have said they plan to request house arrest under a law that allows people older than 70 to serve their sentences at home.
Noriega’s legal team says he has blood pressure problems and is paralyzed on the left side as a result of a stroke several years ago.