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Noriega’s Return

The London Review of Books blog has just published my short post on the repatriation to Panama of former dictator Manuel Noriega. The post begins:

The president of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli, announced on Twitter on 2 December that the repatriation and immediate imprisonment of Manuel Noriega would enable Panamanians to ‘finally close this bitter chapter’ of history. Noriega arrived in Panama City nine days later, the third and final stop on a multinational extradition tour that began with his ousting by the US military in January 1990 in Operation Just Cause. Incarcerated for nearly two decades in Miami on drug trafficking charges, Noriega then performed a shorter stint in a Paris jail for money laundering and was convicted in absentia in Panama for the murder of two political opponents in the 1980s. He is now in the El Renacer prison in Gamboa.

Residents of El Chorrillo, a poor area of Panama City, may not share Martinelli’s sense of justice and closure. It was bombed so heavily during Operation Just Cause that ambulance drivers referred to it as ‘Little Hiroshima’. According to the US military, a few hundred Panamanian civilians were killed; the UN puts the number at 2500 and other estimates are even higher. On the invasion’s tenth anniversary in 1999, US General Marc Cisneros said:

“I think we could have done it with less troops and less destruction. We made it look like we were battling Goliath… We are mesmerized with firepower. We have all these new gadgets, laser-guided missiles and stealth fighters, and we are just dying to use that stuff.”

Click here to read the post in its entirety at the LRB blog.

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