Manuel Noriega, the former dictator of Panama, gave his first interview in almost 20 years and asked for forgiveness over his brutal and deadly time in power.
Noriega broke silence in a surprising interview and asked his people to forgive actions by his military regime that ended with a United States invasion back in 1989.
He gave the short interview to local network Telemetro by reading a handwritten statement in which he said his apology came after talking with his family and members of the church. He said he made this statement to bring closure to a military era that left many dead. “I want to close the cycle of the military era as the last commander of that group asking for forgiveness,” Noriega said.
1996 Interview and Various Sentences
The former dictator had not spoken to the media since a 1996 interview with CNN’s Larry King from Miami’s federal prison, where he was sent after his capture. He served a long sentence there and was then sent to France for another one, this time for money laundering. He returned to Panama four years ago to serve a 60 year sentence for the crimes he committed during his regime. Referring to himself as the “last general of the military era”, Noriega apologized to those “offended, affected, injured or humiliated” by his actions or the people that were with him during his military regime.
He did not comment on any accusations or questions about his involvement in the murder of two of his opponents. He did say he was “totally at peace” with himself, but also said he didn’t want to distract from the “solemnity” of his statement.
Most Panamanians were not convinced by his words. Many saw the interview as an end to the country’s dark past and others saw it as an attempt to earn house arrest, something his lawyers have asked for in the past. “The problem with Noriega is you can never distinguish between what’s true or not,” said RM Koster, a novelist and biographer of the former dictator, who has lived in Panama for many years.
Time In Power and Capture
The former Panamanian politician and soldier ruled for six years, but after the 1989 election, things went south for his military regime. The election was surrounded by controversy after the opposition proved they had rigged it. Things would get worse as the U.S imposed sanctions on the country and sometime after that, he was captured by U.S military forces. The dictator and four others took sanctuary in the Apostolic Nunciature, the Holy See’s embassy in Panama. He stayed there for a few days before surrendering to the U.S soldiers waiting nearby. In April 1992, a trial was held in Miami, Florida, at the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida in which Noriega was tried and convicted on eight counts of drug trafficking, racketeering, and money laundering.
After serving sentences in the U.S and France, he was handed over to Panama, who took him in for another sentence. His lawyers have asked for house arrest for years now, but it has been denied every time.