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Panama’s ex-dictator Noriega ‘critical’ after brain surgery

This handout file picture taken on December 14, 2011 shows Panamanian former dictator Manuel Noriega having his mug shot being taken at the El Renacer penitentiary, 25 km southeast of Panama City/AFP-File

PANAMA CITY, Mar 7 – Panama’s former military dictator Manuel Noriega is in a “critical” condition after undergoing surgery on Tuesday to remove a benign brain tumor, the 83-year-old’s family and lawyer said.

While the operation to cut out the tumor was “successful,” complications set in, the lawyer, Ezra Angel said.

During post-operation tests, “it was found there was bleeding, and because of that he was taken back into the operating theater to bring the hemorrhage under control and to stabilize him,” Angel said.

The additional procedure was “even riskier” than the first, he added.

A daughter of Noriega’s, Lorena Noriega, told reporters that her father had a “big cerebral hemorrhage that is completely inflamed and he is in a critical condition.”

Frail and frequently ill from a variety of ailments, Noriega was released from El Renacer prison on the banks of the Panama Canal into home detention in January to prepare for Tuesday’s operation, which had been delayed since February.

Noriega had been suffering from a benign meningioma, a tumor on membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord just inside the skull.

The tumor had shown “unexpected growth,” which boosted the need for surgery to avoid damage to the brain, his personal doctor, Eduardo Reyes said, adding that Noriega’s age had meant he was a “high-risk patient.”

Authorities had indicated that, if the surgery went well and he recovered, Noriega would be eventually returned to prison.

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His family has long argued that he be put under house arrest instead. They cite his poor health, which has included several strokes, lung complications, prostate cancer and depression.

Ruben Dario Paredes, a former national guard general who was once Noriega’s commanding officer and who is now a critic of his, said Noriega’s health was certainly deteriorating. But he said there was an “inflated reality” about Noriega’s condition designed to get him released from prison early.

“Decisions on forms of detention rest with the courts, and that will never be unanimity there because there are scars that have never healed,” a constitutional law expert, Miguel Antonio Bernal, told AFP.

Toppled by US

Manuel Noriega was a military intelligence officer who long worked for the CIA and who ruled his Central American country from 1983 until US forces invaded in 1989 to topple and capture him.

Relations between Noriega and the United States had deteriorated as he defied pressure from then US president Ronald Reagan to stand down, and as he appeared to shift allegiance to the then-Soviet Union, at the height of the Cold War.

After his ouster, Noriega was taken to the United States, where he was tried and imprisoned on drug trafficking and money laundering charges.

In 2010, Noriega was extradited to France, where he was convicted on money laundering charges, then extradited to Panama in 2011, where he was sentenced for the disappearance of political opponents during his time in power.

The former dictator is currently serving three 20-year sentences in Panama for those rights abuses.

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