PANAMA CITY – Panama is closing one of the darkest chapters in its recent history with the death of former dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega, but many of the crimes he committed during the military regime that governed the country from 1969-1989 remain unclarified.
The former strongman, who ruled Panama from 1983-1989, died Monday night at age 83 in a public hospital in Panama City, where he had spent more than two months in intensive care after undergoing two surgeries for a benign brain tumor.
Col. Roberto Diaz Herrera, the ex-dictator’s former right-hand man and the person who betrayed Noriega and accused him of drug trafficking, among other crimes, told EFE on Tuesday that his boss took to his grave many secretes but that some of his collaborators are still living and know of the “atrocities” that were perpetrated in the Central American country at his behest.
“Noriega was the main actor in a film that became a dark and sad drama, but in that film there were also supporting actors who have not wanted – and do not want – to talk and it seems that they were not on the stage,” said the colonel, who was chairman of the Panamanian General Staff and second-in-command of the military regime.
The former dictator “was not a prosecutor, he wasn’t an attorney, he was the man who commanded but during his regime there was a Supreme Court, there were magistrates, prosecutors, attorneys, who were complicit or who at least knew things and did not talk,” the colonel said.
The relatives of several victims of the country’s military dictatorship have commented along the same lines.
For instance, Edwin Wald Jaramillo, whose sister Rita disappeared in March 1977, told EFE that Noriega was “directly responsible” for hundreds of deaths that have never been acknowledged or clarified.
“Panamanian justice is complicit in everything that happened and it has never wanted to investigate. Here, corruption prevailed and not justice after the (1989 US) invasion” that toppled Noriega, Wald Jaramillo said.
Alida Spadafora, the sister of leftist guerrilla Hugo Spadafora, who was murdered in 1985, after Noriega succeeded Omar Torrijos as Panama’s strongman, said on Tuesday that now the former general “is facing divine justice.”
“He takes his secrets to the grave, but many know the truth of his atrocities and should speak out,” she said on her Twitter account.
Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela said in a brief Twitter post that the “Death of Manuel A. Noriega closes a chapter of our history,” adding that “his daughters and his relatives deserve to mourn in peace.”
On Tuesday, the Panamanian government said that this will be a “normal work week,” ruling out any time off for mourning in the country, as is customary when a former president dies.
He was extradited to Panama on Dec. 11, 2011, after serving more than 20 years in US and French prisons for drug trafficking and money laundering and was serving more than 60 years behind bars in his homeland for assorted crimes.
Up until January 2017, he served his sentences in the El Renacer prison, on the outskirts of Panama City. Temporary house arrest was granted to him to allow him to prepare himself for the brain surgery, from which he never recovered.