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Friday, April 18 2014 @ 09:49 PM EDT

Manuel Antonio Noriega Is Now In A Panamanian Prison

Panama NewsBy DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com - Last night the former military dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega was flown from Paris to Panama City and locked up in the El Renacer prison in Gamboa. Both local and international media outlets were fighting to provide the best or exclusive coverage of the event. Telemetro put reporters on the same plane as Noriega and there were able to get seats just four rows in front of him. As soon as the plane landed in Panama they snapped some photos and sent them via their cell phones. The whole revolution was a massive media circus that was fundamentally mishandled by the Panamanian authorities. They focused their planning efforts completely and totally on security and they failed to consider the public information aspects of Noriega's return. They even went so far as to move a decoy - someone who acted like an old man whose head was covered and moved in a wheelchair - supposedly in case someone wanted to try to assassinate Noriega. Meanwhile, the "real" Noriega was being moved from the Tocumen International Airport to the El Renacer prison on the ground in an unmarked convoy.

They Got Him To The Prison: All of these shell game tactics might have confused the nonexistent potential assassins, but mostly it just confused and pissed off the journalists who were camped outside to cover Noriega's return. While Noriega was in transit he was under the responsibility of the Ministry of Security Jose Raul Mulino - who runs the National Police and basically anyone who has a gun. Once he arrived at the prison Noriega became the responsibility of Government Minister Roxana Mendez - who runs the Penitentiary System. So Noriega was in Panamanian government custody starting early in the morning in Paris, France. They had to change planes in Madrid, Spain because there is no direct flight from Paris to Panama City. Once the plane landed they got him to the prison, and once he was at the prison he was processed and taken to his cell. And during that entire time the press was never given the opportunity to see him, photograph him, videotape him, nada. Nor did the authorities release an official photograph - like a mugshot or something. Then towards the end of the night they said they were going to haul him out for the cameras. Then they changed their minds when Noriega said he didn't want to be the "monkey in the circus." Minister Mendez released some fuzzy low quality images snapped with a Blackberry. The journalists were livid.

A Presumption of Innocence: I've been asking my Panamanian lawyer friends this morning why didn't they just do a quick "prep walk" with Noriega, to let the world know that yup, he's here, and he's in prison. After the whole debacle with the "decoy" Noriega CNN in Spanish said they were not willing to report that Noriega was actually in prison in Panama because they could not independently confirm it for themselves, and they didn't trust what the government of Panama was telling them. There were about 60 journalists accredited to cover Noriega's arrival from the front of the prison grounds and ten of them were international journalists. The Panamanian authorities didn't want to jeopardize any future legal action against Noriega or violate his "presumption of innocence." However one of the Panamanian lawyers consulted this morning said "I have no idea why they are treating Noriega like a suspect and protecting his presumption of innocence when there are already three murder convictions and sentences of 20 years in prison each that have been handed down against him." He's a convict. It makes no sense.

Geneva Convention Argument? I asked one lawyer to please specifically cite the law number and article in Panamanian law where these issues are addressed. There are some articles in the Penal Code regarding presumption of innocence, but one lawyer pointed to issues of Human Rights in the Geneva Convention. Of course this specifically does not apply to Noriega because he's no longer considered to be a "prisoner of war" here in Panama, and the Geneva Convention only applies to wars between nations, not murders in Panama committed by Panamanians. So, the Geneva Convention argument is out. The "presumption of innocence" argument is out. And still the public is clamoring for a photo of the old man. Well, whatever. Personally I am satisfied that Noriega is in fact in a prison cell at the El Renacer prison in Gamboa. He was returned to Panama to face justice, not the cameras of the press. I suspect that eventually - given the government's reluctance to provide opportunities to snap photos of old pinapple face's mug - the media will find other ways to satisfy the nation's curiosity (and sell papers in the process.) Prison guards will video him as he's sleeping or taking a dump or whatever and they will sell it to the highest bidder. Sooner or later Noriega will he hauled from prison to court and back and forth, and photos will emerge. Like it or not, Noriega is, in fact, the main monkey in the circus, and he will remain so until the day he croaks. The new reality on the ground in Panama given Noriega's return. Here we go...

Copyright 2011 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.

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