San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Panama’s Noriega out of hospital after stroke scare

Panama’s former military dictator Manuel Noriega was released from hospital Thursday after being treated for stroke-like symptoms and will return immediately to prison, a top government official said.

“Noriega is stable and out of danger, so he can return to the El Renacer prison today,” Health Minister Franklin Vergara told reporters.

The ex-dictator is “conscious” and “quite lucid,” Vergara said.

The 77-year-old Noriega was rushed from his prison cell to Santo Tomas Hospital in Panama City on Sunday suffering from what officials said was a possible stroke.

Noriega underwent a battery of tests including CAT scans conducted by a team of neurologists and cardiologists, and the doctors found no “new pain or illness that puts his health at risk.”

Noriega was treated for dyslipidemia — high levels of cholesterol and fat in the blood — and was given medicine to control his blood pressure, Vergara said.

Noriega, who ruled from 1983 to 1989 as the country’s military leader, is serving three 20-year prison terms for the disappearance of opponents during his years in power.

He was extradited to Panama in December from Paris after more than 20 years in prison in the United States and France for drug trafficking and money laundering.

He returned home in a wheelchair, having difficulty walking and speaking due to previous strokes.

Noriega’s daughters earlier called on the government to let the ex-dictator’s personal doctors examine him.

The daughters and doctors told AFP they had been given no information about Noriega’s medical condition, despite requests for access to his records.

“We have requested that his private doctors be given access, and we still have not been able to obtain it,” said Sandra Noriega, one of his three daughters.

Eduardo Reyes, the head doctor of Noriega’s personal medical team, said the former general was a “high-risk patient” based on his medical history, which has included previous strokes.

“We have certified at different moments in writing that he should remain in the hospital where he is now or be transferred to a private clinic,” Reyes said.

Noriega, who at one time was on the CIA payroll, was ordered to appear in court in March for a case involving the murder of a U.S. citizen in 1969, the first case that he faces after returning to Panama.

A U.S. invasion ousted Noriega from power in December 1989.

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