San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Panama’s Noriega back in prison after hospital stay

PANAMA CITY – Former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega returned to prison Tuesday after weeks in the hospital due to a bout with bronchitis, a government official said.

A one-time CIA informant who was overthrown in a U.S. invasion, Noriega has been in and out of the hospital three times since his return to Panama in December. His latest hospital visit began May 9.

The 78-year-old was released from Santo Tomas Hospital early Tuesday and returned to prison “because his health has stabilized,” said Government Ministry spokeswoman Vielka Vernaza.

Noriega, who has suffered two strokes and has heart disease and a benign brain tumor, is serving three consecutive 20-year sentences for the disappearance of opponents during his years in power, from 1983-1989.

Since February, Noriega’s lawyers have been seeking permission for their client to serve out his prison term in a hospital or under house arrest because of his health problems.

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