Bloomberg News

Panama’s Noriega in Stable Condition After Stroke Concern

February 07, 2012

(Updates with Health Minister comment in third paragraph)

Feb. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, who was ousted by a U.S. invasion in 1989, is in a stable condition after being transferred from prison to a hospital in Panama City on concern he may suffer a stroke.

Noriega, 77, was moved yesterday to Hospital Santo Tomas following a rise in his blood pressure, Health Minister Franklin Vergara said today in an e-mailed statement.

The ex-general has no initial signs of stroke damage and the hospital will continue to monitor his condition over the next 48 hours, Vergara said. “At this moment, Noriega is conscious and alert,” he said.

Noriega returned to the Central American country in December after spending 22 years in U.S. and French jails to serve a separate prison sentence at home. He held power for six years before U.S. forces invaded in December 1989, surrendering a month later.

Convicted for drug trafficking, racketeering and money laundering in 1992 by a U.S. court, Noriega was extradited to France in 2010 to serve a separate money-laundering sentence. As head of the military, he gathered information for the Central Intelligence Agency while also taking money from Colombian drug cartels, according to 1988 U.S. congressional hearings.

‘Dignity Battalions’

Officials from Noriega’s Democratic Revolutionary Party, now the largest opposition group, have distanced themselves from the former dictator. His rule still provokes fear among Panamanians who remember his so-called “Dignity Battalions” attacking opponents with baseball bats.

A court has yet to decide whether Noriega should stand trial to contest a 60-year sentence on charges of murder and embezzlement handed down in Panama while he was imprisoned in Miami. President Ricardo Martinelli said upon Noriega’s return that the government was putting him in jail instead of under house arrest because the former dictator “must pay for all the horror” he caused.

Panama’s 2011 economic expansion will probably be 10 percent, the fastest pace in three years, Finance Minister Frank De Lima said on Nov. 30. Citing the country’s emergence as a regional banking hub, as well as its political stability, the International Monetary Fund said in a Nov. 21 report that the economy expanded about 8.5 percent last year, making Panama “among the fastest-growing countries in the Western Hemisphere.”

Moody’s Investors Service in June 2010 raised Panama to Baa3, its lowest investment grade rating. A month earlier, Standard & Poor’s had raised Panama one level to an investment grade rating of BBB-. Fitch Ratings also rates Panama as an investment grade credit. The government plans to cut debt to 40 percent of gross domestic product by 2014 from 43 percent last year.

--Editors: Philip Sanders, Robert Jameson

To contact the reporter on this story: Ben Bain in Mexico City at bbain2@bloomberg.net; Eric Sabo in Panama City at esabo1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Sylvia Wier at swier@bloomberg.net.


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