Back to the future in Latin America? Sandinistas, generals, and Manuel Noriega

Back in Panama to serve more prison time, ex-dictator Manuel Noriega might be surprised how little the regional neighborhood has changed, writes guest blogger Mike Allison.

Henry Romero/Reuters
Panama's former dictator Manuel Noriega is seen next to police officers upon his arrival at Renacer prison, outside Panama City December 11. Noriega, Panama's drug-running military dictator of the 1980s, was extradited back to the country on Sunday and taken straight to prison to serve a 20-year sentence for the murders of opponents during his rule.

On Sunday, Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega returned to his native country following 20-plus years in US and French jails. He returns home to serve his remaining days in a Panamanian prison as long as he is not released to house arrest because of old age.

The AP has a story on his return and how Panama is a much different country from which he left over 20 years ago. I am sure that it is. On the other hand, I imagine that Noriega is looking around the region and feeling right at home.

Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas are in power in NicaraguaHonduras recently suffered a military coup. The generals are back in charge in GuatemalaCosta Rica is still the region's strongest democracy. The Castro brothers remain in control of Cuba. The FARC are still operating in their southern neighbor. The FMLN is in power in El Salvador.

Okay, maybe that last one is a little different. One would probably have to throw the PRI in Mexico in there as well.

I guess the other thing that he is asking himself is "Why me?" Of all the dictators and guerrillas in Central America to have committed human rights violations, why was I the only one to get put away for twenty years?

--- Mike Allison is an associate professor in the Political Science Department and a member of the Latin American and Women's Studies Department at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania.  You can follow his Central American Politics blog here

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