Former dictator Manuel Noriega broke a 19-year silence to ask his compatriots yesterday to forgive actions by his military regime that culminated in the 1989 US invasion. Noriega began his brief jailhouse interview with local network Telemetro by reading a handwritten statement in which he said his apology came after days of reflection with his family and church members and wasn't motivated by any personal interest. "Before the altar of my conscience I've come to express myself in the spirit of forgiveness," Noriega said, his hand shaking but otherwise appearing in good health for his 81 years. Noriega apologized to those "offended, affected, injured, or humiliated" by his own actions or those of his superiors and subordinates.
The onetime CIA informant hadn't spoken to a journalist since a 1996 interview with CNN's Larry King from a Miami federal prison, where he was sent following his capture by US troops for being a major conduit for Colombian cocaine traffickers. After completing his sentence in the US, Noriega was extradited to France to serve time for money laundering. He returned to Panama in 2011 to complete a 60-year sentence for murder, corruption, and embezzlement. Referring to himself as the "last general of the military era," Noriega didn't comment on any specific abuses and refused to take the bait when pressed about the still murky circumstances that led to the disappearance and murder of two opponents. Some saw the interview as a sly move to pave the way for a presidential pardon or for him to finish his sentence under house arrest, something his lawyers have been seeking on medical grounds for years. (Read more Manuel Noriega stories.)