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“At his age, they should forgive him and not hurt him,” she said. “The people in the Panamanian government now have been good and not so good. So he’s not the only one who has committed sins. … They should leave him alone.”

Although they are probably in a minority, there are also those who harbor a certain nostalgia for the Noriega era. Panama has seen a spike in street gangs and drug violence since his ouster.

The country also remains a base for international drug trafficking and money laundering, and suffers from income inequality. Its government is struggling with an ambitious plan to expand the Panama Canal more than a decade after it regained control of the waterway, and to balance foreign investment in tourism and mining against concerns they could harm the environment.

Where Martinelli, the current president, rose to prominence as a supermarket magnate, Noriega worked hard to develop the image of a man of the people. His private life was that of a rich man, but publicly he stressed his humble origins and spent weekends courting the residents of rural towns and villages.

Noriega “did bad things, but he also did good things,” said Sabina Delgado, 60, a mother of six who has lived her whole life in El Chorrillo, which has been hit by a wave of violent gang crime. “Imagine, when he was here, the country didn’t have as much crime. There weren’t as much drugs, there was more control.”


Associated Press writers Thibault Camus and Oleg Cetinic in Paris, Harold Heckle in Madrid and Kathia Martinez in Panama City contributed to this report.