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Briefly: Americas

- - Monday, December 12, 2011

PANAMA

Many indifferent as Noriega returns

PANAMA CITY — Manuel Noriega is back in his Panamanian homeland after nearly 22 years, sitting in a prison cell in a country he ruled as a personal fiefdom until U.S. troops invaded and hauled him off to a Florida jail.

A few protesters gathered outside El Renacer prison as the 77-year-old former general was spirited inside Sunday night after an extradition flight from France, yet the overwhelming mood among his countrymen seemed to be indifference.

While some people banged pots and honked car horns in Panama City's downtown in a symbolic gesture of disdain for Noriega, most Panamanians on the capital's crowded streets were out holiday shopping.

Officials escorted Noriega home on an Iberia airlines' jet that touched down at Tocumen International Airport Sunday afternoon in a flight that began in Paris and made a stop in Madrid.

Noriega, who served 17 years in U.S. prison for drug trafficking and nearly two years in France for a money-laundering conviction, has begun serving three 20-year sentences in Panama for the killings of political opponents in the 1980s.

Officials whisked him into prison without letting anyone see him, a move that irritated some of the protesters outside.

"We are disappointed at the excessive security that kept us from seeing the prisoner," said Aurelio Barria, a member of the old opposition to Noriega.

"Why not let him be seen? What are they hiding? We want to see him handcuffed in a cell," Mr. Barria told the TVN news channel.

Later, officials took journalists into the prison to watch from a distance as Noriega, accompanied by guards while sitting in a wheelchair, checked possessions he had brought with him from France.

President Ricardo Martinelli said Noriega "should pay for the damage and horror committed against the people of Panama."

MEXICO

Troops kill 11 gunmen near U.S. border

MEXICO CITY — The Mexican army said Monday that 11 gunmen were killed and a soldier wounded in a shootout just south of the Texas border.

The Defense Department said in a news release that armed men holed up in a building in the city of Valle Hermoso opened fire on the troops Saturday.

The army patrol later seized the building, finding 11 dead gunmen and 73 rifles inside. Two suspects were arrested.

The army said the wounded soldier was taken to a hospital for treatment, but it did not specify his condition.

The Gulf and Zetas drug cartels operate in the area.

CUBA

Cuban, U.S. scientists open cooperation meeting

HAVANA — Scientists from Cuba and the United States on Monday began a five-day meeting aimed at exploring opportunities for cooperation in a range of research fields, including biological and environmental sciences, and science policy, Cuban officials said.

The forum, organized by the Academy of Sciences of Cuba and the American Association for the Advancement of Science is being attended by about 40 directors of research centers and researchers from the two countries, the ACC said in statement, according to the official Cuban news agency Prensa Latina.

The U.S. and Cuba have not had diplomatic relations since the White House broke off links in 1961, and a strict embargo has strangled ties and trade between them.

BRAZIL

U.N. envoy for women to visit Brazil this week

BRASILIA — The executive director of U.N. Women, former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, will pay a two-day visit to Brazil this week for talks with President Dilma Rousseff, the Foreign Ministry said.

Mrs. Bachelet is due to arrive in the country Wednesday and confer with Mrs. Rousseff on Thursday about Brazil's gender-equality policy and the role of women in U.N. peacekeeping operations and in the armed forces, a ministry statement said.

The former Chilean president also is to speak at a national conference on policies toward women and to meet with ministers, lawmakers and representatives of civil society.

In Rio de Janeiro, Mrs. Bachelet - the first executive director of the U.N. agency on women, created last year - will visit the Brazilian Peacekeeping Operations Joint Center and meet with Defense Minister Celso Amorim for talks on the theme "Women, Peace and Security."

COLOMBIA

Alleged drug kingpin extradited to U.S.

BOGOTA — Colombia has extradited to the United States an alleged drug trafficker whose organization is accused of exporting more than 50 metric tons of cocaine a year to the U.S. and Europe.

Colombian and U.S. authorities said Ramon Quintero was a top Norte del Valle cartel trafficker who shipped drugs through Mexican cartels.

Mr. Quintero was arrested in Ecuador last year, and reporters watched him board a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration plane Monday. He was indicted in Florida's southern district in 2008.

PERU

Cabinet chief out; interior minister steps in

LIMA — Peruvian Cabinet chief Salomon Lerner resigned Saturday after less than five months in the post and was replaced by the interior minister, who inherits an unresolved dispute over the country's biggest mining investment.

The reason for Mr. Lerner's resignation was not explained, but he was involved recently in failed attempts to negotiate an end to protests that stalled the $4.8 billion Conga gold-mining project, which has been plagued by increasingly violent protests.

His resignation letter, posted online by the newspaper La Republica, does not make direct reference to the conflict but hints that Mr. Lerner was unhappy with the government's handling of it.

As Cabinet chief, Mr. Lerner wrote in the 1 1/2-page resignation letter, "our direct mandate has been dialogue and the seeking of consensus to avoid confrontation between Peruvians."

After just one day of talks that Mr. Lerner led with local officials who fear the Conga project could taint and diminish water supplies affecting thousands, President Ollanta Humala on Dec. 5 called a state of emergency in four affected northern provinces for 60 days.

Mr. Lerner's replacement, Interior Minister Oscar Valdes, is a 62-year-old former army officer who quit the military as a lieutenant in 1991 and became a successful executive at various businesses in the southern coastal city of Tacna, most recently a trucking company and pasta producer.

From wire dispatches and staff reports