Former Panamanian dictator Noriega hospitalized

PANAMA CITY – Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, who was toppled by a 1989 American invasion and later convicted of drug running, was transferred from prison to a hospital on Sunday because of extremehypertension, healthofficials said.

Health Minister Franklin Vergara said Noriega’s blood pressure was very high, nearly leading to a stroke. The former militarystrongman arrived to a hospital,and doctors saw signs of apossible brain hemorrhage.

Further X-rays andevaluations yielded normal results, Vergara said.

“He is conscious, knows where he is and we are not finding any injury withlong-term effects at this moment,” said Vergara.

Noriega will remain inintensive care for 24 hours,he said.

Panama’s National Police said earlier Sunday in astatement that the 77-year-old Noriega had possibly suffereda stroke. Police took him from El Renacer prisonwhere he was serving out hissentence to Hospital Santo Tomas in Panama City.

One of his three daughters, Sandra, was seen entering the hospital, which was guarded by police agents.

In December, Panamanian authorities said Noriega was suffering from mobility due to a stroke several years ago. He had paralysis on his face’s left side and leg.

Noriega, who ruled Panama from 1983 to 1989, spent about 20 years in U.S. and French prisons on drug trafficking andmoney-laundering convictions, before returning to Panama on Dec. 11, 2011. Shortly after returning home under heavy security, he was seen publicly in a wheelchair being helped by prison authorities.

Noriega was Panama’slongtime intelligence chief before becoming its topleader.

While he had beenconsidered a valued CIA asset for years, the U.S.government soured on him, especially after a top political opponent was killed in 1985 and Noriega appeared to join forces with Latin American drugtraffickers.

U.S. President George H.W. Bush ordered an invasion in December 1989 to oust him from power. He was captured and brought to Miami.

Prosecutors said Noriega helped the Medellin cocaine cartel ship “tons and tons of a deadly white powder” into the United States. But the defense said the indictment “smells all the way from here to Washington.”