Former Haitian military chief Raoul Cedras spends his days cloistered inside a high-rise in this capital's most exclusive neighborhood, writing his memoirs in an apartment overlooking Panama Bay.
One month after fleeing his homeland under U.S. military escort, the man who helped overthrow Haiti's first democratically elected president is settling into comfortable, anonymous exile.There is nothing outside the 17-story building named "The Emperor" to indicate it is the new home of the former military coup leader, his wife and their three children.
There are no police or armed security guards in the lobby. The Panamanian government provided Cedras and his family with security only during their first two weeks in the country, as a courtesy.
Now, there are only a pair of unarmed, casually dressed watchmen in the lobby of the cream-colored building where two- and three-bedroom apartments rent for more than $1,000 a month. Their main job these days seems to be keeping out journalists.
"It makes the people here uncomfortable," one building employee said of reporters who arrive trying to talk to the general, who has refused all interview requests since arriving in Panama on Oct. 13.
None of the residents of the apartment building seems to have talked to their new neighbors. One woman admitted to having seen Cedras' wife, Yannick, returning from a shopping trip, carrying "lots of packages."
There are many places where Yannick Cedras can shop in the exclusive Paitilla neighborhood - luxury department stories, boutiques, supermarkets, the capital's best pharmacies.
As part of the agreement to get Cedras to leave Haiti, the United States agreed to lease three properties he left behind and pay him $5,000 a month. The United States also agreed to free up his frozen bank accounts in the United States.
Cedras and Haiti's other top military leaders agreed to step down after the United States sent 20,000 troops to his homeland to make way for the return of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whom they toppled in a coup three years ago.
The agreement forestalled a U.S. invasion of the Caribbean nation and Aristide returned safely to Haiti on Oct. 15.
Panamanian officials claim to know nothing about what the Cedras family is up to. He is "free to live in Panama, to work, to move around, and the Panamanian government doesn't have any obligation to follow his steps," acting Foreign Minister Omar Jaen said.
Political exiles are nothing new in Panama, but none has been as secretive as Cedras.
Former Guatemalan President Jorge Serrano Elias now sells real estate in Panama, which granted him political asylum last year when he fled his country following an unsuccessful move to rule that Central American nation by decree.
Other leaders who found refuge in Panama have included Gen. Juan Peron of Argentina and Shah Mohammed Rezah Pahlavi of Iran. Toppled Latin American presidents and rebel leaders alike got asylum here during the 1970s.
Since arriving in Panama, Cedras has appeared in public only twice: when he arrived at the airport on a chartered jet and soon afterward when he went to the Immigration Department to get his asylum application. Both times, he wore a dark suit and avoided even eye contact with reporters.