Former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega dies at the age of 83

Claudine Rigal
Mai 31, 2017

President Juan Carlos Varela wrote on Twitter that Noriega's death "closed a chapter in our history".

With the knowledge of US officials, Noriega formed "the hemisphere's first narcokleptocracy", a US Senate subcommittee report said, calling him, "the best example in recent US foreign policy of how a foreign leader is able to manipulate the United States to the detriment of our own interests".

A Panamanian government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Noriega died at around 11 p.m. local time in a Panama City hospital after his condition suddenly worsened.

But Panama wanted Noriega to return to face in-absentia convictions and two prison terms of 20 years for embezzlement, corruption and murder of opponents, including military commander Moises Giroldi, who led a failed rebellion on October 3, 1989, and Hugo Spadafora, whose decapitated body was found in a mailbag on the border with Costa Rica in 1985. He underwent medical examinations every two months while imprisoned.

Following years of ill-health that included respiratory problems, prostate cancer and depression, Noriega's family pleaded with the authorities to him to serve the rest of his sentence under house arrest. Noriega had the surgery in March, which led to brain hemorrhaging.

Known mockingly as "Pineapple Face" for his pockmarked complexion, Manuel Antonio Noriega was born poor in Panama City on February 11, 1934, and was raised by foster parents.

The 40-mile US-built canal, inaugurated in 1914, cuts through Panama.

Noriega supported one of the coup leaders, General Omar Torrijos, who promoted him to head the feared G-2 military intelligence unit.

By the '70s, Noriega had parlayed that ability into a burgeoning relationship with US intelligence services - and with various gun- and drug-running cartels, including infamous Colombian narcotrafficker Pablo Escobar. Finally, he ordered the invasion in December 1989. He and surrendered to USA troops in January 1990.

The era in which Noriega exercised absolute control over Panama is long past - but his ill-fated reign continues to cast a long shadow both in his home country and the United States, with whom he had a complex relationship.

The former general - a onetime USA ally who ruled Panama with an iron fist from 1983 until 1989 - served a 17-year sentence for drug trafficking and money laundering in the United States after his ouster.

He likely went to the grave without divulging many secrets built up over a lifetime of shady dealings.

In 2015 Noriega issued a blanket apology "to anybody who felt offended, affected, prejudiced or humiliated by my actions".

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