Manuel Noriega, ousted Panamanian dictator, dies at 83

Pierre Vaugeois
Mai 31, 2017

This Jan.1990, file photo shows deposed Panamanian Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, who is serving a 40-year sentence in Miami for drug trafficking.

Noriega, 83, died in a hospital late Monday as he was recovering from surgery to remove a brain tumor.

Noriega was put into an induced coma in March after undergoing brain surgery.

—Aug. 12, 1983: Noriega assumes command of National Guard, which he will convert to Panama's Defense Forces. And though his sentence in the USA was reduced to 15 years, his prison time ultimately was not - for he was also convicted of crimes in France and Panama, where he died at 83, still in custody for his crimes. Abandoned by his parents at age 5, Noriega was raised by his aunt until he left to pursue a career in the military.

Upon return, he joins Panama's military, the National Guard, becoming chief of western province of Chiriqui.

A year later one of the coup's leaders, General Omar Torrijos, promoted him to head the feared G-2 military intelligence unit.

A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Noriega died at around 11 pm local time after his condition suddenly worsened.

As NPR puts it, Noriega wore labels including "military commander, drug trafficker, Central Intelligence Agency informant, dictator", and "convicted murderer".

The country's location was critical to the United States because of its location on the Panama Canal, a key strategic and economic waterway between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

He spent 20 years in United States jail, and was later transferred to a French prison, where he was sentenced to seven years for money laundering before being transferred to Panama in 2011. He raked in a fortune measured in hundreds of millions of dollars by selling information to both the United States and its adversaries - helping the nascent USA drug war one day, selling Panamanian passports to communist spies the next.

Noriega was also facing prosecution for the disappearance of political opponent Heliodoro Portugal, whose remains were found shortly after Noriega's ouster by a USA invasion in December 1989.

USA forces laid siege to the embassy, forcing Noriega to surrender on January 3, 1990 with the aid of psyops tactics he once admired: a day-round wall of rock and rap music he reportedly despised, including Public Enemy's "Fight the Power".

While in jail he was convicted in absentia in France of money-laundering and sentenced to seven years.

After his capture, Noriega tried to turn the tables on the USA, saying it had worked hand in glove with him.

But the United States at first refrained from taking action, partly because Panama was seen as a buffer against leftist insurgencies in Central America during the Cold War. "However, once you say no, then you become an evil guy", Noriega recollected in a 1992 interview with CNN.

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.

In addition to the drug trafficking charges against Noriega, there were concerns about the safety of the approximately 35,000 Americans in Panama.

The former strongman had been imprisoned, first in Florida and then in France, during the last two and a half decades. A California judge dismissed the suit.

President George HW Bush addresses the nation about the deployment of troops to Panama in December 1989.

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