- Title: Former Panama dictator Noriega dies aged 83
- Date: 30th May 2017
- Summary: PANAMA CITY, PANAMA (FILE) (ORIGINALLY 4:3) (REUTERS) ***WARNING CONTAINS FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY*** NORIEGA DELIVERING SPEECH (NOT A SOUNDBITE)
- Embargoed: 13th June 2017 06:39
- Keywords: Manuel Noriega dictator United States invasion Panama
- Location: PANAMA CITY AND UNIDENTIFIED LOCATION, PANAMA/ WASHINGTON, D.C. AND MIAMI, FLORIDA, U.S.A./ PARIS, FRANCE
- City: PANAMA CITY AND UNIDENTIFIED LOCATION, PANAMA/ WASHINGTON, D.C. AND MIAMI, FLORIDA, U.S.A./ PARIS, FRANCE
- Country: Panama
- Topics: Government/Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA0026J1418N
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text:EDITORS PLEASE NOTE: THIS EDIT CONTAINS MATERIAL WHICH WAS ORIGINALLY 4:3
Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, who spied for the CIA before his drug trafficking and brutal regime sparked a U.S. invasion in 1989, has died aged 83.
President Juan Carlos Varela announced Noriega's death on Twitter late on Monday (May 29), and said his passing marked the closing of a chapter in Panama's history.
The former dictator had undergone an operation in March to remove a brain tumour but suffered a haemorrhage and had been in a coma since a second surgical intervention.
A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Noriega died at around 11 p.m. local time after his condition suddenly worsened.
Noriega ruled Panama from 1983 to 1989, spying for the CIA before his drug trafficking and brutal regime sparked a massive U.S. invasion in 1989.
Noriega was initially sentenced in the United States in 1992 and was serving a sentence for murder in Panama.
As military ruler of the Central American country, Noriega made world headlines as his relationship with Washington soured, prompting the United States to send in nearly 28,000 troops to seize Panama City and capture him in a house-to-house hunt.
Born in Panama in January, 1934, Noriega never knew his father and was raised by a maternal aunt in Panama City's rundown San Felipe district, less than a mile from the U.S.-controlled Canal Zone.
He was a graduate of the U.S. School of the Americas - dubbed by rights groups "a finishing school for dictators."
Extensive scars to his face from a severe case of adolescent acne led to opponents giving him the derisive nickname of "Cara de Pina" (Spanish for "Pineapple Face"). He was feared as street-smart and ruthless.
As leader of the National Guard's intelligence unit, G2, under military leader Omar Torrijos, Noriega orchestrated the "disappearance" of the regime's opponents. After Torrijos was killed in an air crash in 1981, Noriega began manoeuvring for power and became the effective ruler of Panama two years later, promoting himself to general.
A paid CIA collaborator since the early 1970s, Noriega initially worked closely with Washington, allowing U.S. forces to set up electronic listening posts in Panama and use the country as a conduit for covert aid to pro-American forces in El Salvador and Nicaragua.
He fell out with Washington after dismissing Nicolas Ardito Barletta, Panama's first directly elected president in 16 years, and dabbling in geopolitical intrigues. He lent covert support to embargoed Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Libya's Col Muammar Gaddafi and became increasingly involved with the Medellin drug cartel, receiving multi-million-dollar kickbacks.
In February 1988, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration had Noriega indicted on federal drugs charges relating to cocaine trafficking and money laundering.
The following year Noriega nullified the results of a general election and had opposition candidates beaten.
On December 15, 1989 the Noriega-controlled National Assembly declared the United States and Panama to be in a "state of war."
Five days later, then-U.S. President George Bush sent U.S. forces into Panama accusing Noriega of provoking a confrontation with U.S. Canal Zone forces, fatally shooting one American soldier.
In an address to the U.S., Bush said that under Noriega's direction, Panamanian troops had wounded another American serviceman, detained and assaulted a third American and "brutally interrogated" his wife.
"General Noriega's reckless threats and attacks upon Americans in Panama created an imminent danger to the 35,000 American citizens in Panama. As President, I have no higher obligation than to safeguard the lives of American citizens. And that is why I directed our armed forces to protect the lives of American citizens in Panama and to bring General Noriega to justice in the United States," he said.
On December 20, 27,000 U.S. troops seized control of Panama City in "Operation Just Cause," razing the army's headquarters and launching a house-to-house search for Noriega.
He surrendered in January 1990 after holing up in the Vatican Embassy, unable to withstand an assault of loud rock music that Americans blasted at the mission night and day.
He was brought to Miami, where he served 20 years in prison for drug trafficking, money laundering and racketeering.
In a prison memoir, he insisted he had been ousted by the United States for his refusal to follow U.S. Cold War policy on Central America, and recast himself as a nationalist hero, but rights groups dismissed this as a distorted revisionist view.
He completed his U.S. sentence for drug trafficking three years ago, but had remained in prison while fighting in vain against extradition to France.
Noriega was extradited to France in 2010, where he had been sentenced in absentia in 1999 to seven years in jail.
France extradited Noriega back to Panama in September 2011, 22 years after he surrendered to DEA agents during the United States' 1989 invasion.
Noriega had spent the previous year in a French prison following his conviction for laundering millions of euros into bank accounts and properties in the 1980s.
In his home country, Noriega served sentences for various crimes.
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