Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega has died. He was 83. Noriega had been in a Panama City hospital since May 7th, where he had undergone surgery to remove a brain tumor. After the surgery, Noriega remained in a medically induced coma, Reuters reported.
Noriega rose to power in Panama in 1983, when he took control of the country’s military.
Noriega became the country’s leader after serving under General Omar Torrijos, who took control of Panama in a 1968 military coup. Gen. Torrijos died in a plane crash in 1981, leaving the power vacuum that Noriega would eventually fill.
Despite Noriega’s erratic behavior, the United States kept him as an ally because of Panama’s strategic location in Latin America.
Noriega proved to be an ally of the United States — as a CIA informant, he often provided useful intel to authorities. However, as the New York Times reported, Noriega was known to sell information to political adversaries of the United States, including Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Outside of political relations, Noriega was known for his brash display of power, often giving impassioned speeches while brandishing a machete, or throwing “cocaine-fueled” parties.
In 1989, Noriega was indicted by the United States and President George H.W. Bush invaded Panama, sending in 20,000 troops in what was called, “Operation Just Cause.”
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As U.S. troops filled the country, Noriega took refuge in the Panama City Vatican embassy. He remained there for 10 days, while the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration assaulted the embassy with loud music (listen to the playlist here), The BBC reported.
Noriega finally surrendered to the DEA on January 3rd, 1990. His trial was held in 1991.
As the New York Times reported in 1992, Noriega was convicted of 8 counts of “drug trafficking, money laundering and racketeering.” For these crimes, Noriega, who was 58 years old at the time, was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
As news spread, Panama’s current president acknowledged the death of the country’s former leader.
Muerte de Manuel A. Noriega cierra un capítulo de nuestra historia; sus hijas y sus familiares merecen un sepelio en paz.
No one can deny the impact Latinos have had in the sport of boxing. The rough upbringing of many young men from the region has led trainers and managers to generate a vast quantity of world champions. Names like Julio Cesar Chávez, Ricardo López Nava, Felix Tito Trinidad, Alexis Arguello, and Carlos Monzón bring tears of joy to fans from countries as diverse as Mexico, Puerto Rico, Argentina, and Nicaragua. Boxing champions encapsulate the dreams and aspirations of young Latinos. Because it is often the case that in our continent governments fail the population and each person has to fend for themselves, boxing has become a metaphor for individual progress amidst the most adverse circumstances.
Roberto Durán is one of the most iconic boxers from Latin America to embody the fighting spirit of Panama.
Credit: Instagram. @robertoduranbox
Panamanian legend Roberto “Manos de Piedra” Durán broke into the Latin American and U.S. mainstream pop culture due to his volatile personality and the brutal precision of his fighting style. Now retired, Durán is again in the spotlight due to the release of the documentary “I Am Durán,” directed by Mat Hodgson and which features other personalities such as Oscar De La Hoya and Robert De Niro, a big fan of his.
So before you watch the documentary, here are some facts about the proud son of Panama. Keep your guard up!
He was born on June 16, 1951.
He was born in Guararé, where his mother Clara Samaniego was from. His father was from Arizona in the United States and was of Mexican descent.
He was abandoned by his dad when he was only 5-years-old.
As a way of survival, his family could not keep him in school but rather had to send him to work in the streets as a shoeshine boy. Just like the Filipino great Manny Pacquiao, Durán learned the ropes of life in the streets. That made him hungry for success, a hunger he translated into surgically performed combinations in the boxing ring.
He laced up the gloves when he was 8-years-old.
His fighting spirit was there from the beginning. He grew up in the slums of El Chorrillo, so he had to learn how to defend himself in the rough streets. He visited the gym Neco de La Guardia as a kid and the rest is history: before they knew it, he was up there in the ring sparring experienced boxers. What a chico maravilla.
He began his pro career with 31 straight wins.
Durán got a reputation of being a killer in the ring due to his hard punches, solid body frame and general toughness. He won the lightweight championship against Ken Buchanan in 1972 but lost for the first time that same year against Esteban de Jesus. The fight in Madison Square Garden was his Waterloo. Two years later he rematched De Jesus and knocked him out. It is important to note that the De Jesus fight was his sixth in 1972, so he was worn out.
He was the first Latin American boxer to rule in four weight classes.
Others would follow (the Mexican greats JC Chávez, Juan Manuel Márquez, and Travieso Arce), but Roberto was the first bad hombre from Latin America to rule in four weight classes. And he did so in a day and age when a world championship was hard to get (in today’s corrupt boxing world there are up to four champions per each one of the 17 weight classes, so being a champ is relatively easier). He also fought many fights scheduled for 15 rounds instead of the current 12. Even though his best years were at lightweight, he rules the following classes: lightweight, welterweight, light middleweight, and middleweight.
He made 12 defenses of the lightweight title.
Roberto was practically indestructible for a period of time. He won eleven title defenses by KO and reached a record of 62-1. He gave up the lightweight title in 1979. He basically dominated world boxing in the 1970s with those hands of stone that sent opponents to sleep, one after an another.
His biggest night: beating Sugar Ray Leonard in 1980 for the welterweight title.
After vacating the lightweight title “Manos de Piedra” moved to welterweight. He defeated Carlos Palomino and Zeferino Gonzales, two tough opponents. Once comfortable in the new weight, he faced the golden boy of US boxing, Sugar Ray Leonard, in a fateful June 20 night in Montreal, Canada. Roberto’s relentless pressure broke down Sugar Ray. Thunder defeated lighting and Durán won by a unanimous decision.
But then came the infamous “No Más.”
After defeating Leonard “Manos de Piedra” became even more legendary. He went back to Panama and partied like there was no tomorrow. The rematch was fought in November. Leonard trained like a champ, while Roberto had to cut weight extremely fast and just wasn’t in the right frame of mind. Leonard was magnificent: he played with Roberto, mocked him, slipped the Panamanian’s punches and basically humiliated him. In the eighth round, Roberto turned his back to Leonard and said: “No sigo” (this were his actual words, although the infamous “No Mas” is how the event was remembered.
He rebuilt his career.
It would be hard for any sports figure to come back after such a meaningful defeat. It is not the same being knocked out after a valiant effort as quitting. It was such a disappointment not only for the fighter but also for his millions of fans. So what did the great fighter do? What all elite pugilists do: he came back with a vengeance. He defeated Wilfred Benitez and Davey Moore, two of the best fighters in the world.
He is one of the 1980s Magnificent Four.
Boxing in the 1980s was defined by four greats: Roberto, Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, and Marvin Hagler. These four all fought each other and gave fans thrills. Roberto lost to Hearns by KO and to Hagler by a tough decision, but his name will always be attached to one of boxing’s golden eras.
He fought until 2000.
It is unusual for a fighter in this day an age to compete across four decades, but Durán did it. His professional debut was on February 23, 1968, and his last fight was a loss to Puerto Rican extraordinaire Hector Macho Camacho on July 14, 2000. At the end of his career, his record read 103 wins, 16 losses, and a whopping 70 KOs. Wow, just wow.
The debate continues: is he the greatest Latino fighter ever?
That is hard to tell. The main contenders for this mythic title are here in this photograph with him: Mexicans Julio Cesar Chávez and Juan Manuel Márquez, who also faced myriad of champions and former champions over their storied careers. One thing is for certain, Roberto wrote his name on the annals of boxing history in golden letters. And he will never be forgotten.
On December 20, 1989, then-President Geroge W. Bush ordered the U.S. military to invade Panama in an attempt to overthrow Manuel Noriega and they succeeded. Noriega is commonly seen as a dictator who took over Panama in 1983 until he was captured by the U.S. in 1989, though he had been on a course of power for decades before that. While Noriega was tried and convicted for his crimes, which included federal narcotics-trafficking and money-laundering charges, the aftermath of the invasion left Panamanians at a loss — and some say even worse than before.
It’s been 30 years since the invasion of Panama. Family and friends that lost their loved ones during the invasion are still trying to find out what happened to them.
Noriega’s strength in Panama that began in the late ’60s propelled to a mass scale thanks to his military background. Even though Noriega and the U.S. were on friendly terms and conducted business as usual, Noriega was committing acts of fraud, including rigging elections. Noriega’s desire for power continued to grow and when the U.S. deemed it too dangerous for the people of Panama and U.S. citizens living there, that is when Bush ordered to overthrow him. The Associated Press reports that 27,000 U.S. soldiers launched an attack in Panama. But locals, many who were military servicemen and civilians, were caught in the crossfire during the invasion.
“It has begun. They are invading us. They are attacking at all the barracks,” Braulio Bethancourt told his wife. Iris Herrera recalled to the Associated Press the last words she heard from her husband on the night of the invasion. Thirty years since then, she still doesn’t have closure over what happened to him that night because his body has never been found.
After the invasion, 300 Panamanian soldiers were killed along with 214 civilians. However, human rights groups said the casualties of deaths are much higher. The U.S. also lost 23 soldiers. The Panama Truth Commission aims at investigating the invasion and figuring out what happened to those that died.
“Panama is seeking to heal its wounds,” the country’s vice president and foreign minister, Isabel de Saint Malo, said on Twitter in 2016. “There can be no reconciliation if the truth is not known.” The United States is also complying with this investigation.
“The United States is willing to work with the government of Panama as it seeks to discover its own history,” the U.S. ambassador to Panama, John Feeley, told Univision in 2016. “We believe that transparency and historical examination is important.” Since the launch of the Panama Truth Commission in 2016, 15 people that disappeared during the invasion have had their cases reopened.
“We know there are more unknown and missing people who probably can be found,” José Luis Sosa, executive secretary of the Panama Truth Commission, told the AP. Trinidad Ayola, who lost her husband in the invasion, founded the Association of Relatives of the Fallen, where people could turn to for help after losing a loved one during combat.
“We are now on the way to recognizing some missing people, but not in their totality because, over the course of 30 years, much evidence has been lost,” Ayola told the AP.
Gabriel Marcella, former Director of the Americas Studies at the U.S. Army War College, and former Advisor to the Commander in Chief of the United States Southern Command in Panama, told Univision in 2016 that the commission will help bring closure to people who have been seeking answers for decades.
“Such commissions can be a productive way to heal old wounds and allow societies to go forward certain of the truth and perhaps even justice about the past,” Marcella said.
On Friday, the Panama government officially declared an official day of mourning to commemorate the invasion 30 years ago.
“For 30 years, Panamanian society has waited for the lives of those who died or were wounded during the invasion of Panamanian territory in 1989 to be honored,” the office of the presidency said via Twitter, according to the AP.
Laurentino Cortizo, president of Panama, also tweeted about the 30-year anniversary, stating, “A day like today, 30 years ago, before and after is written in the history of our country. Today is #DueloNacional day, and we express our deep solidarity with those affected, victims and relatives of those Panamanians who perished in the invasion of December 20.”
While some may say this commemoration is 30 years too late, we think this day of mourning and the investigation into the invasion is critical to documenting the truth of what happened on that day.