Things That Matter

Dictator’s Death Marks The End Of Chapter For This Latin American Country

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.

Panamá Vieja Escuela / YouTube

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.”

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.

President Varela tweeted, “The death of Manuel A. Noriega closes a chapter in our history; his daughters and his relatives deserve to bury him in peace.”


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