Noriega: strongman who paid for his crimes

Widely reviled when he was Panama's de facto leader from 1983 until 1989, his small cadre of remaining supporters had kept a low profile and even bitter opponents dismissed Noriega as part of a distant, shadowy past.

By mid-December that year, ties with the U.S. had deteriorated so far that President George H W Bush launched an invasion, ostensibly because a United States marine had been killed in Panama City, although the operation had been months in the planning.

July 2010: A French court sentences Noriega to seven years in prison.

The US intelligence agency had a vested interest in protecting the strategic trade route of the Panama Canal, which was under US administration until 1977. Two years after Torrijos died in a mysterious plane crash in 1981, Noriega became the head of the armed forces and Panama's military ruler.

At that point, Noriega had been working as an informant for the US intelligence services for decades, and he was initially considered a valuable USA asset in Latin America.

-February 1988: Noriega charged in Miami and Tampa with ties to drug trafficking and money laundering.

Noriega was to be released in 2007 but the United States extradited him to France, where he was convicted in absentia in 1999. Indeed, Noriega was so trusted by the USA that, as CNN notes, the American government requested that he travel to Cuba to seek the release of "two American freighters seized by Cuba" in 1971.

Born to a poor family with Colombian roots in 1934, Noriega was a career soldier, receiving his training in Peru and the US.

1992: A USA court sentences Noriega to 40 years prison for drug trafficking.

Following Noriega's ouster Panama underwent huge changes.

Noriega broke a long silence in June 2015 when he made a statement from prison on Panamanian television in which he asked forgiveness of those harmed by his regime.

"I knew Noriega when I was a lieutenant and he was a second lieutenant", said a former National Guard general Ruben Dario Paredes, a Noriega critic.

"The Panamanian people want democracy, peace, and the chance for a better life in dignity and freedom", Bush said in a televised address.

Noriega suffered from vascular ailments and was using a wheelchair. "Nobody else ever went to prison".

The tumor had shown "unexpected growth", which boosted the need for surgery to avoid damage to the brain, his personal doctor, Eduardo Reyes said, adding that Noriega's age had meant he was a "high-risk patient".

He is survived by his wife Felicidad and daughters Lorena, Thays and Sandra.

  • Leroy Wright